England 1-0 Slovenia
An easy group has meant England is yet to face real opposition in their road to Russia 2018, and Slovenia weren’t expected to be any different.
There were early nerves for England after Joe Hart brought down Slovenian striker Josip Ilicic, who was quicker than him to the ball.
The England keeper certainly seemed to catch the player, who looked inquisitively to referee Felix Zwayer, but the officials opted only for a Slovenian corner.
England grew into the game somewhat as the first half progressed, carving out a number of opportunities and half-chances but, aside from one good save, they didn’t manage to really test Jan Oblak in the Slovenia net.
England just doesn’t seem to have the kind of end product that you need to challenge the bigger teams like Germany. Easy qualifying groups seem to once again allow this England team to simply paper over the cracks, rather than actually fix them.
England started the second half at a higher intensity, but were nearly caught out inside three minutes, as Ilicic drifted a ball to the back post and the header from Bojan Jokic left Hart juggling the ball in his hands before he control it.
Following that chance, Slovenia got a bit of wind in their sales, and against a backdrop of a very flat Wembley and completely dull England pushed forwards, having by far the better chances up until the hour mark.
England looked slow, bored and complacent, giving the ball away in dangerous areas. Against tougher opposition, which we will face in Russia, and England will suffer badly.
On 62 minutes, England were gifted with by far their best opportunity of the game, breaking at pace towards an absent Slovenian defence.
The ball was rolled into Marcus Rashford, but he chose to try and chip the Oblak with a clever flick, only for the Slovenian goalkeeper to pluck it from the air.
Encouraged by the Rashford chance, England flooded forward again, with a cross coming back out to Sterling whose good, drilled shot was blocked by some fantastic defending.
The resulting corner, though, was a thing of England brilliance – playing it quickly and immediately getting caught offside.
Slovenia’s defence was once again torn open by the counter attack on 68 minutes, with Sterling’s shot once again blocked by the determined defending of Slovenia’s Bostjan Cesar, before Harry Kane dragged the follow up wide.
Trouble looked like it could have been brewing for John Stones after one of the Slovenian players fell to the floor as the pair walked out from a failed corner.
Replays showed an altercation of sorts, and while the contact was minimal and a shove of sorts, Stones needs to show greater discipline than that. He simply shouldn’t be drawn into altercations of any kind, or teams are just going to wind him up all the more.
A defence-splitting ball in the 83 minute nearly caused England all sorts of problems as Slovenia sprinted forwards, saved only by Joe Hart getting the ball just before the attacker. The referee’s whistle saved England from the follow up effort.
England finally broke the deadlock – another very late snatch and grab against Slovenia – on 94 minutes through Harry Kane.
It was a very good ball in by Kyle Walker, and Kane diverted the ball directly at Oblak, but the ball bounced over the line all the same.
That goal meant that England qualified for the World Cup as group winners.
Scotland 1-0 Slovakia
A big game for the Scottish.
The first major highlight came on 23 minutes, but it wasn’t a goal. Rather, it was a second yellow card to Slovakia’s Robert Mak.
The PAOK attacking midfielder, on loan from Zenit, drove into the penalty area, Scotland’s goalkeeper Craig Gordon came rushing out and Mak dived to the ground blatantly, looking for a penalty.
Gordon, however, had made a clear effort to pull away his arms at the last second and Mak saw himself given a second yellow card for simulation.
Down to ten men early, Slovakia set up very defensively against Scotland, and several good saves by Martin Dubravka in the Slovakia goal frustrated the Scottish attack.
It ended as a very good, attacking performance by Scotland in the first half but playing against ten men they needed to be less cautious and more clinical, as they went into the break yet to find a goal.
Leigh Griffiths hit the crossbar with a magnificent free kick effort, before James Morrison’s shot was brilliantly saved by Dubravka.
No matter what the Scotland players did, and they did it very well, it just wasn’t to be their night in front of goal.
Well, at least it wasn’t to be until the 88th minute, when Chris Martin’s pressure caused Martin Skrtel to put through his own net and put Scotland ahead, making the Scottish World Cup dream much more tangible.
It was exactly what they had deserved after plugging away at the Slovakian defence all match.
Northern Ireland 1-3 Germany
Manager Michael O’Neill warned before the match that his team might need to take a conservative approach against Germany, but if they did it certainly didn’t help them.
Inside 2 minutes, Bayern Munich duo Joshua Kimmich and Sebastian Rudy combined, with the latter driving a right footed shot from outside the box into to the top right corner.
Germany’s second of the match came on 21 minutes through Hoffenheim striker Sandro Wagner, who was given too much space and struck a vicious left-footed shot into the net.
