GLASGOW: World champions Germany moved within sight of a place at the European Championship finals in France next year with a 3-2 Group D victory in Scotland which left the hosts battling for a play-off spot at best.
Gordon Strachan’s side went into the interval level at Hampden Park after coming from behind twice, with Mats Hummels’ own goal and a James McArthur strike cancelling out a Thomas Muller double.
But Ilkay Gundogan’s 54th-minute goal proved to be the winner for Germany, lifting them to 19 points from eight games – two points ahead of Poland and four clear of the Republic of Ireland.
Poland’s predictably emphatic 8-1 rout of Gibraltar kept them on course for second place in the pool.
Kamil Grosicki, Robert Lewandowski and Arkadiusz Milik helped themselves to a brace apiece in Warsaw, with Jakub Blaszczykowski (penalty) and substitute Bartosz Kapustka also on target before Jake Gosling had the last word for the visitors three minutes from time.
In Dublin, Jonathan Walters ended an eventful few days with a priceless goal to hand the Republic Of Ireland a 1-0 triumph over Georgia.
Walters, who did not join up with the squad until Wednesday as a possible deadline-day move away from Stoke failed to materialise, stabbed home his seventh and arguably most important goal for his country after Jeff Hendrick’s stunning run and cross 69 minutes into a tie which proved far too tricky for comfort.
The result, coupled with Scotland’s loss, left Martin O’Neill’s men four points clear of the Scots in the race for third spot and a crack at the play-offs.
Lafferty in luck
In Group F, Kyle Lafferty struck a stoppage-time equaliser as 10-man Northern Ireland salvaged a point against Hungary to keep their qualification dreams very much on track.
Victory on the 10th anniversary of their famous win over England would have secured Michael O’Neill’s men a place in France next summer, but the night looked set to end in acrimony as Michael McGovern’s goalkeeping error gifted Richard Guzmics the opener in the 74th minute.
Chris Baird was sent off with eight minutes left, having committed a pair of fouls within seconds, but Lafferty’s seventh strike of the campaign – a close-range blast following up Niall McGinn’s effort – ensured a point.
With Romania drawing 0-0 against Greece in Bucharest, O’Neill’s men remained top of the pool – one point ahead of the Romanians and four clear of Hungary.
Joel Pohjanpalo’s first-half strike earned fourth-placed Finland a 1-0 win over the Faroe Islands in Helsinki in Group F’s other match.
Pohjanpalo reacted quickest after Alexander Ring hit the post with a looping header to nod home from close range.
In Group I, Miguel Veloso snatched a last-minute winner for Portugal againstAlbania as they moved to the brink of securing their place at the finals with a 1-0 success in Elbasan.
The defender headed in from 12 yards in stoppage time to keep Portugal top of the pool. They lead by three points from Denmark, whose hopes of reaching France earlier suffered a blow as they were held to a 0-0 draw by Armenia in Yerevan.