Northern Ireland near first World Cup appearance for 32 years as they and Scotland boost qualification hopes

 
Frank Dalleres
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Northern Ireland v Czech Republic - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier
Chris Brunt scored Northern Ireland's second goal against the Czech Republic (Source: Getty)

Northern Ireland took a huge step towards qualifying for successive major tournaments for the first time by beating the Czech Republic 2-0 at Windsor Park last night.

First-half goals from Jonny Evans and Chris Brunt set Michael O’Neill’s men on their way to a record fifth consecutive win and to within sight of a place at next year’s World Cup.

Northern Ireland, who have not reached the tournament since 1986, are now almost certain of a play-off against another group runner-up from the European qualifying stage.

“I’m immensely proud of the players. They had to dig incredibly deep to get that result,” said manager Michael O’Neill.

“We had to be very patient, the Czech Republic were excellent in possession, but again we found a way to win, and when you have that in your squad you have half a chance. There was not a player tonight who didn’t give us everything.”

Northern Ireland could still top Group C but are reliant on Germany losing their two remaining games, the first of which is in Belfast next month.

Germany maintained their 100 per cent record in the group with an emphatic 6-0 home win over Norway.

Scotland close gap on Slovakia

Scotland v Malta - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier
Christophe Berra put Scotland head against Malta (Source: Getty)

Scotland kept alive their hopes of reaching the play-offs with a 2-0 victory over Malta at Hampden Park.

Goals in each half from Christophe Berra and Leigh Griffiths cut the gap in Group F to second-placed Slovakia to just one point.

Gordon Strachan’s team must win both of their remaining matches, against Slovakia and Slovenia next month, to finish runners-up behind England.

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