Northern Ireland secure play-off place despite defeat but Scotland miss out

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Northern Ireland celebrated a World Cup qualifying play-off place despite a 1-0 defeat in Norway as Scotland’s bid ended in heartache.

Michael O’Neill’s Northern Ireland, already assured of a second-place finish in Group C, secured their play-off berth courtesy of Scotland’s agonising 2-2 Group F draw against Slovenia earlier in the evening.

Scotland’s hopes of reaching the World Cup finals for the first time in 20 years were dashed in Ljubljana, with Slovakia snatching the play-off place on goal difference with a 3-0 win against Malta.

Northern Ireland, who qualified for the finals of a major tournament for the first time since 1986 when they reached Euro 2016, slipped up in Oslo after Chris Brunt’s second-half own goal handed Norway victory, but they remain on course for Russia 2018.

Scotland substitute Robert Snodgrass forced home a late equaliser in Slovenia, but Gordon Strachan’s side fell short.

Victory for Scotland in their final group match would have guaranteed them second spot behind England and Leigh Griffiths’ goal gave them a half-time lead.

But Slovenia’s Roman Bezjak headed an equaliser early in the second half and then fired his side ahead in the 72nd minute.

Snodgrass turned home Darren Fletcher’s cross in the 87th minute and although Slovenia’s Bostjan Cesar was sent off in the closing stages, Scotland could not find a winner.

Slovakia finished level on points with Scotland but with a better goal difference, as Adam Nemec scored in either half and Ondrej Duda added a third against Malta.

England, already assured of their passage to Russia 2018 as Group F winners, wrapped up their qualifying campaign with a 1-0 win in Lithuania thanks to Harry Kane’s 26th-minute penalty for Linas Klimavicius’ foul on Dele Alli.

Germany, Group C winners, closed their qualifying campaign with a 100 per cent record following a 5-1 win against Azerbaijan in Kaiserslautern.

Ramil Sheydayev cancelled out Leon Goretzka’s early opener for Germany, but after the break goals from Sandro Wagner, Antonio Rudiger, Goretzka’s second and Emre Can made it 10 wins from 10 for the reigning world champions.

Michal Krmencik’s first-half double, Jan Kopic’s effort before the break and further goals from Filip Novak and Vaclav Kadlec helped Czech Republic to a 5-0 home win against San Marino.

Poland booked their ticket for the finals as a 4-2 home win against Montenegro saw them finish top of Group E.

Montenegro gave them a scare, fighting back from two goals down to level at 2-2 in the 85th minute before Robert Lewandowski and Filip Stojkovic’s own goal sealed a dramatic win for Poland.

The Poles had led 2-0 at half-time through Krzysztof Maczynski and Hull winger Kamil Grosicki, with goals from Montenegro pair Stefan Mugosa (79) and Zarko Tomasevic (85) ensuring a nervous finale.

Elsewhere in Group E, Denmark were held 1-1 by Romania in Copenhagen after Ciprian Deac’s late header cancelled out Christian Eriksen’s second-half penalty, but the point was enough to secure the Dane’s play-off place.

Bauyrzhan Turysbek’s second-half header earned Kazakhstan a 1-1 home draw against Armenia, who had taken a first-half lead through Manchester United midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Source: By PA Sport Staff





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