Germany, Belgium and Switzerland secured their places at soccer’s 2014 World Cup, as defending champion Spain, England and Russia closed in on berths.
Germany beat Ireland 3-0, Belgium defeated Croatia 2-1 and Switzerland beat Albania 2-1 last night to win their qualifying groups. The trio joins Italy and the Netherlands as European teams advancing to next year’s tournament in Brazil.
“Belgium can be very proud of this team,” midfielder Marouane Fellaini said on the website of World Cup organizer FIFA. “We knew it would be difficult, but we have done what we had to do.”
England, Spain and Russia won to maintain their group leads heading to the final round of matches Oct. 15. The winners of the nine European groups qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, with the best eight second-place finishers entering a playoff for the continent’s remaining four slots.
Sami Khedira, Andre Schuerrle and Mesut Ozil scored in Cologne as Germany booked its 18th World Cup appearance by winning Group C. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s goal in the 86th minute gave Sweden a 2-1 win against Austria to clinch second place, while the Faroe Islands and Kazakhstan drew 1-1.
Romelu Lukaku scored twice as Belgium won Group A to return to the World Cup for the first time since 2002, while Croatia will finish second. Wales beat Macedonia 1-0 in the other match in the group.
Goals from Xherdan Shaqiri and Michael Lang gave Switzerland the win that clinched the top spot in Group E. Iceland beat Cyprus 2-0 to remain second, one point ahead of Slovenia, which beat Norway 3-0.
England scored all its goals in the second half in beating Montenegro 4-1 in London to stay one point ahead of Ukraine, which beat Poland 1-0, in Group H. The English will win the group by beating Poland in three days. Ukraine plays its final game against last-place San Marino, which lost 3-0 at Moldova.
Wayne Rooney opened the scoring in the 49th minute and an own goal from Branko Boskovic doubled the lead. After Dejan Damjanovic pulled Montenegro within 2-1, goals from Andros Townsend, making his England debut, and Daniel Sturridge clinched the victory.
In the lone Group I match, Spain beat Belarus 2-1 to take a three-point lead over France. Xavi Hernandez and Alvaro Negredo scored for the World Cup and European champions, who need a draw against Georgia to qualify.
Russia routed Luxembourg 4-0 to open a three-point lead in Group F over Portugal, which drew 1-1 at home with Israel. Azerbaijan beat Northern Ireland 2-0 in the group’s other game.
Bosnia-Herzegovina routed Liechtenstein 4-1 and Greece beat Slovakia 1-0 to leave the winners tied atop Group G with 22 points, while Lithuania beat Latvia 2-0.
Turkey and Romania both won road games to move into a tie for second place in Group D ahead of Hungary, which was routed 8-1 by the Netherlands. Turkey beat Estonia 2-0 and Romania defeated Andorra 4-0.
Four teams remain in the Group B playoff race after Italy scored in stoppage time for a 2-2 draw in Denmark. The Danes and Bulgaria, which lost 2-1 to Armenia, are tied for second with 13 points. Armenia and the Czech Republic, a 3-1 winner over Malta, have 12 points.
TEAMS QUALIFYING FOR 2014 WORLD CUP =================================== Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil (host), Costa Rica, Germany, Iran, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, South Korea, Switzerland, U.S.