Germany became the first team to qualify for the European Championship on Saturday with a 0-0 draw at Ireland, and Scotland made things a lot tougher for both Italy and France to follow.
Scotland beat Ukraine 3-1 to retain first place in Group B and increase the likelihood that one of the two World Cup finalists will be missing from next year’s tournament in Austria and Switzerland.
France defeated the Faeroe Islands 6-0, but the team is still two points behind Scotland, which has 24 points. World champion Italy has 23 points after beating Georgia 2-0.
Only the top two teams from each of the seven qualifying groups advance to the final tournament.
Germany qualified with three matches to spare. Playing without injured stars Miroslav Klose and Michael Ballack, the Germans rarely threatened the Irish goal but only needed one point to advance.
“They are a very tough team to beat on their home soil, but we soaked up everything they threw at us,” Germany goalkeeper Jens Lehmann said.
England, Spain, Portugal, Sweden and defending champion Greece also won Saturday, while the Netherlands got beaten at Romania.
Kenny Miller, Lee McCulloch and James McFadden scored a goal each for Scotland, while Andriy Shevchenko got one back for World Cup quarterfinalist Ukraine.
Scotland, which has beaten France twice in qualifying and is trying to reach its first major tournament since the 1998 World Cup, has two matches left, including one against World Cup champion Italy.
“Every performance like that, the work ethic, all the ingredients were there today for everybody to see,” Scotland coach Alex McLeish said.
Thierry Henry, who scored one of France’s six goals at the Faeroe Islands, tied Michel Platini’s national record with 41 goals when he curled a shot in from the edge of the box in the eighth minute.
“It’s extraordinary,” Henry said. “He made France dream during his time.”
Karim Benzema scored two goals, while Nicolas Anelka, Jerome Rothen and Hatem Ben Arfa added the others for France.
Italy won with goals from Andrea Pirlo and Fabio Grosso. If Italy wins at Scotland on Nov. 17 and against the Faeroe Islands at home four days later, it will also qualify.
England won its fifth consecutive qualifier 3-0, this time beating Estonia. Shaun Wright-Phillips and Wayne Rooney scored a goal each, and Taavi Rahn added an own-goal.
Rooney’s goal was his first for England since the 2004 European Championship.
“It was vital we got three points,” England coach Steve McClaren said. “We wanted the tempo high in the first 20 minutes and we won it in the first 20 minutes.”
But England is still second in Group E with 23 points, three less than Croatia, which beat Israel 1-0. Eduardo Da Silva scored the lone goal for Croatia.
Romania beat the Netherlands 1-0 when Dorin Goian scored in the 72nd minute off a rebound. Romania leads Group G with 23 points, three more than the Dutch team.
Luxembourg earned its first points with a 1-0 win over Belarus, and Slovenia drew 0-0 at Albania. None of those four teams can qualify from Group G.
Poland stayed atop Group A after Euzebiusz Smolarek scored a hat trick in a nine-minute span in a 3-1 win over Kazakhstan. Poland has 24 points, four ahead of Finland and Portugal, a 2-0 winner over Azerbaijan. Finland drew 0-0 at Belgium, and Serbia did likewise against Armenia.
Sweden moved closer to a fifth straight berth in a major championship, beating Liechtenstein 3-0 in Group F. Spain beat Denmark 3-1 and is tied atop the group, and Latvia beat Iceland 4-2.
Defending champion Greece increased its lead in Group C with a 3-2 win over Bosnia-Herzegovina. Turkey, held to a 1-1 draw at Moldova, is four points back. Hungary beat Malta 2-0.
Germany leads Group D with 25 points, followed by Czech Republic with 20 and Ireland with 15. Slovakia has 13 after beating San Marino 7-0, and Cyprus beat Wales 3-1.