LEIPZIG: Germany and Poland clinched their places at next year’s European Championship with 2-1 home victories over Georgia and Ireland in their final qualifying games on Sunday.
Max Kruse scored three minutes after coming on as a substitute for Germany to finish top in Group D, one point above Poland, which had Robert Lewandowski to thank for the winner against Ireland with his 13th goal in qualifying. It tied the mark set by David Healy of Northern Ireland in Euro 2008 qualifying.
Ireland, which beat Germany in Dublin on Thursday, has to be content with a playoff place after finishing three points behind Poland.
Germany was unconvincing for long periods against Georgia and needed a penalty from Thomas Mueller to make the breakthrough in the 50th minute. Georgia captain Jaba Kankava equalized three minutes later, only for Kruse to claim the winner in the 79th.
“The way we played isn’t our standard. We can sing the same tune today that we sang against Ireland,” Germany coach Joachim Loew said. “We couldn’t land the knockout punch. We created lots of chances but couldn’t get the goal.”
Marco Reus missed a host of chances for the world champions. He forced a good block from Nukri Revishvili early on and then fired over from seven yards (meters) after Thomas Mueller played him through with his heel, before producing another save from Revishvili. Mesut Ozil was next to be denied by the Georgia keeper.
Tomike Okriashvili forced Manuel Neuer into action with the visitors’ first real chance in the 27th. Neuer got the resultant corner away and Germany resumed where it left off, with Reus sending the next chance wide.
Mueller made no mistake from the spot, after Kankava was penalized for bringing down Mesut Ozil. The Georgia captain atoned three minutes later by equalizing with a volley from a half-cleared corner.
The visitors might even have gone ahead through Valeri Kazaishvili, who fired over, and then Tomike Okriashvili, who produced a great reflex save from Neuer.
But Kruse sealed the win when he swept the ball into the far corner after a fine pass from Ozil.
“The important thing is that we qualified as group winners. That’s the only thing that counts,” Kruse said.
There had been whistles from frustrated fans who had clearly been expecting more.
“We know that we have a good bit of work ahead of us in the next few months,” Loew said.
In Warsaw, Grzegorz Krychowiak fired Poland ahead after a corner in the 13th, only for Jon Walters to equalize three minutes later with a penalty after Michel Pazdan was penalized for a foul on Shane Long.
Lewandowski claimed the winner with a brilliant header to Krzysztof Maczynski’s cross in the 42nd.
Ireland finished with 10 men when captain John O’Shea earned his second yellow card in the last minute.
Scotland routed Gibraltar 6-0 in Faro, Portugal, in the other group game to finish three points behind Ireland in fourth. Georgia finished six points further back, with Gibraltar bottom on none.