Germany closes in on Poland, Portugal also boosts 2016 European Championship qualifying hopes



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BERLIN — Traditional heavyweights Germany and Portugal earned important wins to boost their hopes of qualifying for the 2016 European Championship on Sunday, while Romania and Northern Ireland hold a big edge in their group after victories.

Marco Reus and Thomas Mueller scored late in the first half to give Germany a 2-0 win over Georgia in Tbilisi, and goals from Ricardo Carvalho and Fabio Coentrao gave Portugal a 2-1 win over Serbia in Lisbon to move top of Group I .

Romania and Northern Ireland are way ahead of their Group F rivals after home wins over the Faeroe Islands and Finland, respectively.

The top two finishers from each of the nine groups qualify automatically. The best third-place team also qualifies, and eight more teams can advance through playoffs.

Here is a look at the three groups in action on Sunday:


GROUP D

World Cup champion Germany got its qualifying campaign back on track with its first away win in Group D and moved within a point of leader Poland, which was held to a 1-1 draw by Ireland.

Ireland substitute Shane Long scored in injury time in Dublin, canceling out Slawomir Peszko's 26th-minute strike to leave the group finely poised after five rounds.

Unbeaten Poland leads with 11 points, followed by Scotland — which routed tiny Gibraltar 6-1 — and Germany both on 10, while Ireland maintains slim hopes of emerging from the group with eight points.

In Tbilisi, Reus scored in the 39th minute when he was free to scoop the ball inside the near post and Mueller sealed the result five minutes later with his fifth goal in qualifying. Georgia was pegged back for long periods in Kakhaber Tskhadadze's first game as coach.

In Glasgow, Lee Casciaro scored Gibraltar's first ever goal in a competitive match to cancel out Shaun Maloney's 18th-minute penalty, but the Scots answered with five unanswered goals.


GROUP F

Romania and Northern Ireland tightened their grip on the top two places in Group F, while Greece showed signs of improvement in a 0-0 draw against Hungary.

Claudiu Keseru's 21st-minute goal was enough for Romania to beat the Faeroe Islands 1-0, while Northern Ireland moved a step closer to appearing in a first major tournament since 1986 by beating Finland 2-1.

At the halfway stage, Romania leads with 13 points, one ahead of Northern Ireland, with Hungary following on eight points. Finland has four points, the Faeroe Islands three, while Greece, last with two, looks increasingly likely to miss the 2016 tournament.

Playing under new coach Segio Markarian, Greece produced a better defensive display than in recent games but failed to impress in attack. It was Hungary that had the best chances late in the game.

Kyle Lafferty scored both of Northern Ireland's goals in the first half at Windsor Park, taking the striker's tally in qualifying to five goals.


GROUP I

A spectacular goal from an overhead kick by Nemanja Matic wasn't enough to earn Serbia a point in Lisbon as Portugal went top of the group.

Matic equalized in the 61st after Carvalho's early headed goal, but Coentrao got the winner three minutes later.

Cristiano Ronaldo made little impact apart from a powerful swerving shot on the half-hour which Vladimir Stojkovic just managed to push wide.

Portugal's third straight win under Fernando Santos, who took charge after the team lost its opening qualifier against Albania, gave it nine points from four games. It is two points ahead of second-place Denmark, which has a game in hand.

Serbia has one point from four games as it tries to make up lost ground after being deducted three points for disturbances during a home qualifier against Albania last October.

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