Paris: Mats Hummels fired Germany to the brink of qualification for the 2018 World Cup on Friday with a late winner against the Czech Republic, while Harry Kane scored twice as England downed Malta 4-0.
RB Leipzig striker Timo Werner struck after just four minutes for the World champions in Prague, but Vladimir Darida’s stunning second-half equaliser hauled the hosts level.
Joachim Loew’s side made it seven wins from seven in Group C though as Hummels headed in a Toni Kroos cross on 88 minutes to clinch a 2-1 victory and leave Germany needing just four points from their final three matches.
“We can’t be happy with the way we played,” said Loew.
“We had to have a lot of luck today and if Mat hadn’t scored with this great header, then we would have had to live with a draw.”
They could punch their ticket to Russia as early as next Monday should they beat Norway at home and Northern Ireland fail to win against the Czechs in Belfast.
Northern Ireland remained on course to finish second, and enter the November play-offs, after a Josh Magennis brace and Steven Davis penalty ended San Marino’s gritty resistance in a 3-0 win in Serravalle.
Tottenham Hotspur forward Kane turned the page on his August jinx as England laboured for much of the evening in Ta’Qali before the visitors struck three times in the closing minutes.
Kane up and running
Kane, the Premier League’s golden boot winner the past two seasons, has yet to score a goal in August during his career but marked the arrival of September by converting England’s opener on 53 minutes after clever play from Dele Alli.
Ryan Bertrand netted his first international goal four minutes from time when his long-range effort skipped past Malta goalkeeper Andrew Hogg, with Danny Welbeck nipping in ahead of Hogg to add a third in stoppage time.
Kane then chipped in with his second of the game after a sublime assist from Marcus Rashford as England stayed two points clear of Slovakia at the top of Group F ahead of next Monday’s clash at Wembley.
“Whenever you come away for games like this it is never going to be easy,” Kane told ITV.
“We were trying to break them down, they had 10 men behind the ball. We knew if we just kept moving it wide we would find the space.”
Miha Mevlja’s 81st-minute own goal handed Slovakia a 1-0 win over Slovenia in Trnava, while Scotland cruised to a 3-0 win away to Lithuania to stay within four points of second place.
Stuart Armstrong, Andrew Robertson and James McArthur were all on target for Scotland, who will hope to close the gap on Slovakia when they host Malta next.
Denmark revived their qualifying bid with a 4-0 thrashing of Group E leaders Poland in Copenhagen courtesy of goals from Thomas Delaney, Andreas Cornelius, Nicolai Jorgensen and Christian Eriksen.
The Danes are level with second-placed Montenegro, 3-0 winners in Kazakhstan, and both nations trail Poland by three points.