Joshua Kimmich added a third for Germany on 86 minutes with a right footed shot from the right side of the six yard box to the bottom right corner of McGovern’s goal.
There was a late consolation for Northern Ireland, who saw Josh Magennis score on 93 minutes.
Germany have qualified for the 2018 World Cup with the result.
Rest of Europe
Armenia 1-6 Poland
Elsewhere in Europe, it was a comfortable run out for Poland who were never really threatened by a physical Armenia side.
The Armenians had their fair share of shots, and fouls committed (30 in total), but never truly questioned Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – not compared to their clinical opponents.
Within 2 minutes, Hull City winger Kamil Grosicki opened the scoring, before Robert Lewandowski added a second on 18 minutes.
The Bayern Munich striker made it three on 25 minutes, before Armenia defender Hovhannes Hambardzumyan, who plays his club football for Macedonian side FK Vardar, restored some pride for his country.
The second half went Poland’s way too, as Jakub Blaszczykowski found the net on 58 minutes, before Lewandowski added a fifth on 65 minutes.
A sixth was added late on by Lechia Gdansk midfielder Rafal Wolski.
It was a comfortable win for Poland, taking them to 22 points and maintaining their lead at the top of Group E.
In scoring his hat trick, Robert Lewandowski became Poland’s all-time leading goalscorer.
Azerbaijan 1-2 Czech Republic
A match with little meaning in relation to the road to Russia 2018, with both sides unable to qualify from Group C, it produced a game that reflected as much.
The Czech side had the considerably greater number of chances and shots, 21 in all, compared to Azerbaijan’s single strike – which hit the target.
Viktoria Plzen’s midfielder Jan Kopic opened the scoring for the Czech on 35 minutes.
Azerbaijan were given a lifeline, however, early in the second half after winning a penalty. Qarabag’s Afran Ismailov made no mistake with the finish, and on 55 minutes the scores were level.
The match remained level for 11 minutes after the equaliser, before Udinese’s Antonin Barak scored what would prove to be the match-winning goal.
It certainly wasn’t a classic in the Azeri capital, Baku, but the Czech Republic walked away the victors.
San Marino 0-8 Norway
Minnows San Marino were made easy work of by Norway, who brushed aside their weaker opponents with relative ease.
The scoring was opened on 8 minutes by Hull City’s Markus Henriksen effort, which went in courtesy of a deflection by San Marino’s Davide Simoncini.
Bournemouth striker Josh King then made quick work of widening Norway’s advantage, first converting a penalty on 14 minutes, before adding his second and Norway’s third on 17 minutes.
Basel’s Mohamed Elyounoussi scored Norway’s fourth on 40 minutes, as they showed their quality against considerably weaker opposition.
Elyounoussi added his second of the game and Norway’s fifth just after the interval, hitting the back of the net on 47 minutes.
Ole Selnaes, who plays his club football for Saint-Etienne, made it six for Norway on 58 minutes. Norway’s seventh came from Elyounoussi, who netted his hat trick on 68 minutes.
Galatasaray’s Martin Linnes added an eighth goal on 86 minutes to complete Norway’s rout against San Marino.
Montenegro 0-1 Denmark
In a fairly uneventful first half, Tottenham’s creative midfielder Christian Eriksen opened the scoring for Denmark on 16 minutes.
A dull fixture, Denmark can claim a win but it was an unbelievably dull affair, especially on a night where two nations scored 14 goals between the two of them.
Romania 3-1 Kazakhstan
Another slow start saw little happen until Romania tookthe lead through a Constantin Budescu’s finish on 33 minutes.
The Steaua forward then added Romania’s second of the game from the penalty spot just five minutes later, on 38 minutes.
Ludogorets’ Claudiu Keseru added a third for the Romanians on 73 minutes.
Bauyrzhan Turysbek, who plays club football for FC Kairat in his home nation, got a consolation goal back for Kazakhstan on 82 minutes.
Malta 1-1 Lithuania
In one of the forgotten games going on this evening, Malta were the team to break the deadlock against Lithuania.
Defender Andrei Agius, of Hibernians (The Malta club, not Hibernian in Scotland) opened the scoring on 23 minutes.
Malta, on an interesting note, scored the only goal in the first half in the Group F fixtures, despite being seen as the weakest team in the group.
Lithuania scored an equaliser on 53 minutes through Hibernian’s Vykintas Slivka (And yes, Slivka’s club is the Scottish one).
It was typical wasn’t it, a goal from the Hibernians player and the Hibernian player. A commentator’s nightmare, that one.