Geneva (AP) — Germany remain cruising toward the World Cup in Russia, England edged closer, and Poland’s unbeaten run was decisively ended on Friday.
Germany’s 2-1 win at the Czech Republic was the world champions’ seventh straight win in qualifying and maintained their five-point lead over Northern Ireland atop Group C with three rounds left.
Mats Hummels leaped high to head an 88th-minute winning goal that capped an interesting week for the Bayern Munich defender. He was rebuked by team management for posting a video of himself on social media jumping off a balcony into a swimming pool.
England labored to a 4-0 win in Malta with three late goals to stay two points ahead in Group F from Slovakia, who come to play at Wembley in a potentially group-defining game on Monday.
Poland, the world’s No. 5-ranked team, lost 4-0 in Denmark and now lead Group E by just three points from Montenegro and the Danes.
Here’s how the nine qualifiers in Europe on Friday left the World Cup qualifying picture:
Mats Hummels was reminded of the responsibilities being a German international this week after his pool-jumping stunt.
The veteran defender reminded the team of his scoring prowess by rising to meet a Toni Kroos free-kick and send a looping header beyond goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik.
The Czechs had leveled Werner’s fourth-minute goal in the 78th when Hertha Berlin midfielder Vladimir Darida fired in a stunning shot.
Northern Ireland look bound for the playoffs — among the eight best group runners-up — after winning 3-0 in San Marino. The visitors took 70 minutes to break down a San Marino defence that was conceding an average of five goals per game.
Josh Magennis scored twice in a five-minute spell to ensure the Irish victory and create a seven-point gap to the third-placed Czechs, who play in Belfast on Monday.
Norway won 2-0 at home to Azerbaijan in a game that did not affect the qualification picture.
Germany can seal qualification by beating Norway in Stuttgart on Monday, if Northern Ireland fail to win.
Polish star striker Robert Lewandowski had not failed to score in six previous qualifiers, his team winning five.
That run ended in Copenhagen as Denmark scored twice in each half in a thumping 4-0 loss for the Poles.
Tottenham playmaker Christian Eriksen had two assists before scoring the fourth goal himself in the 80th.
Denmark stay in third place, level on points with Montenegro who earlier won 3-0 in Kazakhstan.
The three leading teams all avoid each other in Monday’s games, when Poland can reassert themselves with a home game against the last-place Kazakhs.
In the other game Friday, Romania beat visiting Armenia 1-0.
England did not impress before finally seeing off 190th-ranked Malta on a warm evening on the Mediterranean island.
Harry Kane, the Tottenham striker who notoriously does not score in August, scored two on Sept. 1 as all the goals came in the second half. Defender Ryan Bertrand made it 2-0 in the 85th and substitute Danny Welbeck got the third in stoppage time before Kane struck again.
England maintained their two-point advantage over Slovakia, who beat visiting Slovenia 1-0.
Slovakia’s goal came in the 81st minute from Adam Nemec, who failed to score for New York City FC in a 2015 spell in MLS.
Scotland rose to third place above Slovenia by winning 3-0 in Lithuania.