Northern Ireland’s slim hopes of qualifying for the World Cup in Qatar were ended by Bulgaria.
Conor Washington’s sixth international goal gave Ian Baraclough’s side a half-time lead as they looked to have responded well to the controversial 2-0 defeat in Switzerland on Saturday, but it all went wrong after the break.
Yasen Petrov shuffled his pack at half-time and got the rewards, although Todor Nedelev took the credit as he beat Bailey Peacock-Farrell in fine fashion twice in 11 minutes to turn things around just after the hour. It made for more frustration for Baraclough, who had finally built some positive momentum last month but has seen things unravel quickly in the past week, the Qatar dream now definitively dead.
Baraclough told Sky Sports: “It was a game that we dominated. In the first half we created a good few chances, but we didn’t take the chances. At half-time we talked about intensity, about getting the ball moving again. We knew they’d have a spell and come at us, we’d have to deal with it and make sure we were winning balls and winning skirmishes for 20 minutes.
“We didn’t stop that happening and they took two half-chances – they were half-chances, one on the edge of the box with a first-time strike, a great strike, and the second one was even better. If you talk about a team being clinical, there’s an example.”
Denmark became the second European nation to reach Qatar 2022 after a 1-0 home win against Austria left them top of Group F with an unassailable lead over their rivals. After Germany advanced to the 32-nation tournament on Monday, the Danes secured their own berth as a 53rd-minute goal from Joakim Mæhle helped them to secure an eighth successive qualifying victory. Denmark missed several chances before Mæhle beat Daniel Bachmann with a neat finish inside the near post after good work by Thomas Delaney.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat-trick, including two penalties in the opening 13 minutes, as Portugal swept past Luxembourg 5-0. Bruno Fernandes and João Palhinha were also on the scoresheet before Ronaldo nearly completed his treble with a brilliant control-and-overhead-kick combination. The 36-year-old Manchester United forward was not to be denied, though, popping up three minutes from time to seal his 10th international hat-trick.
The Group I qualifier between Albania and Poland was suspended after bottles were thrown on the pitch from the crowd in the second half. The match was interrupted soon after the forward Karol Swiderski scored from inside the box following an assist from the the Leeds midfielder Mateusz Klich in the 77th minute.
Poland’s 1-0 victory took them above Albania and leaves them just three points behind England, who drew at home to Hungary, with two matches let to play.
Alexander Isak won a penalty that was converted by Emil Forsberg before scoring himself as Sweden beat Greece 2-0 to move to the top of Group B on 15 points, two ahead of Spain with two games left to play.
Things did not start well for Swedes, who had the assistant referee and the woodwork to thank in the first half as an early goal by Giorgos Masouras was ruled out for offside and he also hit a post while Vangelis Pavlidis headed off the crossbar. Isak was felled in the box by Konstantinos Mavropanos and Forsberg rattled the resulting spot-kick for his second penalty in two games. Isak added the second in the 69th minute, exploiting a hesitant Greek defence before rounding the keeper and calmly chipping the ball home.