Germany and England moved to the cusp of World Cup qualification with their wins over Norway and Slovakia, respectively.
STUTTGART, Germany (AP) – Defending champion Germany bounced back from a disappointing display to close in on World Cup qualification with a gala 6-0 rout of Norway on Monday.
Timo Werner, who had been targeted by what Germany coach Joachim Low called ''so-called fans'' during Friday's fortunate 2-1 win over the Czech Republic in Prague, had his name chanted in appreciation by the fans in Stuttgart, where he made his breakthrough before joining Leipzig.
''That was something special at home today,'' Werner said. ''It's class how the fans supported me. It makes me twice as happy to play football. It means so much to me.''
Werner repaid the supporters with two goals, both set up brilliantly by Thomas Muller, while Mesut Ozil scored one and set up another as the Germans maintained their 100 percent record with their eighth win from eight games in Europe's Group C.
''It shows how beautiful football can be. It was a great crowd and it was fun in front of a sold-out stadium,'' Low said of the carnival atmosphere. ''We played our part with good combinations and brilliant goals.''
Low had been scathing in his criticism of some fans who chanted Nazi slogans at the game in Prague.
''We don't want these slobs. We're not their national team. They are not our fans,'' said Low, who was visibly angry.
With two games remaining, Northern Ireland is assured of finishing at least second in the group after a 2-0 win over the Czechs in Belfast. Germany has 24 points and Northern Ireland 19, nine ahead of Azerbaijan, which beat San Marino 5-1.
Group winners qualify automatically for the tournament in Russia, while the top eight runners-up from nine groups go on to playoffs to decide the other four places allocated to Europe.
Ozil got the defending champions off to a flying start when he struck after Jonas Hector cut the ball back.
Ozil then set up Julian Draxler, who turned inside a defender brilliantly before tucking the ball inside the far corner.
Norway barely had time to recover before Muller set up Werner with his heel for Germany's third with just 21 minutes played.
Werner grabbed with his second goal five minutes before the break, a brilliant header off a ball whipped in at pace from Muller.
Leon Goretzka came on for Muller at the break and he needed only five minutes to make it 5-0 with a header to Draxler's cross.
There were further cheers among giddy home supporters when Sami Khedira came on for the final 30 minutes. The midfielder, who also made his breakthrough at Stuttgart, bought 1,200 tickets for the game so socially disadvantaged children and children fighting cancer in the region could attend.
Mario Gomez, another former Stuttgart player, completed the rout with a little over ten minutes remaining.
IRISH EYES SMILING
First-half goals from Jonny Evans and Chris Brunt were enough for Northern Ireland to guarantee at least second place in Group C with its first win over the Czechs at the sixth attempt.
Northern Ireland next hosts Germany on Oct. 5, but Low's side–which is five points clear–would need to lose both of its remaining games to miss out on automatic qualification.
Marcus Rashford made amends after an expensive early mistake to fire England to a 2-1 win over Slovakia and within sight of next year's World Cup in Russia on Monday.
The 19-year-old striker lost possession to Stanislav Lobotka and then failed to track the midfielder, who slotted in an opening goal inside three minutes to bring the majority of Wembley Stadium to a stunned silence.
Rashford bounced back by sending in a near-post corner that Eric Dier hooked home to equalize in the 37th, before unleashing a dipping, angled finish from 20 meters in the 59th to earn England a sixth win in eight group games.
By beating its nearest challenger for the one automatic qualification spot, England moved five points clear in Group F of the European zone with two rounds remaining.
''Wasn't so good to begin with,'' a smiling Dier said of Rashford, ''but he got better. It's a fantastic show of character.''
The same could be said of England.
This was the team's most important game since its infamous and humiliating 2-1 loss to Iceland in the round of 16 at last year's European Championship.
And it took England most of the first half to recover from conceding the earliest goal it has let in in a competitive game in 24 years.
