DUISBURG: North Macedonia produced the upset of European qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar with a 2-1 win away to former champions Germany in Group J.
Goran Pandev finished off a delightful team move to stun the Brazil 2014 winners just before the break, but Ilkay Gundogan’s penalty restored parity in the 63rd minute. After Timo Werner had missed a glaring chance to put Germany ahead, Eljif Elmas pounced to seize North Macedonia one of their best-ever results.
North Macedonia are only the second team to score more than one goal in an away World Cup qualifier in Germany since England won 5-1 in Munich in September 2001. Sweden were the others in a 4-4 draw in October 2011.
Germany coach Joachim Low has already announced that he will step down after the Euro finals in June and July.
Elsewhere in the group Armenia came from behind to win a thrilling contest 3-2 with Romania and continue their stunning start to qualifying.
The goals all came in a breathtaking second half, which burst into life when the hosts’ Eduard Spertsyan drifted forward unopposed and beat Florin Nita from 25 yards – albeit with the aid of a deflection.
Romania recovered well though, and turned the scoreline on its head through a quickfire double from Alexandru Cicaldau. But the match turned again on a red card for George Puscas following a reckless high challenge, and the noisy home crowd exploded thanks to two goals in the final three minutes – a header from captain Varazdat Haroyan and a coolly dispatched Tigran Barseghyan penalty.
Armenia have now won three successive World Cup qualifiers for the first time in their history and remain perched above Germany at the summit of Group J.
Iceland ended a seven-match losing run and revived their Qatar hopes with a comfortable 4-1 win in Liechtenstein.
The Icelanders, who made their World Cup debut in 2018, had enjoyed a miserable start to the current qualifying campaign but their nerves were settled inside 12 minutes of kick-off when Birkir Saevarsson put them ahead. The visitors completely dominated thereafter and made sure of the points when Birkir Bjarnason doubled their advantage just before half-time. Victor Palsson and Runar Sigurjonsson added to the scoreline late on, rendering Yanik Frick’s effort for the hosts a mere consolation.
In Group B:
Spain leapfrogged Sweden to go top of Group B with a politically-delicate 3-1 win over Kosovo which went ahead despite problems arising from the host government’s refusal to recognise Kosovo as an independent nation.
Spain’s stoppage-time hero from their 2-1 win over Georgia Dani Olmo opened the scoring and found the top corner with a beautiful, curled shot. Ferran Torres had Spain up by two just a minute later with a laser-accurate, low and driven finish that kissed off the post before going in.
Besar Halimi gave La Roja a scare when he scored a bizarre goal, stripping Unai Simon of the ball nearly at the halfway line and scoring from well over 40 yards. However, the in-form Villarreal striker Gerard Moreno restored Luis Enrique’s side’s two-goal cushion 15 minutes from time with a near-post header from a corner kick.
Khvicha Kvaratskhelia’s remarkable goal earned Georgia a 1-1 draw in Greece.
A game of few opportunities swung the Greeks way when Otar Kakabadze, attempting to put the ball out for a corner, volleyed it into his own net in the 76th minute. Within minutes, however, Kvaratskhelia, 20, continued his fine form by dribbling past two opponents and finding the bottom corner.
Spain thus extended their unbeaten run in World Cup qualifying matches to 66 games (W52 D14). Their last defeat in a World Cup qualifier was on March 31, 1993, by 1-0 against Denmark.
The Azzurri have lost only two of their last 42 World Cup qualifying matches. They are unbeaten in their last 25 matches in all competitions (W20 D5). They have also won each of their last six matches without conceding a goal and the most recent five matches by the same scoreline of 2-0.
The hosts had the best of the game’s few chances, and came within millimetres of an opener in the first half when Leeds United’s Stuart Dallas headed against the crossbar. But there was no way through for either side and the match ended with Northern Ireland winless in their last eight matches and having failed to score in any of their last five World Cup qualifiers.
In Group D:
World Cup champions France were made to sweat but they came away from Sarajevo with all three points after a 1-0 win over Bosnia and Herzegovina to extend their lead at the top of the group.
Antoine Griezmann scored the lone goal and his 35th for his country in the 60th minute, guiding in a well-placed header from Adrien Rabiot’s cross. Griezmann has now played in 46 consecutive games for France; the last time he did not feature was on 13 June 2017 against England.
France have now won each of their last eight away games in all competitions, seven of those without conceding a goal.
Leaders Denmark continued their hugely impressive start to Qatar 2022 qualifying with a second-half goal spree and a 4-0 win in Austria.
There had been little to separate the sides – first and second in Group F at kick-off – before Andreas Skov Olsen fired high into the net 12 minutes into the second half. But that led to a flurry of four goals in the space of just 16 minutes, with Joakim Maehle and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg on target before Olsen completed his double as Austria’s defence fell apart.
Denmark are now unbeaten in their last 12 World Cup qualifying matches and have conceded just five goals during that sequence.
John McGinn was the goal hero again as Scotland claimed their first win of the Qatar 2022 qualifiers.
The Aston Villa midfielder, who scored a spectacular overhead kick in the Scots’ 2-2 draw with Austria, swept home Kieran Tierney’s cutback to settle any early nerves and made sure of victory with a firm header from another excellent Tierney cross.
Che Adams then opened his international account in just his second start for Clarke’s team and Ryan Fraser nodded home from Andrew Robertson’s pinpoint cross. Scotland are now unbeaten in their last nine World Cup qualifiers and have moved up to second place in Group F.
Israel finally kick-started their campaign with an emphatic 4-1 win in Moldova that moved them on to four points from three games.
Catalin Carp gave the hosts the lead, but Eran Zahavi equalised on the stroke of half-time. Moldova’s Ion Nicolaescu was sent off shortly after the restart, and three goals within nine minutes, courtesy of Manor Solomon, Munas Dabbur and Bebras Natcho, powered Israel to victory.