Monday 09 October 2017, 00:02

Cheers for Poland, tears for Scotland

  • Poland become 14th team to qualify for Russia 2018

  • Slovakia and Denmark secure second spot in their groups

  • Robert Lewandowski scores a record 16th goal of the campaign

THE DAY REPLAYED – In front of an ecstatic crowd in Warsaw, Poland sealed their place at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, where they will make their eighth appearance on football’s greatest stage. In Groups E and F, Denmark and Slovakia both clinched second spot.

It was a night of high drama in Ljubljana, where Scotland, who started the day with a realistic chance of making the play-offs, bid farewell to their World Cup hopes with a regrettable draw with Slovenia.

Match of the day *Slovenia 2–2 Scotland *An early, well-taken goal by a sprightly Leigh Griffiths looked to have set Scotland on their way to claiming second spot in Group E and a potential play-off berth. However Slovenia coach Screcko Katanec subsequently put a spanner in the works by making an inspired substitution at half-time, bringing on striker Roman Bezjak, who scored a 20-minute brace to give the home side a 2-1 lead.

Gordon Strachan’s men, who initially appeared slow to grasp the urgency of the situation, finally began to throw everything at the Slovenians in the final ten minutes, a tactic that culminated in an equaliser for Robert Snodgrass in the 87th minute. With seconds to go, Jan Oblack saved a deflected effort on the line, thus crushing Scotland’s hopes of an unlikely comeback. News of the stalemate was met with great delight in Slovakia, who snatched second spot in the section.

Elsewhere *Group C* Germany 5-1 Azerbaijan Norway 1-0 Northern Ireland Czech Republic 5-0 San Marino

Everything in Group C had already been decided prior to Sunday’s matches, but that did not stop Germany from picking up yet another impressive win that kept their 100 per cent record intact. The Czechs ended a disappointing campaign with a rout of San Marino, while Norway earned a tight 1-0 victory over Northern Ireland.

Group E Denmark 1-1 Romania Kazakhstan 1-1 Armenia Poland 4-2 Montenegro

First-placed Poland looked on course for a routine success, but two second-half goals from Montenegro brought the score level at 2-2. As the home supporters began to twitch in their seats at the thought of losing out on automatic qualification, local hero Robert Lewandowski stepped up to save the day, stealing the ball from the Montenegro goalkeeper to send the Poles to Russia 2018.

Denmark, meanwhile, dropped two points at home to Romania, but made sure of a play-off slot nonetheless. It took the Danes an hour to find a breakthrough goal, and it appeared that would be enough until the 88th minute, when the away side grabbed an unexpected leveller.

Group F Slovakia 3-0 Malta Lithuania 0-1 England Slovenia 2-2 Scotland

Slovakia did what they needed to do at home to Malta, while keeping one eye on events in Slovenia, where Roman Bezjak and Jan Oblack combined to halt Scotland’s surge and indirectly propel Martin Skrtel and Co to second position in the pool.

England wrapped up their campaign with another Harry Kane-inspired victory, in a duel with Lithuania that saw Gareth Southgate experiment with his line-up somewhat.

Player of the day “Cometh the hour, cometh the man” goes the saying, and that was wonderfully illustrated at the National Stadium in Warsaw, where Poland, in need of a goal to settle the nerves of their anxious fans, turned to the remarkable Robert Lewandowski, who duly notched his 16th goal of the qualifiers. No player has ever scored that many in a European World Cup qualifying campaign, but will Cristiano Ronaldo surpass this new benchmark on Tuesday?