Late Russia own goal sends Croatia to World Cup finals
SPLIT: Croatia clinched an automatic berth in next year's World Cup finals in dramatic fashion as a late Fedor Kudryashov own goal gave them a 1-0 home win over Russia in their crunch Group D qualifier on Sunday.
Croatia, the 2018 World Cup runners-up, jumped above Russia to top the standings on 23 points from 10 games, one more than the second-placed Russians who will head into the March playoffs.
Croatia dominated a match played in driving rain but a string of good saves by visiting goalkeeper Matvei Safonov and a waterlogged pitch kept them at bay before Kudryashov's clumsy 80th-minute touch delighted the home fans.
Germany midfielder Ilkay Gundogan scored twice in their 4-1 qualifying victory over Armenia to finish top of Group J with their seventh straight win under coach Hansi Flick.
Already-qualified Germany, missing a dozen players through injury, suspension and COVID-19 quarantine and having made six changes to the team that beat Liechtenstein 9-0 on Thursday, earned their ninth win in 10 qualifiers to finish in top spot on 27 points. North Macedonia are in second place on 18.
The visitors got off to a strong start and Kai Havertz hit the post in the fifth minute. He did it better 10 minutes later turning in a Thomas Mueller cutback with a deft touch.
The Germans had several good chances to score again but had to wait until first half stoppage time when Gundogan scored with a penalty.
The Manchester City midfielder bagged his 13th international goal five minutes after the restart when Armenia keeper Stanislav Buchnev let the German's weak shot slip through his hands.
The hosts briefly pulled a goal back with Henrikh Mkhitaryan's 59th minute penalty but Germany restored their three-goal advantage five minutes later when Jonas Hofmann pounced on a defensive to charge into the box and slot in.
North Macedonia sealed a World Cup qualifying play-off spot with a 3-1 home win over Iceland on Sunday that secured them the runners-up spot in Group J, with midfielder Eljif Elmas scoring twice in the second half.
The North Macedonians finished their qualifying campaign on 18 points from 10 games, one ahead of third-placed Romania who ground out a 2-0 win in Lichtenstein. Agencies