Belgium, Germany and Swiss book World Cup tickets
By Justin Palmer
LONDON (Reuters) - Two-goal Romelu Lukaku fired Belgium's golden generation into next year's World Cup finals with Germany and Switzerland also sealing their tickets to the Brazil extravaganza on Friday.
Belgium, boasting one of the most talented squads in Europe, will return to the global showpiece for the first time since 2002 after a 2-1 win in Croatia guaranteed top spot in Group A.
Perennial finalists Germany's 3-0 home win over Ireland, with goals from Sami Khedira, Andre Schuerrle and Mesut Ozil, put them through from Group C while the Swiss won 2-1 in Albania to wrap up Group E.
Netherlands, with Robin van Persie hitting a hat-trick in an 8-1 demolition of Hungary to surpass Patrick Kluivert as record Dutch scorer with 41 goals, and Italy had sealed their passage to the finals before Friday's penultimate round of qualifiers.
Holders Spain moved to the brink of qualification from Group I after captain Xavi and substitute Alvaro Negredo struck in a laboured 2-1 win at home to Belarus.
Group F leaders Russia, with a 4-0 victory in Luxembourg, and England, who beat Montenegro 4-1 at Wembley with Wayne Rooney among the scorers, remain in pole position in Group H ahead of Tuesday's final round of matches.
Victory on a wet night in Zagreb prompted joyous celebrations from the Belgian players in front of a sizeable and vociferous contingent of travelling fans.
"I'm super happy for the team. We always believed we could qualify and now it's here," said Lukaku, looking ahead to a party atmosphere in Brussels for their final game against Wales. Continued...