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North Macedonia inflict historic World Cup qualifying defeat on Germany | World Cup 2022 qualifiers

North Macedonia stunned Germany with a 2-1 World Cup qualifying victory in Duisburg, as Eljif Elmas’s 85th-minute winner earned the Balkan country what is surely their greatest ever win.

Germany dominated the first half with 70% possession, but although Leon Goretzka hit the crossbar it was the visitors who took the lead when 37-year-old forward Goran Pandev was left unmarked in the box to tap home in first-half stoppage time.

The hosts levelled from the penalty spot in the 63rd minute, Ilkay Gündogan converting after Leroy Sané had been brought down in the area. Timo Werner missed a golden opportunity 10 minutes from time, while at the other end Emre Can was perhaps lucky not to concede a penalty for handball.

In the end it didn’t matter as Napoli midfielder Elmas found space in the box to turn in a cutback for the winner. The win lifted North Macedonia above Germany on goal difference in Group J. Armenia are the surprise group leaders after they earned a 3-2 home win over Romania earlier on Wednesday.

“These lads have made North Macedonia proud against the winners of four World Cup titles and three European Championships,” the North Macedonia coach, Igor Angelovski, said. “We’ve never beaten a team with so many titles. Now we have to get some rest as what we have accomplished still hasn’t sunk in.”

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Germany’s squad poses with a “We Support 30” banner, in reference to the UN’s list of 30 human rights, before the game.
Germany’s squad poses with a “We Support 30” banner, in reference to the UN’s list of 30 human rights, before the game. Photograph: Thilo Schmülgen/EPA

The defeat was Germany’s first at home in World Cup qualifying since the 5-1 loss to England in 2001, and came in coach Joachim Löw’s last qualifying game in charge. Löw will leave his post after this summer’s delayed Euros, which North Macedonia have qualified for via the Nations League play-offs.

“This is bitterly disappointing,” Löw said. “We were not fresh enough, we made mistakes. When we played quickly we were dangerous but we did not find the tools to be really threatening. Overall, it was disappointing to lose like that at home.” In the other Group J game, Iceland eased to a 4-1 victory in Liechtenstein.

Spain moved to the top of Group B with a 3-1 home win over Kosovo in Seville despite a howler from goalkeeper Unai Simón, who rushed out of his goal to allow Besar Halimi to pull a goal back for the visitors in the 70th minute.

Dani Olmo’s delicate chip put Spain ahead in the 34th minute, with Ferran Torres adding another two minutes later. Gerard Moreno restored Spain’s two-goal cushion five minutes after Simon’s error. Elsewhere, Georgia followed up last week’s narrow loss to Spain with a 1-1 draw in Greece.

Unai Simón loses possession to Besar Halimi, who went on to score for Kosovo.
Unai Simón loses possession to Besar Halimi, who went on to score for Kosovo. Photograph: Miguel Angel Morenatti/AP

Italy maintained their 100% start to qualifying with a hard-fought 2-0 win over Lithuania in Group C. Stefano Sensi struck the opener two minutes into the second half before Ciro Immobile’s stoppage-time penalty settled matters in Vilnius.

The group already looks a straight fight between Italy and Switzerland after Northern Ireland and Bulgaria played out a 0-0 draw. “The glass is half full; Switzerland only won 1-0 at home against Lithuania three days ago,” said the Italy manager, Roberto Mancini. “You cannot be brilliant all the time, but the important thing was to win.”

Antoine Griezmann struck again as France took control of Group D with an away win over Bosnia-Herzegovina. Griezmann headed home Adrien Rabiot’s cross to earn victory after Hugo Lloris had denied the hosts a first-half opener.

“Our first half was below par,” said the France manager, Didier Deschamps, afterwards. “It was better after the break but I have seen things I had not seen in a while.” Having held France to a 1-1 draw last week, Ukraine stumbled to the same scoreline at home to the group’s bottom side, Kazakhstan.

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Denmark top Group F with three wins by an aggregate score of 14-0 after they thrashed Austria 4-0 in Vienna. Spurs midfielder Pierre-Emile Højbjerg was among the goals as Denmark stayed four points clear of Scotland, who beat the Faroe Islands by the same scoreline.

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