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Sat, Oct

WC2018: Germany, England Seal Spots

Defending champions Germany confirmed their qualification for next year's World Cup in Russia by beating Northern Ireland 3-1 in Belfast.

Sebastian Rudy shot into the top corner in the second minute, Sandro Wagner rifled home from the edge of the area, and Joshua Kimmich drove in late on.

Josh Magennis headed Northern Ireland's goal in stoppage time.

Germany progress as group winners but Northern Ireland remain well placed to make November's play-offs.

Michael O'Neill's men complete their Group C campaign in Norway on Sunday, aiming to finish among the best eight of the nine group runners-up.

They will follow results elsewhere over the next two days but, as it stands, they may need a point in Oslo to make sure of reaching the play-offs, the draw for which takes place on 17 October.

Of the eight teams, the highest four in the Fifa rankings which will be published on 16 October - Northern Ireland are currently 20th - will be seeded for the play-offs. Having won five successive qualifying games, Northern Ireland's defeat was their first in a competitive home match since they lost 4-2 to Portugal in September 2013.

In O'Neill's 50th game in charge, they failed to equal their record of six clean sheets in a row - set in 1986, the last time Northern Ireland qualified for the World Cup.

O'Neill's side are hoping to become the first NI team to compete in consecutive major tournaments.

Germany go into their final group game at home to Azerbaijan on Sunday, having extended their unbeaten run to 18 games since losing 2-0 to France in the semi-finals of Euro 2016.

The world champions retain their record of having never lost an away World Cup qualifying game, a run that spans 47 games from March 1934, and they have only ever lost two World Cup qualifier fixtures.

Elsewhere, Harry Kane's injury-time winner secured England's qualification for next summer's World Cup with victory against Slovenia.

Kane, England captain for the night, bundled in Kyle Walker's cross for his 11th goal in 22 international appearances to finally break down Slovenia's resistance as they looked likely to hold out for a point.

It meant manager Gareth Southgate can now start planning in earnest for Russia but could not cover up the cracks in an England performance that was lifeless, uninspired and mediocre.

Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling almost broke the deadlock before Kane made his breakthrough, the hosts were also grateful to much-criticised keeper Joe Hart for some crucial interventions.

England and Southgate have achieved their goal. It was not, however, achieved in a manner that will start alarm bells ringing for any future World Cup opposition.