Scotland were denied a place in the 2018 World Cup playoffs after a 2-2 draw against Slovenia on Sunday evening that confirmed Northern Ireland’s spot.
After a tense opening period, Leigh Griffiths pounced on a ball over the top by James McArthur and the Scotland striker hammered a low shot into the net to give his side the lead on 32 minutes.
However, Slovenia got back on level terms early in the second half as a free kick was met by the head of substitute Roman Bezjak to make it 1-1.
And it was Bezjak who put his side ahead as he coolly slotted home after a corner fell to him inside the box. Darren Fletcher missed a great chance to equalise with a shot over the bar, but Robert Snodgrass did brilliantly to control a cross and level the scores with a hooked finish.
In the end, though, it was not enough as Scotland could not find a winner even after the late dismissal of Bostjan Cesar.
As a result, Slovakia moved up to second place after beating Malta 3-0 — thanks to two goals from Adam Nemec and one from Ondrej Duda — but the result may not be enough to seal a spot in the playoffs as they are currently UEFA’s worst runner-up and can only qualify if Wales or Croatia draw.
In Group F’s other game, already-qualified England gave debuts to Harry Winks and Harry Maguire and came away from Lithuania with a 1-0 win.
Harry Kane converted a penalty in the 27th minute after Dele Alli was brought down in the box. And, with Jack Butland forced to make a fine save to keep them ahead, England created little else yet rounded off the qualifying group unbeaten.
In Group E, Poland ensured their place at the World Cup with a nervy 4-2 win against Montenegro.
Poland went ahead early on with a goal from Krzysztof Maczynski in the sixth minute and Kamil Grosicki doubled the lead shortly afterwards.
But a remarkable comeback saw Stefan Mugosa and Nikola Vukcevic hit back before Robert Lewandowski struck and a Filip Stojkovic own goal made sure of all three points.
Already qualified Germany finished a dominant march to Russia with a 5-1 win against Azerbaijan.
Jogi Low’s team won all of their 10 Group C matches, scoring 43 goals in the process while conceding just four times.
Leon Goretzka opened the scoring for Germany in the eighth minute, and while the next four goals didn’t come until the second half, they came in bunches when they did.
Sandro Wagner, Antonio Rudiger and another from Goretzka came in a 12-minute flurry to start the second period, and Liverpool’s Emre Can added the fifth with the game far out of reach already for the visiting minnows.
Northern Ireland’s joy at reaching the playoffs was tempered by Chris Brunt’s wild own goal in Norway ensuring the likes of Portugal could stand between them and a place in Russia next summer.
Michael O’Neill’s players knew their place in November’s playoffs was guaranteed less than an hour before kickoff in Oslo as Scotland’s draw with Slovenia guaranteed the Northern Irish one of the playoff berths on offer.
A victory over Norway was still important if they wanted to stand a chance of being seeded for that draw, yet Brunt’s bizarre own goal 19 minutes from time, in which he hacked an attempted left-footed clearance into his net, essentially scuppered those hopes as they lost 1-0.
Michal Krmencik’s first-half double, Jan Kopic’s effort before the break and further goals from Filip Novak and Vaclav Kadlec helped Czech Republic to a 5-0 home win against San Marino.
The result had no bearing on qualification as both teams had already been eliminated before the match.
Denmark took their place in the playoffs after a 1-1 draw against Romania ensured they finished second on 20 points.
Christian Eriksen continued his fine form with a penalty and, shortly after, Cristian Ganea was handed a second yellow card. But Ciprian Deac struck with an 88th minute leveller.
In the final group game, Kazakhstan drew 1-1 with Armenia — with both sides long since out of contention for a place in the finals.
Manchester United midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan got himself on the scoresheet with a delightful chip but Bayurzhan Turysbek struck a 61st minute equaliser.