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Germany recovers, Croatia drops points in Euro qualifiers

Germany flirted with defeat for a second straight European championship qualifier before Marcel Halstenberg’s first international goal lifted the team to a 2-0 win over Northern Ireland on Monday.

Coming off a 4-2 loss to the Netherlands, Germany’s recovery was unconvincing, helped by Northern Ireland wasting good chances.

The Dutch delivered another impressive attacking display as Memphis Depay marked his 50th game for the Netherlands by scoring one goal and setting up two more in a 4-0 win over Estonia.

Belgium made qualifying seem a pushover by beating Scotland 4-0 to keep a perfect winning record, but other favorites faltered. Croatia and Poland both dropped points but remained top of their increasingly competitive groups.

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Ryan Babel was crucial in the Netherlands’ come-from-behind win over Germany on Friday and he tore up another defense on Monday, scoring twice against Estonia.

World Cup finalist Croatia was held by outsider Azerbaijan to 1-1 on Monday, denting its chances of reaching next year’s European Championship.

Croatia won an early penalty for handball, converted by Captain Luka Modric, but Azerbaijan wing back Tamkin Khalilzade cut in from the left in the 72nd minute and beat Dejan Lovren before shooting past goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic.

For Azerbaijan, a Euro 2020 host, it was the first point of the qualifying campaign after four straight defeats.

Scotland’s Hampden Park was a walk in the park for Belgium.

The visitors were three goals up after just 32 minutes as they kept a perfect record of six wins from six in qualifying. With an 11-point cushion to third-placed Kazakhstan, Belgium could seal qualification in its next game against San Marino.

Belgium’s goal difference of +18 is the best of any team in the qualifying competition and its gone five competitive games without conceding.

Russia kept second place in Group I, but was lackluster in beating Kazakhstan 1-0, needing an 89th-minute headed goal from right back Mario Fernandes.

Cyprus beat San Marino 4-0. –AP

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