Germany close in, Mexico seal Russia 2018 spot

Germany's Mats Hummels celebrating his late winner as the World Cup defending champions beat the Czech Republic 2-1 in Prague. They need only four points from three games to ensure their place in Russia.
Germany's Mats Hummels celebrating his late winner as the World Cup defending champions beat the Czech Republic 2-1 in Prague. They need only four points from three games to ensure their place in Russia.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

PRAGUE • Germany coach Joachim Low admitted his side were lucky to win after defender Mats Hummels' late header sealed a 2-1 victory over the Czech Republic to leave the defending champions on the brink of qualification for the World Cup in Russia next year.

The Germans took an early lead at the Eden Arena through forward Timo Werner, but the Czechs drew level when midfielder Vladimir Darida blasted home a superb equaliser with 12 minutes left.

However, Hummels rescued his team after a poor second-half display with just two minutes left.

"We can't be happy with the way we played," said Low.

"We had to have a lot of luck today and, if Mats hadn't scored with this great header, then we would have had to live with a draw."

A frustrated Hummels echoed his coach's sentiments.

"We had a lot of problems, the biggest one was giving away the ball too easily," fumed the 28-year-old.

 

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    World Cup winners in the German starting line-up in Prague: Toni Kroos, Mats Hummels, Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller.

"I haven't seen a Germany team do that in the last 10 years. That wasn't the football that we can - or want - to play."

The win, however, maintained Germany's run of seven straight wins on the road to Russia which leaves them five points clear of nearest rivals Northern Ireland (16) in Group C with three games left.

The Germans need just four points from those final matches and could punch their ticket to Russia as early as tomorrow, should they beat Norway at home and if Northern Ireland fail to win against the Czechs in Belfast.

The defeat also effectively ends the Czechs' slim hopes of qualifying for the World Cup after collecting just nine points from their seven games.

Low started with six of the 11 players that won the Confederations Cup final in July and four World Cup winners - Toni Kroos, Hummels, Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller - and Bayer Leverkusen winger Julian Brandt. Muller, Germany's captain for the night with Manuel Neuer just back from a fractured foot, was also critical of his side's performance.

"We made too many mistakes," said the Bayern Munich forward.

"In our build-up play, we often served the ball up to the Czechs and made life hard for ourselves."

While Germany's World Cup berth is yet to be secured, Mexico became the first Concacaf side to qualify for Russia when winger Hirving Lozano's goal gave them a 1-0 win over Panama at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City.

The Mexicans lead the six-team group with 17 points and cannot now finish outside the top-three spots that guarantee a place in the finals.

"Congratulations to Mexico who have qualified for Russia 2018 thanks to Hirving Lozano's winner," football's world-governing body Fifa said on their website.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 03, 2017, with the headline 'Germany close in, Mexico seal Russia 2018 spot'. Print Edition | Subscribe