Two-goal Romelu Lukaku fired Belgium’s golden generation into next year’s World Cup finals with Germany and Switzerland also sealing their tickets to the Brazil extravaganza on Friday.
Belgium, boasting one of the most talented squads in Europe, will return to the global showpiece for the first time since 2002 after a 2-1 win in Croatia guaranteed top spot in Group A.
Perennial finalists Germany’s 3-0 home win over Ireland, with goals from Sami Khedira, Andre Schuerrle and Mesut Ozil, put them through from Group C while the Swiss won 2-1 in Albania to wrap up Group E.
The Netherlands, with Robin van Persie hitting a hat-trick in an 8-1 demolition of Hungary, and Italy had sealed their passage to the finals before Friday’s penultimate round of qualifiers.
Holders Spain moved to the brink of qualification from Group I after captain Xavi and substitute Alvaro Negredo struck in a labored 2-1 win at home to Belarus.
Group F leaders Russia, with a 4-0 victory in Luxembourg, and England, who beat Montenegro 4-1 at Wembley, remain in pole position in Group H ahead of Tuesday’s final round of matches.
Victory on a wet night in Zagreb prompted joyous celebrations from the Belgian players in front of a sizeable and vociferous contingent of travelling fans.
Lukaku broke the deadlock from Steven Defour’s defense-splitting pass and doubled the lead seven minutes before the break, racing away from the halfway line before lifting the ball over prone goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa and walking the ball into the net.
Sweden captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic struck a late winner to earn a 2-1 victory over Austria that secured second place behind the Germans and one of the playoff spots.
The eight best group runners-up advance to a two-legged playoff next month to fill the last four European places.
Goals from Xherdan Shaqiri and Michael Lang clinched Switzerland’s passage with their successful campaign built around a rock-solid defense that has conceded just six goals.
Iceland or Slovenia will finish second in the group.
Iceland, 2-0 winners over Cyprus on Friday, will secure that spot if they can win in Norway on Tuesday while Slovenia, who face the Swiss in Berne, stayed in contention thanks to Milivoje Novakovic’s hat-trick in a 3-0 drubbing of the Norwegians.
Spain’s win in Palma de Mallorca put them three points clear of France with one match to play and a point against Georgia in Albacete on Tuesday will secure a berth in Brazil.
Russia need a point from their final game away at Azerbaijan to qualify after brushing aside Luxembourg to move three points ahead of Portugal.
A late blunder from goalkeeper Rui Patricio gifted Israel a 1-1 draw in Lisbon to leave Portugal, who led through a first half goal from Ricardo Costa, staring at the playoffs.
England will win their section with victory at home to Poland. Roy Hodgson’s side had to remain patient to overcome stubborn Montenegro.
Wayne Rooney eased England’s nerves when he struck soon after the restart and a Branko Boskovic own-goal, a stunning third on his debut by Andros Townsend, and an injury-time penalty from Daniel Sturridge secured victory.
Ukraine remain one point behind and must hope England slip up against the Poles. Andriy Yarmolenko scored the only goal as the Ukrainians edged Poland 1-0 in Kharkiv which all but ended the Euro 2012 co-hosts’ hopes of progressing.
Bosnia and Greece are neck-and-neck on 22 points at the top of Group G after home wins on Friday.
Bosnia thumped Liechtenstein 4-1 while a Martin Skrtel own-goal handed Greece a 1-0 success at home to Slovakia.
Nicklas Bendtner netted both goals in Denmark’s 2-2 draw at home to Italy in Group B. Alberto Aquilani’s stoppage-time equalizer rescued a point for the visitors.
The Danes remain third, level on 13 points with Bulgaria who lost 2-1 in Armenia.
The NBA said was re-evaluating its training program in China following allegations of abuse of young players by local staff and harassment of foreign staffers at a facility in Xinjiang. The comments come after a report by ESPN that quoted unnamed American coaches as saying that Chinese coaches hit young players. One American coach who worked at a camp in Xinjiang complained of harassment by local police, the sports network said. “The allegations in the ESPN article are disturbing,” NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum said in an e-mail statement on Thursday. “We ended our involvement with the basketball academy in Xinjiang in June
Taiwan Steel on Sunday grabbed three points with a narrow 1-0 win against Hang Yuan FC, to move into the No. 2 spot on the Taiwan Football Premier League (TFPL) log, while Taipower FC beat NTUS 2-0 to maintain first place. Taking advantage early in the match of opposition defenders who had not yet settled down, Taiwan Steel’s attacking trio of Wu Chun-ching, Marc Fenelus from the Turks and Caicos Islands, and Benchy Astama from Haiti pushed forward with good passes. After only one minute of play, Fenelus dribbled from the right flank, feeding a short pass inside the penalty area to
LEAVING IT LATE: Rakuten added late runs last night to add to wins on Wednesday against the Brothers and the Lions on Friday that went down to the last batter The Rakuten Monkeys rallied to post three late runs for another close win, prevailing 5-3 over the Uni-President Lions yesterday as Taiwan’s second-half CPBL season got started with lower scoring output, but exciting finishes. It was Rakuten’s third win in a row. In two games this week, they seized victory in dramatic fashion with their last at-bat and have drawn level with the CTBC Brothers on top of the table after yesterday’s results, 0.5 games in front of the Fubon Guardians and 1.5 games ahead of the Lions. It was tied at 1-1 early, with Rakuten hosting the Lions at the Taoyuan Intenational
STAYING COOL: Hamilton said that his ‘heart nearly stopped’ when he noticed the puncture, but he kept going to beat Alain Prost’s total of six home wins in France Lewis Hamilton said he feared he might not make it home when a last lap puncture almost derailed his charge to a record seventh British Grand Prix victory on Sunday. “I didn’t think I would make it round the last two corners,” the world champion said. The front left tire of his Mercedes had delaminated and deflated on his final lap, leaving the six-time world champion to nurse his vehicle to the finish as second-placed Max Verstappen hunted him down. “I just can’t believe it,” Hamilton said. “It was heart-stopping. I backed off and stayed chilled and was so glad it happened on