Crucial victories for Home Nations as World Cup qualification goes to the wire

Euro Roundup

It was a clean sweep for Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales in their 2018 World Cup Qualification ties with Lithuania, San Marino, Malta and Austria respectively.

Scotland picked up a vital three points with a comfortable 3-0 victory over fifth place Lithuania as they moved to joint third in Group F. Qualification remains possible for the Scots as they sit just four points off Slovakia in second, however the 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture in October could prove hugely damaging to any hopes of finishing second, while the last-ditch slip up at home to England furthered any chance of qualification. A victory at home to Malta tonight however will cause panic amongst the ranks of both England and Slovakia, and so Gordon Strachan’s men must perform as well as they did in the impressive victory over Lithuania on Friday.

Sticking with Group F and England made it 17 points from seven games with a flattering 4-0 victory over bottom side Malta, scoring three goals in the last five minutes in a nervy affair. The Three Lions picked up their first away victory since Gareth Southgate took charge, having failed to win any of their previous four under him, drawing two and losing two. Man of the Match Harry Kane has now scored five goals in his past three appearances for England, with all five coming away from home, a worrying statistic considering tonight’s must-win meeting with Slovakia is at Wembley.

Northern Ireland continued their hugely impressive campaign with a 3-0 win over minnows San Marino in a somewhat nervy affair that in the end turned out to be another comfortable victory for Michael O’Neill’s men. Three goals in eight second half minutes were enough to overcome the stubborn hosts, who could only hold out to the 70th minute, much to the delight of the 2,500 travelling fans. Northern Ireland need only a draw from their home meeting with third place Czech Republic to seal the group runners-up spot, while O’Neill’s men sit five points behind Germany, who are on seven wins from their seven games.

Wales have breathed new life into their difficult campaign after overcoming Austria 1-0 in a fantastic win, leaving them two points off the Republic of Ireland in second and just four points off Serbia in top spot. The Welsh now travel to Moldova on Tuesday, and should pick up all three points against the bottom side to ensure their campaign finishes in thrilling fashion.

The Republic of Ireland meanwhile remain unbeaten yet will be hugely disappointed to leave Georgia with a 1-1 draw. Martin O’Neill’s men now welcome top spot Serbia to Dublin tomorrow night, knowing that victory is essential as Wales sit just two points behind them in third. The lacklustre display was a major setback for Ireland after such a commanding qualification campaign.