Belgium became the first side through to the Euro 2020 finals after thrashing San Marino 9-0 on Thursday with Romelu Lukaku scoring his 50th and 51st international goals.
Russia were on the verge of joining the world’s top ranked nation as second qualifiers from Group I after running out 4-0 winners at home to Scotland with all the goals coming in the second half.
Unbeaten Belgium have 21 points from seven games, with only one goal conceded, while Russia have 18 and Cyprus, 2-1 winners over Kazakhstan in Astana, are on 10. The top two qualify directly.
San Marino managed to keep a clean sheet for 27 minutes against the 2018 World Cup semi-finalists before, as expected, the floodgates opened at Brussels’s King Baudouin Stadium and the goals poured in for Roberto Martinez’s side.
Inter Milan striker Lukaku became the first Belgian to reach a half-century of international goals with a right-footed shot to open the scoring.
He set up Nacer Chadli three minutes later before an own-goal from Cristian Brolli put Belgium 3-0 up in the 35th. Lukaku grabbed his second on 41 minutes assisted by Real Madrid’s Eden Hazard.
“It’s nice to be so good in the national team, but at the end of the day I want to win a trophy with Belgium,” Lukaku told Belgian broadcaster RTBF.
A deflected Toby Alderweireld effort in the 43rd minute and a Youri Tielemens shot in stoppage time saw Belgium cruise in 6-0 up at the break.
The pace slowed before Christian Benteke broke his three year international drought by coming off the bench to score three minutes later, in the 79th, by wrong-footing the goalkeeper from the edge of the area.
Yari Verschaeren, 18, came off the bench to score his first senior goal from the penalty spot to make it 8-0 in the 84th and Timothy Castagne rounded off the tally in the 90th minute.
“We wanted the 10th but we didn’t get it unfortunately,” said Hazard.
“We started well, we had some chances and could have scored sooner. But we know that in this kind of game you have to be patient.”
Russia dominated possession at the Luzhniki stadium but were frustrated throughout the first half by a Scotland side that failed to muster a single shot on target.
The Scots, who can no longer qualify automatically but remain in contention through the playoffs, crumbled after the break.
Artem Dzyuba made the breakthrough for Russia on the volley in the 57th and a second followed three minutes later when Magomed Ozdoev blasted a long-range screamer past David Marshall.
Dzyuba headed in his second in the 70th minute, with an Aleksandr Golovin shot going in off the post in the 84th, as Russia cruised to a comfortable win.
Croatia thump Hungary to stay on course, Slovakia hold Wales
Croatia remained firmly on course to reach Euro 2020 after two goals from striker Bruno Petkovic helped them to a 3-0 home win over Hungary while Wales kept alive their hopes with a 1-1 draw at Slovakia in qualifying Group E on Thursday.
The Croatians top the group with 13 points from six matches and will secure a berth in next year’s finals with a match to spare if they beat Wales away on Sunday.
Slovakia are second on 10 points from six matches, one ahead of third-placed Hungary, while Wales are fourth with seven points from five games. Bottom team Azerbaijan have one point from five matches.
The Croatians dominated after captain Luka Modric fired them into a fifth-minute lead when he picked up a loose ball in midfield, raced down the middle and steered a shot past Hungary goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi.
Petkovic made it 2-0 with a delightful back-heel from close range after Ante Rebic left his marker for dead on the left flank and squared the ball to the Dinamo Zagreb hitman.
A catalogue of defensive errors allowed Petkovic to bundle in the third late in the first half, as Tamas Kadar and Gulacsi misjudged Ivan Perisic’s low cross from the right.
Gulacsi made amends in the 55th minute when he saved Perisic’s penalty after Rebic was fouled but any slim hopes of a Hungary comeback were dashed moments later when Laszlo Kleinheisler was sent off for a second bookable offence.
Wales missed a chance to close in on the top two after a sumptuous second-half volley by Slovakia defender Juraj Kucka cancelled out Kieffer Moore’s 25th-minute opener.
Moore headed home after Daniel James delivered a fine cross into the penalty area but the visitors failed to clear a Peter Pekarik cross in the 53rd minute and Kucka blasted in the equaliser from 20 metres.
Gareth Bale hit the crossbar for Wales with a first-half header and the Slovakians had defender Norbert Gyomber sent off in the 88th minute for a second yellow card after a poor tackle on Moore.
Dutch grab late goals to beat Northern Ireland 3-1
Memphis Depay scored twice and Luuk de Jong was also on target as the Netherlands came back from a goal down with 10 minutes left to beat Northern Ireland 3-1 in their Euro 2020 qualifier in Rotterdam on Thursday.
