LONDON: Spain took a decisive further step in defence of their European Championship title as both they and Switzerland joined the growing list of nations certain of their places at the finals in France next summer.
Simultaneously England extended their 100pc record in qualifying by winning their ninth match by 2-0 against a tenacious Estonia at Wembley.
Goals late in each half from Theo Walcott and Raheem Sterling ensured that England, also, will be among the top seeds when the draw for the finals in made in Paris in December.
Manager Roy Hodgson said: “We knew it would be a hard 90 minutes. We started very well but knew we had to be patient, to keep sticking to the attacking patterns we work on. We were unlucky we didn’t score a few more goals. But victory is everything here.”
Hodgson praised the contribution of England’s man of the match Ross Barkley, saying: “Tonight we saw what Barkley can do. He and Sterling were classic exponents of getting in and among and through the opposing defence.”
Estonia manager Magnus Pehrsson had no argument with the outcome.
He said: “We tried to slow the game down and defend well and we did that quite well. But the speed of decision-making was a big difference. We had a few chance on counter attacks and could have done better but England were really sharp.”
Switzerland became the ninth team to qualify by finishing second behind England in Group E when they beat San Marino 7-0 while Slovenia andLithuania played out a 1-1 draw in their match affected for a spell by a partial floodlight failure.
Spain beat minnows Luxembourg 4-0 to make it eight wins out of nine though a comfortable victory was soured by injuries to forward Alvaro Morata and midfielder David Silva who both had to be substituted during the first half.
Substitute Paco Alcacer took his chance in style with two goals and Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla also struck twice. Coach Vicente Del Bosque said: “In terms of our play and team renewal we have made progress. Our team now is practically the finished article.”
Spain will contest a 12th straight international tournament in France and will look to bounce back after going out of last year’s World Cup in Brazil at the group stage when they were defending the title they won for the first time in 2010.
While Spain were winning Group C, Ukraine’s 2-0 victory in Macedonia and Slovakia’s surprise 1-0 home defeat by Belarus means Ukraine or Slovakia will join Spain as the automatic qualifiers while both are guaranteed at least a playoff place.
Group G is more clear-cut after Russia’s 2-1 win in Moldova and Sweden’s 2-0 victory away to Liechtenstein, where their striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic missed a penalty.
Already-qualified Austria preserved their unbeaten record with a 3-2 win in Montenegro to reach 25 points.
Russia, who have 17 points, play Montenegro on Monday, while Sweden, who have 15, are at home to Moldova. A win for Russia will guarantee them second place.
The ninth round of qualifiers in Groups A, B and H take place on Saturday with Wales, Belgium, Italy and Norway hoping to wrap up automatic qualification with a round to spare.