Germany’s Philipp Lahm (left) and Sami Khedira celebrate Khedira’s goal during their FIFA World Cup 2014 qualifier against Ireland in Cologne, Germany, yesterday. RIGHT: England’s Wayne Rooney (right) celebrates with Daniel Welbeck after scoring his team’s first goal against Montenegro during their 2014 World Cup qualifying match at Wembley Stadium in London, yesterday.
Zagreb: Belgium reached their first World Cup finals since 2002 after on-loan Everton striker Romelu Lukaku scored two excellent first-half goals to earn a 2-1 victory in Croatia yesterday.
The result means Group A leaders Belgium are uncatchable with 25 points from nine matches ahead of their last qualifying game at home to Wales on Tuesday.
It ends a wretched 12-year period during which they have also failed to reach the finals of the European Championship.
Elsewhere, triple former champions Germany secured a place at next year’s World Cup with a game to spare in Group C qualifying after sweeping Ireland aside 3-0.
Sami Khedira’s deflected shot gave the hosts a 12th-minute lead and Andre Schuerrle made it 2-0 in the second half following a fine turn.
Mesut Ozil then made sure of victory with the third goal in stoppage time.
Despite having more than half a dozen injury absentees, Germany were always in control with midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger back in the side after a six-month break to earn his 99th cap.
Joining Germany and Belgium will be Switzerland who qualified for the World Cup thanks to a 2-1 win over Albania in Tirana.
Second-half goals from Xherdan Shaqiri and Michael Lang gave Ottmar Hitzfeld’s side an unassailable 21 points at the top of Group E.
The Swiss will be playing in the finals for the third time.
Elsewhere, England took a big stride towards the World Cup finals when they overcame some anxious moments to beat Montenegro 4-1 at Wembley to remain top of qualifying Group H with one match to play.
A Wayne Rooney strike after 48 minutes, an own goal from Branko Boskovic after 62 minutes, a stunning third on his debut by Andros Townsend and an injury-time penalty from Daniel Sturridge secured England’s victory.
Montenegro scored through Dejan Damjanovic after 71 minutes but England weathered the storm to win. AGENCIES