England, Poland and Germany stay on course


BERLIN — Germany, England and Poland all took another step toward World Cup qualification but the Netherlands’ failure to do the same cost national coach Danny Blind his job on Sunday.

The Dutch soccer association fired Blind one day after his team’s humiliating 2-0 defeat to Bulgaria in Sofia — a result that leaves the 2014 World Cup semifinalist in danger of missing out on a second successive major tournament after watching Euro 2016 at home.

The Netherlands is fourth in Group A behind France, Sweden and Bulgaria. Only the top team in each group qualifies automatically for next year’s tournament in Russia.

On the field Sunday, defending champion Germany remained on course with its fifth win from five games despite conceding its first goal in Group C. It beat Azerbaijan 4-1.

England, now the only team not to have conceded so far in European qualifying, beat Lithuania 2-0 in Group F. On an emotional day, Jermain Defoe led England out onto the pitch with a terminally ill five-year-old mascot by his side and then scored in front of him.

In Group E, Poland captain Robert Lewandowski scored again as his first-placed team beat second-placed Montenegro 2-1.

Here is a look at World Cup qualifiers in Europe on Sunday: Group F

Jermain Defoe made an emotional return from exile to lead England to a 2-0 win over Lithuania at Wembley Stadium.

Though Joe Hart wore the captain’s armband, Defoe led the side out onto the pitch with a terminally ill five-year-old mascot, cancer-stricken Bradley Lowery, with whom the Sunderland striker has formed a bond.

With Lowery watching on, the 34-year-old Defoe then scored his first England goal for four years, striking 21 minutes into his 56th appearance. Raheem Sterling glided through the defense and provided a sweet cross for Defoe to net his 20th international goal.

“I had to keep my emotions in the beginning with little Brad with me,” Defoe said after his first England appearance since November 2013. “It was special just to be back.”

Defoe played almost an hour before being replaced by Jamie Vardy, who scored with his first touch to wrap up the win for England to extend its lead to four points following Slovenia’s first defeat.

It was neighboring Scotland that did England the favor, beating Slovenia 1-0 thanks to Chris Martin’s late goal.

Scotland climbed to fourth place and is only two points behind Slovakia, which moved into second by beating Malta 3-1 away.