Germany qualify for 2018 World Cup, beat Northern Ireland 3-1

Josh Magennis scored for Ireland
Josh Magennis scored for Ireland

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.

NI still hoping to make history

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.

Dominant Germany’s clinical finishing

It took less than two minutes for the visitors to edge in front as Rudy became the 20th Germany player to score in qualifying and the first to breach the hosts’ defence in a competitive home game for two years.

Rudy’s right-foot shot went flying past Michael McGovern after Kimmich rolled the ball to his Bayern Munich team-mate.

Joachim Low’s side dominated possession, passed and moved with immense accuracy and speed, and produced some fine finishing as they increased their advantage through Wagner’s fourth goal of the campaign on his fourth international appearance.

The Hoffenheim striker turned on the edge of the box after collecting a pass from Thomas Muller and unleashed a thunderous shot from just outside the area past the despairing dive of McGovern.

Wagner had earlier gone close with a chested effort from a couple of yards out which was saved by McGovern, and a glancing header which cannoned off the post.

The Northern Ireland keeper made a fine save to deny Muller’s header in the second half but could do nothing about Kimmich’s late strike from inside the six-yard area, which flew inside his near post in added time.

O’Neill indicated before the game that he would adopt a cautious approach but the 3-5-2 formation he set out in the first half proved ineffective and he reverted to a more conventional 4-4-2 after the break as Stuart Dallas replaced Lee Hodson.

The home side produced little in attack during the opening 45 minutes, although Corry Evans forced Marc-Andre ter Stegen into an impressive stop.

In the second period, substitute Conor Washington hit the bar with a left-foot shot from close range when he should have scored, while Magennis’ header in added time provided a consolation.