World Cup latest: England and Germany qualify for Russia, but Lionel Messi could be set to miss out as Argentina slump
Harry Kane seals dire England’s spot while defending champions Germany make it nine wins from nine – but 0-0 draw has Argentina sweating
Defending champions Germany clinched a place at next year’s World Cup in Russia with a 3-1 win in Northern Ireland on Thursday, while England beat Slovenia 1-0 to secure their berth – but Lionel Messi and Argentina’s hopes were hanging in the balance after another stalemate.
Sebastian Rudy and Sandro Wagner struck brilliant first-half goals in Belfast before Joshua Kimmich added a late third as Joachim Loew’s team made it nine wins out of nine in European qualifying Group C.
The four-time world champions also maintained their proud unbeaten away record in World Cup qualifiers – a run spanning an incredible 47 matches dating back to 1934.
“We’re off to Russia, to tear it up! We want to successfully defend the World Cup title,” said Bayern Munich midfielder Rudy following his first international goal.
Northern Ireland, who grabbed a consolation through Josh Magennis, remain on track to claim a spot in next month’s play-offs as they attempt to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1986.
Harry Kane continued his stunning goalscoring form with a 94th-minute winner as an unimpressive England overcame Slovenia at Wembley.
Gareth Southgate’s side looked utterly bereft of ideas until skipper Kane converted Kyle Walker’s inviting cross to score his 14th goal in nine games for club and country.
It is the sixth time in succession England have qualified for the World Cup, but after making such heavy work of defeating Slovenia, they are unlikely to give the game’s superpowers many sleepless nights.
“It’s not a relief, I always thought we’d achieve the objective [of qualifying],” said Southgate.
“Tonight highlighted where we are.
“We know exactly where we need to improve. We do have players who can score goals. It is a work in progress and when I was given the job the aim was to qualify for the World Cup.”
Scotland kept alive their hopes of reaching the finals for the first time since 1998 after a last-gasp 1-0 victory at home to Slovakia.
Martin Skrtel’s own goal, just a minute from the end of normal time in Glasgow, leaves Scotland second in Group F, two points ahead of Slovakia and three in front of Slovenia ahead of Sunday’s trip to Ljubljana.
Robert Lewandowski scored a hat-trick to become his country’s record goalscorer as Poland thrashed Armenia 6-1 in Yerevan.
Poland, who finished third at the 1974 and 1982 World Cups, need a point from their final match at home to Group E rivals Montenegro to assure themselves of a place in the finals.
On the other side of the world, Argentina were held to a 0-0 draw in Buenos Aires by Peru, leaving the two-time world champions outside the automatic qualification places as they head into the final round of fixtures on Tuesday.
It was another desperately disappointing display by Argentina, who once again struggled to turn a wealth of possession into goals.
Barcelona star Messi hit the post in the second half but could only watch in frustration after serving up a stream of chances for teammates who failed to convert.
The result left Argentina in sixth place in the standings. The first four teams qualify automatically, with the fifth-placed team advancing to a playoff against New Zealand in November.
But with only two points separating third-placed Chile and seventh-placed Paraguay, the final standings could change dramatically depending on results on Tuesday.
The margin for error for Argentina, however, has narrowed after their latest setback, their third consecutive draw of a faltering qualification campaign.
Argentina’s final qualifier is a challenging away trip to Ecuador in the thin air of Quito. Argentina have a poor record in the Ecuadorean capital, losing two out of three of their last World Cup qualifiers there and drawing the other. The Argentines’ last World Cup qualifying win in Quito came in 2001.
Brazil, who have already qualified in first place, were held to a 0-0 draw by eliminated Bolivia in La Paz earlier Thursday.
Uruguay, who are second with 28 points from 17 games, missed the chance to book their place in Russia after being frustrated 0-0 away at Venezuela.
The Uruguayans are all but assured of qualification however, needing only a draw or a win against lowly Bolivia in Montevideo next week to book their place.
South American champions Chile, meanwhile, resurrected their qualification hopes with a thrilling 2-1 win over Ecuador in Santiago.
In Barranquilla, Colombia threw away what looked to be a certain victory that would have put them within touching distance of qualification as they crashed to a 2-1 defeat to Paraguay.