BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Germany stayed on course to qualify for next year’s World Cup with ease after Serge Gnabry scored the only goal in a 1-0 away win over Romania on Sunday.
Gnabry finished off a simple but effective team move in the 16th as Antonio Rüdiger found Kai Havertz on the right flank with a lobbed pass. Havertz played Gnabry in behind the Romania defense for a simple finish.
Germany could easily have scored more. Leroy Sané sliced a shot wide from right in front of goal, and Romania goalkeeper Florin Nita had a strong game with impressive saves from Gnabry and Ilkay Gundogan.
Romania showed little attacking intent for most of the game but Germany’s missed chances kept the hosts in contention, and they could have salvaged a draw late on. Substitute George Puscas got into a good position in the 87th but his shot was an easy save for Manuel Neuer. Nicolae Stanciu hit the side netting soon after.
“The important thing for us is the three points. In the end, it doesn’t matter how we got them,” Gnabry told broadcaster RTL. “We needed to decide the game much earlier. We ended up making life hard for ourselves.”
After beating Iceland at home on Thursday, Germany has now defeated both of the other teams in Group J which have played at a World Cup before. That continues Germany’s rebuild after a 6-0 Nations League loss to Spain in November and a return to form under coach Joachim Löw, whose 15 years in charge will end after the European Championship this year.
“If you can criticize something, then maybe converting the chances,” Löw told RTL. “The important thing is that we have the three points here and overall you can be satisfied. We can build on that.”
Ahead of the game, Germany’s players wore their shirts back to front, with a message on social media saying “We are for 30” in what goalkeeper Manuel Neuer said was a reference to the 30 articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Germany wore shirts spelling out “HUMAN RIGHTS” before its win over Iceland to make a statement about next year’s World Cup in Qatar. The host nation has been under scrutiny over laws and conditions for migrant workers helping to build infrastructure for the tournament.
Germany shares leadership of the group with Armenia, which beat Iceland 2-0. Armenia has won its opening two games ahead of hosting Romania on Wednesday.
ICELAND MAGIC FADES
Iceland has lost the on field magic which took it to the last eight of the European Championship in 2016 and to the World Cup in 2018.
Sunday’s defeat in Armenia was the seventh in a row for Iceland, which last year was relegated in the Nations League and failed to qualify for the European Championship. The last time Iceland lost its opening two World Cup qualifying games was back in 2004, when the North Atlantic nation was firmly among Europe’s also-rans and few dreamed it could ever reach a major tournament.
Iceland had most of the ball in front of a 30%-capacity crowd in Yerevan but did very little with it. The Icelandic defense was reluctant to close down Armenia and paid the price when Tigran Barseghyan was allowed the time to curl in a shot and open the scoring in the 53rd minute. More hesitant defending gave Khoren Bayramyan the chance to score a second goal with a low shot in the 74th.
Both teams were without their star midfielders. Armenia’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan is injured and Iceland’s Gylfi Sigurdsson is absent for the birth of his first child.
As Iceland slides, Armenia is rising. It’s now unbeaten in seven games and last year won promotion to the second tier of the Nations League, where it could face Iceland in the next edition.
Also Sunday, North Macedonia cruised to a 5-0 win over Liechtenstein.
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