Former champions Germany were given an early chance for celebration on Friday after becoming the first team to qualify for next year’s European Championship finals.
A 6-2 hammering of neighbors Austria means Joachim Loew’s Germany side have now taken their tally in Group A to an unassailable 24 points after winning all of their eight games to date.
France edged closer to qualification, but had to survive a scare in Tirana before running out 2-1 winners against Albania, a result that allowed Laurent Blanc’s side to move three points clear at the top of Group D.
Meanwhile, a resurgent Wayne Rooney played a starring role as England romped to a 3-0 victory over hapless Bulgaria, which leaves Fabio Capello’s men firmly in control at the top of Group G with only two games remaining.
Italy also edged closer to securing automatic qualification. but, like France, had to survive an edgy away encounter, away to the Faroe Islands, before running out 1-0 winners.
Elsewhere, Ireland’s qualifying hopes suffered a blow when they were held to a scoreless draw in Dublin by Slovakia. Following Russia’s 1-0 victory earlier over Macedonia, Dick Advocaat’s men top Group B and welcome Ireland to Moscow on Tuesday in what may be the defining clash of the campaign.
The Netherlands, ranked the world’s No. 1 team, claimed a record 11-0 win against minnows San Marino to claim their seventh qualifying win on the trot as they inch closer to qualifying from Group E with three games remaining.
Germany have been one of the form teams in Europe going into and since last year’s World Cup, where they finished third behind Spain and the Netherlands.
Despite showing some chinks in defense, Loew’s men maintained their discipline and poise against a plucky Austrian side to show they will be one of the teams to beat in Poland and Ukraine next year.
“We have qualified for the finals at the earliest available opportunity,” Loew said, with his side still to play Belgium and Turkey next month in their two remaining qualifiers. “We got caught out twice defensively, but I think we restricted the Austrians to just two chances and I prefer to focus on the fact that we created so many chances ourselves.”
Former world champions France led 2-0 at halftime through goals from Karim Benzema and Yann M’Vila.
However, Les Bleus conceded the initiative to their hosts after the restart when a defensive mix-up enabled Erjon Bogdani to pull a goal back and they were made to sweat during an uncomfortable second half.
Victory puts Blanc’s side in a strong position with three games to play, although Bosnia-Herzegovina remain on their tails after winning 2-0 in Belarus.
“Creatively, we did quite well,” Blanc said. “Up front we created a lot of scoring chances and we’re starting to gel better.”
Rooney scored twice as new-look England edged closer to qualification with a comprehensive win in Sofia, which left Capello’s men three points clear at the top of Group G after Wales defeated second-placed Montenegro 2-1 in the pool’s other game.
If England pick up a further three points against Wales at Wembley next week, they will need only a point from their final game in Montenegro on Oct. 7 to guarantee qualification.
Italy, who have three games remaining, will secure their Euro 2012 ticket if they beat Slovenia in Florence on Tuesday.