Romelu Lukaku scored a brace for Belgium on Friday as the golden generation of the ‘Rode Duivels’ return to the World Cup after missing out of the previous two editions, while England safe keeps top spot of Group H ahead of next Wednesday’s clash with Poland, with a victory against Montenegro.
The Chelsea striker, on loan at Everton, scored twice in the first-half as the coach Marc Wilmots’ men downed Croatia 2-1, with ex-Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Niko Kranjcar grabbing a late consolation.
Germany and Switzerland were the two other side which proceeded along with Group A winners, Belgium, into the group stage of the 2014 Brazil World Cup after Friday’s Europe qualifiers.
Coach Joachim Loew’s Germany beat Republic of Ireland 3-0, while Switzerland won 2-1 in Albania.
Belgium will play in the first World Cup since their last appearance in Korea/Japan 2002 after amassing unassailable points with the victory in Croatia.
With 25 points from at the summit of the group standings, Brazil is a must go for the team which boasts of some of the best exports currently in the English Premier League. Croatia are now into the race for a second-place finish, sitting eight points behind the group leaders at the moment and will need to come out tops in a decisive play-offs to reach the South America host nation of next year’s tournament.
20-year-old Lukaku did the magic, outpacing defenders to open scoring early in the first-half, and completing his brace by slotting home an impressive run from the half-way line shortly before the interval.
In the other group match, Simon Church’s solitary goal earned Wales a 1-0 win over Macedonia in a match which could be Cardiff forward Craig Bellamy’s last on the international stage.
Having already secured their place in next year’s tournament, Italy played out a 2-2 draw against Denmark.
Southamptonm’s Dani Osvaldo opened scoring for the Azzuri, but two strikes by Arsenal’s returnee Niklas Bendtner placed the Danes ahead before Alberto Aquilani scored the equalizer in injury time.
10-man Bulgaria lost 2-1 to Armenia in the other game of the group while Czech Republic cruised past Malta 4-1. Second-placed Bulgaria and Malta are on 13 points, with Czech Republic and Armenia- fourth and fifth respectively.
Germany sealed their World Cup ticket with a 3-0 win over the Republic of Ireland and now maintains a five point lead over Sweden, who beat Austria 2-1, thanks to a Martin Olson and Zlatan Ibrahimovich goals.
Faroe Island and Kazakhstan both shared the spoil after ending their Friday’s match 1-1.
Robin van Persie became the Netherland’s all-time record goalscorer as his hat-trick sunk Hungary in an 8-1 drubbing, despite the Oranje having already qualified.
Van Persie’s first came in the 15th minute, his 42nd minute’s second saw him equal the legendary Patrick Kluivert’s record of 40 goals before adding a third in the 52nd minute to surpass the former’s record. Kevin Strootman, Jermain Lens, Rafael van der Vaart and Arjen Robben also scored, while Szilard Devecseri’s own goal capped a miserable night for Hungar, who are now fourth in the group.
Turkey beat Estonia 2-0 and moved to second, while Romania humbled Andorra 4-0.
Turkey and Romania are level on 16 points before Wednesday’s final round.
Switzerland secured a place in the group stage of Brazil 2014 after defeating Albania 2-1. With an unassailable 21 points it will be the Swiss’ third successive appearance at the world football tournament. They are five points ahead of Iceland, who downed Cyprus 2-0.
Slovenia eased to a 3-0 win against Norway and will battle for second place with Iceland.
Russia moved closer to Brazil 2014 qualification with a resounding 4-0 win against Luxembourg.
The Russians, hosts of the 2018 tournament, are now three points ahead of Portugal, who drew 1-1 with Israel.
Northern Ireland lost 2-0 to Azerbaijan.
This group is wide open as both Bosnia and Greece head into the final preliminary qualifier level on 22 points.
Bosnia defeated Liechtenstein 4-1 to top the group on goal difference, while Greece edged Slovakia 1-0. Lithuania beat Latvia 2-0.
Greece plays Liechtenstein in the final group game, while Bosnia face a trip to Lithuania.
England are a win away from sealing their place in next year’s World Cup, after beating Montenegro 4-1 at the Wembley Stadium on Friday.
Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney opened scoring on 49 minutes, Montenegro’s Branko Boskovic scored an own goal in the 62nd minute, but the side pulled one back 9 minutes later. Tottenham Hotspur’s winger Townsend rewarded manager Roy Hodgson for his first call-up with a 78th-minute goal before Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge completed scoring from the penalty spot in injury time.
England are a point ahead of Ukraine, who edged Poland 1-0, while in the other match Moldova beat San Marino 3-0.
Spain beat Belarus 2-1, thanks to a Xavi Hernandez and an Alvaro Negredo’s goal as the world and European champions edged closer to qualification for Brazil 2014. Sergei Kornilenko pulled one back for the visitors.