It wasn't pretty - just like the 4-0 win at Malta on Friday, which brought jeers from England's travelling fans - but England came through to stay unbeaten in qualifying. With games left against Slovenia at home and Lithuania away, one win will put Gareth Southgate's team in the World Cup.
''To come from behind is a real step forward,'' said Southgate, who said it was the biggest result of his year in charge.
Slovenia and Scotland both won to take full advantage of second-place Slovakia's loss to Wembley, leaving what now appears a fight for second place wide open. One point separates the three teams.
SLOVENIA WINS BIG
Slovenia climbed into third place - above Scotland on goal difference - and within a point of Slovakia with its biggest victory in qualifying, 4-0 over Lithuania.
Josip Ilicic converted two penalties before Benjamin Verbic and Valter Birsa scored in the final eight minutes of regulation time in Ljubliana.
Slovenia looks like having the hardest finish to the group, with matches to come against England away and Scotland at home next month.
A year after his job looked in danger, Scotland manager Gordon Strachan has managed to guide his team back into contention for a playoff spot after beating Malta 2-0, a third win in its last four qualifiers.
Christophe Berra's powerful header in the ninth minute was followed by Leigh Griffiths' goal in the 49th at Hampden Park in Glasgow.
Scotland hosts Slovakia next, before traveling to Slovenia.
The top eight second-place finishers in the nine groups qualify for the playoffs.
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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80
YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) – Poland, Montenegro, and Denmark all won to keep automatic qualification up for grabs in Group E of European World Cup qualifying on Monday.
Poland stayed in first place by beating Kazakhstan 3-0, with Robert Lewandowski capping the victory by converting a late penalty at the National Stadium in Warsaw.
Denmark thrashed Armenia 4-1 away, thanks to a hat trick from Thomas Delaney and a free kick by Christian Eriksen, to stay three points adrift of Poland.
Stevan Jovetic scored for Montenegro in its 1-0 win over Romania, but his side dropped below the Danes on goal difference with two rounds of qualifiers remaining.
Poland hosts Montenegro in the final round in what could be a decisive group game.
The African champion won't be in Russia for next year's World Cup.
Cameroon was the first team to be eliminated in the final round of qualifying in Africa after drawing with Nigeria 1-1 at home on Monday.
While the result put group leader Nigeria's hopes on hold, it definitely ended Cameroon's, meaning the one-time World Cup quarterfinalist's revival to win the African Cup of Nations in February was short-lived. The draw that sealed Cameroon's World Cup fate came three days after it was beaten in Nigeria 4-0, a result that did not befit the African titleholder.
There was one other qualifier in Africa on Monday, when Libya produced a big surprise to beat Guinea 1-0 in a game played in neutral Tunisia.
Libya had a heart-breaking experience in Guinea last week when it fought back from 2-0 down to level at 2-2 only to concede three minutes into injury time as Guinea won 3-2.
This time, Libya scored first through Hamdou Mohamed and held on, playing the last half-hour with 10 men after Mohammed al-Gadi's red card.
After collecting its first points of the group stage, Libya still has a chance of qualifying for the World Cup - albeit a very, very remote one.
Tunisia leads Group A by three points ahead of Congo. Those two meet on Tuesday.
Nigeria led in Yaounde through Moses Simon's 30th-minute goal.
Vincent Aboubakar, Cameroon's match-winner in the African Cup final, equalized with a penalty in the 75th.
Cameroon pushed hard in the last 15 minutes as a World Cup place slipped away, with Nigeria goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa pulling off a double save in the dying minutes to deny Arnaud Djoum and Collins Fai.
Nigeria, showing some long-needed consistency, remained unbeaten in the final round of qualifying and will make certain of a place at Russia with a win over Zambia next month in its penultimate qualifying game.
The five group winners will be Africa's World Cup qualifiers. Tunisia, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Uganda are the group leaders and if that stays the same there will be two World Cup debutants from Africa next year in Burkina Faso and Uganda.