FRANKFURT: Defender Matthias Ginter scored one goal and was involved in two more as Germany comfortably saw off Belarus 4-0 on Saturday to clinch their place at Euro 2020, qualifying for the finals for a record 13th time in a row.
The inspired Ginter broke the deadlock in the 41st minute with a clever backheel, provided a dummy which allowed Leon Goreztka to score the second and the pass for Toni Kroos to add the third.
Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer saved a penalty from Igor Stasevich in the 75th minute and Kroos added a fourth to complete his first national team brace since the 7-1 World Cup semi-final win over Brazil in 2014.
Group C leaders Germany were given a helping hand by arch-rivals the Netherlands who held Northern Ireland 0-0 away to ensure the Dutch and Germans qualified with one match to spare.
Germany have 18 points —- from six draws and one defeat — while the Dutch have 16 and Northern Ireland 14.
Belarus have four points but could still qualify as they have reached the playoffs of the Nations League which offers four more places.
“I’m satisfied, there were some very good passing exchanges,” said coach Joachim Low, who took over in 2006 and will be in charge at his seventh major tournament.
“We did a good job. All in all, I’m very satisfied. Kroos is extremely important for the team, he’s always ready to play, always keeps his cool – he’s elementary for such a young team. He does that very well.”
As expected, Germany quickly took control although their early attacks were somewhat predictable.
They were given a fright when Stasevich’s dipping long-range shot forced Neuer into a difficult save and they went ahead shortly afterwards.
Serge Gnabry wriggled past his marker and fired a low ball across the face of goal which was flicked in by Ginter for his first Germany goal on his 29th appearance.
Germany increased their lead four minutes after halftime when Kroos sent a low corner to the edge of the area, Ginter dummied and Goretzka fired home.
Six minutes later, Ginter’s pass found Kroos on the edge of the area and he swept the ball home with a trademark first-time shot.
Belarus were awarded a penalty when Robin Koch tripped Pavel Nekhaychik but Neuer dived to his right to save Stasevich’s spot-kick. Kroos rubbed it in when he collected the ball in the area, spun past his mark, evaded another and fired a low shot past Aleksandr Gutor to complete the rout.
David Alaba’s early goal and a snap effort from Stefan Lainer in the second half ensured Austria qualified for next year’s European Championship with a 2-1 win over North Macedonia.
It is a second successive qualification for Austria and will be only their third appearance at the finals, having also been co-hosts in 2008.
The victory kept Austria second in Group G, behind already qualified Poland, who won on Saturday in Israel, and left North Macedonia hoping for success in the playoffs to have any chance of also participating in the finals.
Austria got off to the perfect start to settle as Lainer played a cross-field through ball from deep in his own half, catching North Macedonia’s defence watching Marko Arnautovic in an offside position and not picking up a run from deep by Alaba.
As Arnautovic made no effort to go for the ball, Alaba came speeding onto it, rounding opposing goalkeeper Stole Dimitrievski to score with seven minutes played.
Arnautovic came close with three separate efforts and Dimitrievski made a dramatic save to deny Marcel Sabitzer before halftime.
Straight after the break the North Macedonia keeper made another acrobatic stop to tip over Valentino Lazaro’s close-range effort but when his attempt to punch away the resultant corner failed, Lainer snapped up the loose ball to double the lead in the 48th minute.
North Macedonia proved a handful for the home defence in the latter stages with substitute Vlatko Stojanovski having two good efforts in front of goal – the first narrowly wide and the second saved by Austria’s Alexander Schlager.
But 41,100 Austrian supporters began their celebrations early and seemed little bothered when Stojanovski scored a consolation with the last touch of the game.
Belgium on top
Belgium secured top spot in Euro 2020 qualifying Group I and stretched their perfect record to nine wins after two goals from Eden Hazard and one by his brother Thorgan inspired them to a sparkling 4-1 win in Russia.
With one round of games remaining, Belgium have a maximum 27 points and second-placed Russia 21, both sides having booked their places at next year’s 24-nation tournament.
Although there was only pride to play for, the game got off to a pacy start and Thorgan Hazard fired the visitors ahead with a superb 19th-minute goal when he side-stepped his marker and blasted an unstoppable shot into the top corner.
Eden Hazard made it 2-0 in the 33rd with another fine effort, volleying a low drive past Russia’s Brazilian-born goalkeeper Guilherme after striker Romelu Lukaku headed a lofted pass into his captain’s stride.
The livewire forward doubled his tally shortly before halftime from a brilliant move, with midfielder Kevin De Bruyne squaring the ball unselfishly for Hazard to stroke into an empty net from 12 metres.
Only poor finishing by Lukaku and two good saves by Guilherme denied the Belgians a bigger lead in the opening hour as Russia failed to create anything in front of a partisan home crowd.
Ruthless Belgium struck again in the 72nd minute as Lukaku made amends for his early miss, rifling a scorcher inside the near post from 16 metres with Guilherme clutching nothing but thin air.
Georgi Dzhikiya finally gave the subdued home fans something to cheer about when he swept home a close-range rebound in the 79th, but it was scant consolation for a crushing defeat by last year’s World Cup semi-finalists.