England, Germany stay on course for Russia

Paris (AFP) – England and defending champions Germany remained on course for the 2018 World Cup finals Sunday while Danny Blind was fighting to survive as Dutch coach after his team faced missing a second major finals.

At Wembley, Jermain Defoe marked his international comeback with a goal as England toiled to a 2-0 victory over Lithuania.

Defoe, 34, who was making his first England appearance since November 2013, hit the target midway through the second half for his 20th international goal.

Substitute Jamie Vardy added a second as England tightened their grip on first place in Group F.

Gareth Southgate’s side are now the last team in European qualifying yet to have conceded a goal.

England have 13 points, five ahead of Slovenia who face Scotland in Glasgow later Sunday.

“We’d have liked a bit more, but I think really only one team came to win the game and it’s always difficult to break down a packed defence,” said Southgate.

“I’m pleased for the two lads who have got the goals — a great story for Jermain and I felt Jamie added something to us.”

Germany maintained their 100 percent record with a 4-1 win over Azerbaijan in Baku as they moved to 15 points in Group C.

The world champions and Switzerland are the only two teams in Europe who still have perfect records.

A brace from Andre Schuerrle and goals from Thomas Mueller and Mario Gomez saw Germany take their unbeaten away run in World Cup qualifying to 44 games.  

Azerbaijan midfielder Dimitrij Nazarov, who plays in Germany, had netted an early equaliser to the delight of the home crowd before Joachim Loew’s team stepped on the accelerator.

“It does me good to score goals, but it’s up to me to take my performances back to Germany and repeat them for Dortmund,” said Schuerrle.

At Serraville, the Czech Republic trounced San Marino 6-0 to move in to second place in Group C, seven points behind Germany.

The Czechs had already beaten San Marino 7-0 on two previous occasions and they were on their way to another rout on Sunday by leading 5-0 at the break with four goals coming in a devastating eight-minute spell.

Antonin Barak scored in the 17th and 24th minutes, sandwiching a Vladimir Darida strike.

Full-back Theodor Gebre Selassie added the fourth after 25 minutes before Michal Krmencik made it 5-0 just before the interval.

Darida hit the post twice in the closing moments of the first period but the Hertha Berlin midfielder was back on the scoresheet with a penalty after 77 minutes to make it 6-0.

Northern Ireland can reclaim second place later Sunday if they defeat Norway in Belfast.

Group E leaders Poland can extend their lead with victory over Montenegro in Podgorica while, in Cluj, Romania host Denmark.

In the same pool, Manchester United’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan was on target in Armenia’s 2-0 win over Kazakhstan to keep up their hopes of taking the runners-up place.

Meanwhile, the Dutch football federation summoned Danny Blind for talks following Saturday’s 2-0 defeat by Bulgaria that left hopes of reaching the World Cup hanging by a thread.

“During an evening in which literally nothing went right, the Netherlands team lost 2-0 to Bulgaria” on Saturday, the federation said in a statement.

“It was a painful defeat in Sofia, during which the chances of the Netherlands qualifying for the World Cup diminished.”

Following the defeat the team dropped to fourth place in Group A from which only the group winners are guaranteed to qualify for the finals in Russia next year.

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