It was a fortunate escape for the home side who fell behind when Josh Magennis gave Northern Ireland the lead in the 75th minute after a stout defensive performance had frustrated the hosts.
Yet the Dutch responded with an equaliser from Depay in the 80th minute and then two stoppage-time goals that put them in a three-way tie at the top of Group C.
Netherlands, Germany and Northern Ireland all have 12 points, although the Irish have played a game more.
Substitute Magennis rose high to head home Stuart Dallas’s cross as the Dutch paid the price for sloppy defending.
Daley Blind miscued two attempted clearances and was then beaten by Dallas, whose cross was expertly met by Magennis as he rose above Matthijs de Ligt to score.
Depay toe-poked home the equaliser from a square ball by Donyell Malen that eluded the Northern Irish defence, as the visitors’ lead lasted just five minutes.
Then, as the game went into stoppage time, substitute De Jong needed two chances before finishing at the back post before Depay made sure of a vital three points with another goal after being set up by Frenkie de Jong.
“How we reacted was great,” said Dutch captain Virgil van Dijk.
“We were patient, we kept looking for goals and we got our reward for our second-half performance where we put on the pressure.
“In the end it was a deserved win with an outstanding reaction,” he told NOS.
Yet it was a frustrating night for the Dutch, who did not manage an effort on the visitors’ goal until just before the half-hour mark when Steven Bergwijn’s shot was blocked.
It took 44 minutes before Northern Ireland goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell actually had to make an intervention, easily collecting the ball as Georginio Wijnaldum’s attempted header looped up into the air.
The Dutch ratcheted up the pressure in the second half when Donny van de Beek came on, with centre back Jonny Evans clearing his lines in the 71st minute as Wijnaldum looked to steer the ball home from a difficult angle.
Yet then Magennis silenced the home fans before the Dutch picked themselves up for a grand finale.
Earlier on Thursday, bottom team Estonia picked up their first point with a goalless draw away in Minsk against Belarus.
The pair are already out of contention in the group with Belarus second from bottom on four points after six games.
Hinteregger the unlikely hero as Austria beat Israel
Austria defender Martin Hinteregger scored a goal that any striker would have been proud of to set up a 3-1 win over Israel in Euro 2020 qualifying on Thursday.
The Austrians moved into second place in Group G above Slovenia, who were surprised 2-1 away to North Macedonia with a Eljif Elmas brace, while a Robert Lewandowski hat-trick gave leaders Poland a comfortable 3-0 win away to basement side Latvia.
The top two in the six-team group qualify for Euro 2020.
Austria made a slow start in front of a half-full Ernst Happel stadium and were stunned when Eran Zahavi, scorer of a hat-trick in Israel’s 4-2 win in the first meeting of the two teams in the group, put the visitors in front with a sublime effort in the 34th minute.
Munas Dabbur threaded the ball through to Zahavi who side-stepped his marker and lashed a dipping shot into the top corner from 25 metres.
Valentino Lazaro slotted in the equaliser from Marco Arnautovic’s pass seven minutes later and Austria went ahead 11 minutes after the break.
Andreas Ulmer thumped a cross into the area where Hinteregger, between two defenders, controlled the ball on his thigh, turned and sent his effort past keeper Ofir Marciano
Marcel Sabitzer added the third with a deflected shot in the 88th minute to leave Austria second with 13 points from seven games, two ahead of North Macedonia and Slovenia. Poland lead with 16 and Israel are fifth with eight.
Slovenia nearly took a first-half lead in Skopje when Josip Ilicic ran the from near the halfway line and cut the ball back to Andraz Sporar whose effort was deflected wide.
Five minutes after the break, Elmas played a one-two with veteran Goran Pandev and dinked the ball over Jan Oblak to put North Macedonia in front.
A Slovenia corner lead to the second goal in the 68th minute. As the ball was cleared, North Macedonia burst forward and Arijan Ademi found Elmas who ran on and slipped a calm finish under Oblak. Ilicic’s stoppage-time penalty was too late for Slovenia.
The prolific Lewandowski took his tally to 11 goals in his last seven appearances for club and country with his treble against Latvia. He exchanged passes with Sebastian Szymanski and beat keeper Andris Vanins after nine minutes and then turned in Kamil Grosicki’s low cross after Latvia were dispossessed in midfield.
He completed his sixth Poland hat-trick by tapping in Grosicki’s cross-shot in the 76th minute.
Latvia, who have lost all seven games in the group, extended their winless run to 15 internationals.