London (AP) – Germany roared back to their best in a 6-0 demolition of Norway, while England also closed in on World Cup qualification, albeit in contrasting fashion in a come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Slovakia on Monday.
An early Marcus Rashford blunder put England on the back foot but the 19-year-old forward made amends by scoring the winner to put his side five points clear in Europe Group F with two rounds remaining.
It proved much easier for Germany in Stuttgart.
Coach Joachim Loew had been looking for a reaction from his players after the fortunate 2-1 win over the Czech Republic on Friday, and Norway paid the price as the defending champions delivered a statement of intent.
“It was a lesson for us,” Norway coach Lars Lagerback said.
The fans also played their part in a carnival atmosphere – a stark contrast to the unsightly scenes in Prague, where a group of around 200 German fans chanted Nazi slogans and abused striker Timo Werner.
Werner was received warmly in Stuttgart, his hometown, and he repaid the fans with two goals as Germany moved five points clear of Northern Ireland. Loew’s side made it eight wins from eight games.
“It was a really joyful, spirited atmosphere. lt was an evening of football as you’d wish it,” German soccer federation president Reinhard Grindel said.
Northern Ireland’s 2-0 win over the Czech Republic in Belfast secured at least second place in Group C. Germany would need to lose both of their remaining games to surrender the top spot.
Group winners qualify automatically for the World Cup in Russia, while the top eight runners-up from nine groups go on to playoffs to decide the other four places allocated to Europe.
Here’s a closer look at the qualifying groups in action Monday:
Mesut Ozil got Germany off to a flying start, then set up Julian Draxler, before Thomas Mueller set up Werner with his heel for Germany’s third with just 21 minutes played.
Mueller also provided for Werner’s second, Leon Goretzka scored after the break, and Mario Gomez completed the rout with a little over ten minutes remaining.
First-half goals from Jonny Evans and Chris Brunt were enough for Northern Ireland’s first win over the Czechs at the sixth attempt.
Poland, Montenegro, and Denmark all won to keep automatic qualification up for grabs.
Poland stayed first by beating Kazakhstan 3-0, with Robert Lewandowski capping the victory by converting a late penalty in Warsaw.
Denmark thrashed Armenia 4-1 away, thanks to a hat trick from Thomas Delaney and a free kick by Christian Eriksen, to stay three points adrift of Poland.
Stevan Jovetic scored for Montenegro in their1-0 win over Romania, but his side dropped below the Danes on goal difference with two rounds remaining.
Poland host Montenegro in the final round in what could be a decisive group game.
Marcus Rashford unleashed a dipping, angled finish from 20 yards out in the 59th minute to earn England a sixth win in eight group games, having provided the corner that Eric Dier turned home to make it 1-1 in the 37th.
Rashford made amends for losing possession to Stanislav Lobotka and then failing to track the midfielder, who slotted in an opening goal inside three minutes to bring the majority of Wembley to a stunned silence.
Scotland benefited from their old foe’s win at Wembley, closing to within one point of Slovakia in fourth place with a 2-0 home victory over Malta. Slovenia stayed tied on points with Scotland by beating Lithuania 4-0 but climbed into third place on goal difference.