BERLIN (AP) – Germany, England and Poland all took another step toward World Cup qualification but the Netherlands’ failure to do the same cost national coach Danny Blind his job on Sunday.
The Dutch football association fired Blind one day after his team’s humiliating 2-0 defeat to Bulgaria in Sofia – a result that leaves the 2014 World Cup semifinalist in danger of missing out on a second successive major tournament after watching Euro 2016 at home.
The Netherlands is fourth in Group A behind France, Sweden and Bulgaria. Only the top team in each group qualifies automatically for next year’s tournament in Russia.
On the field Sunday, defending champion Germany remained on course with its fifth win from five games despite conceding its first goal in Group C. It beat Azerbaijan 4-1.
England, now the only team not to have conceded so far in European qualifying, beat Lithuania 2-0 in Group F. On an emotional day, Jermain Defoe led England out onto the pitch with a terminally ill five-year-old mascot by his side and then scored in front of him.
In Group E, Poland captain Robert Lewandowski scored again as his first-placed team beat second-placed Montenegro 2-1.
Here is a look at World Cup qualifiers in Europe on Sunday:
Germany stayed perfect in qualifying despite conceding its first goal of the campaign in a 4-1 away win over Azerbaijan. Little-used forward Andre Schuerrle scored two and set up another.
“We absolutely fulfilled our duty,” Germany coach Joachim Loew said. “It was like a cup game against a team from a lower division. If you don’t go in at the top of your game, you make them stronger than they are.”
Germany has scored 20 goals so far in its group and next faces last-placed San Marino, which has conceded 23 goals already.
The world champion leads by five points from Northern Ireland, which defeated Norway 2-0 in Belfast thanks to first-half goals from Jamie Ward and Conor Washington.
The Czech Republic, which racked up a 6-0 win in San Marino, is two points further back, one ahead of Azerbaijan. Two each from Antonin Barak and Vladimir Darida, and goals from Theodor Gebre Selassie and Michal Krmencik, gave the Czechs their biggest ever away win.
Poland captain Robert Lewandowski scored for the 10th straight European qualifier to set his side on its way to a 2-1 win in Montenegro to consolidate top spot.
The home side equalized through Stefan Mugosa’s first international goal but Lukasz Piszczek claimed Poland’s winner late to open up a six-point lead and leave Montenegro in a four-way scrap with Denmark, Romania and Armenia for second place.
Montenegro is level with Denmark on seven points after the Danes’ goalless draw in Romania, which is level with Armenia a point further back.
Despite starting with three straight losses, Armenia revived its hopes of a playoff spot by defeating Kazakhstan 2-0 at home for a second consecutive victory under new coach Artur Petrosyan.
Bottom side Kazakhstan had Sergey Malyy sent off with his second yellow card with less than half an hour remaining, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan struck nine minutes later before Aras Ozbiliz sealed the win.
Jermain Defoe made an emotional return from exile to lead England to a 2-0 win over Lithuania at Wembley Stadium.
Though Joe Hart wore the captain’s armband, Defoe led the side out onto the pitch with a terminally ill five-year-old mascot, cancer-stricken Bradley Lowery, with whom the Sunderland striker has formed a bond.
With Lowery watching on, the 34-year-old Defoe then scored his first England goal for four years, striking 21 minutes into his 56th appearance. Raheem Sterling glided through the defense and provided a sweet cross for Defoe to net his 20th international goal.
“I had to keep my emotions in the beginning with little Brad with me,” Defoe said after his first England appearance since November 2013. “It was special just to be back.”
Defoe played almost an hour before being replaced by Jamie Vardy, who scored with his first touch to wrap up the win for England to extend its lead to four points following Slovenia’s first defeat.
It was neighboring Scotland that did England the favor, beating Slovenia 1-0 thanks to Chris Martin’s late goal.
Scotland climbed to fourth place and is only two points behind Slovakia, which moved into second by beating Malta 3-1 away.
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.