Germany took a step closer to next year’s World Cup finals on Wednesday with a 2-0 win in Azerbaijan to cement their status at the head of European zone Group Four, while France kept up the pressure on Group Seven rivals Serbia by snatching a win by the only goal in the Faroe Islands.
Bastian Schweinsteiger’s 12th-minute goal set the Germans on their way in Baku and Miroslav Klose notched the clincher nine minutes after the restart to take Joachim Loew’s side onto 19 points from seven undefeated games, four clear of Russia.
With only the group winners guaranteed to advance to the finals in South Africa, the Germans needed to ensure there were no slip-ups with a match against Russia to come next month.
“We still have some room for improvement,” Loew said sternly after his 28th win in 40 matches in charge.
But while the three-time world champions motor on, the situation is more delicate for 1998 winners France, who despite their narrow success in Torshavn courtesy of a first-half goal from Andre-Pierre Gignac still trail Serbia by five points, although Les Bleus have a game in hand.
“The priority was the three points, the rest is a bonus,” said Domenech, who nevertheless expressed his frustration that they failed to finish off their many chances.
“We’re all frustrated, we needed to score more,” he said.
While Group Six top dogs England were coming from behind to draw 2-2 in a prestige friendly in Amsterdam with the already qualified Netherlands, rivals Croatia thanked two goals from Ivica Olic which underpinned a 3-1 win at Belarus that kept Slaven Bilic’s team in the hunt at least mathematically.
Croatia stay second in the group with 14 points, still seven behind England, who have a perfect record of 21 points from seven games.
Arsenal striker Eduardo joined Olic in getting on the scoresheet, scoring from close range following a pinpoint cross by skipper Darijo Srna.
Dimitry Verkhovtsov scored a late consolation for Belarus.
With the Netherlands able to take a back seat on Wednesday, having already sent everyone else packing in Group Nine, Scotland flunked the chance to close in on a possible playoff spot after Norway swamped them 4-0 in Oslo.
Morten Gamst Pedersen grabbed a double for Norway, but the match turned in the first half when Gary Caldwell was sent off for two bookings inside a minute.
Goals from former Liverpool man John Arne Riise and Blackburn’s Pedersen soon followed with Erik Husekleep’s first international goal in the second-half and Pedersen’s last minute free-kick giving Norway a comfortable victory under back in charge coach Egil Olsen.
The Norwegians’ win puts them just one point behind the Scots with just two games remaining, leaving George Burley’s men in dire danger of missing out on a playoff berth.
“Whatever could have gone wrong tonight went wrong,” Burley said.
In a Group Three encounter, Slovenia flayed no-hopers San Marino 5-0 to move into third spot a point above Poland in Group Three.
Slovakia lead the group with 15 points from six games with Northern Ireland on 13 from seven and Slovenia on 11 from seven.
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