Belgium, Germany punch tickets to Brazil

Belgium qualified for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil on Friday thanks to a 2-1 defeat of Croatia at the Maksimir Stadium.

Romelu Lukaku bagged a first-half brace for the Belgians, getting both goals in similar fashion.

The Everton striker opened the scoring in the 15th minute when he latched on to a brilliant through ball in the center of the pitch, went around Croatia goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa and slotted the ball into the unguarded net.

Lukaku made it two in the 38th minute when he collected the ball at midfield, pumped it forward and his pace to get in behind the Croatian defense. He beat his man to the ball and drew Pletikosa off his line before rounding him once more and slipping it into the empty net with ease.

Niko Kranjcar cut the deficit in half in the 83rd minute when he smashed a brilliant shot into the upper corner from the top of the penalty area, but Croatia failed to find an equalizer.

The win sees Belgium clinch top spot in Group A with 25 points, eight points clear of second-place Croatia with one game to go.

Germany also punched its ticket to Brazil thanks to a 3-0 defeat of Ireland at the Mungersdorfer Stadion on Friday.

Sami Khedira's deflected shot in the 12th minute gave the Germans the lead, but it was a tasty finish from Andre Schurrle in the 58th minute and a late strike from Mesut Ozil that sealed the win.

Germany tops Group C on 22 points, staying five points clear of Sweden following its vital 2-1 defeat of Austria on Friday, which saw Erik Hamren's side clinch second place.

Meanwhile, the Faroe Islands picked up their first point of World Cup qualifiers thanks to a 1-1 draw with Kazakhstan.

Elsewhere in Group A on Friday, Simon Church netted the lone goal in a 1-0 Welsh victory over Macedonia.

In Group B, Yura Movsisyan notched a late goal to give Armenia a dramatic 2-1 win over nine-man Bulgaria. Denmark spurned a chance to capitalize on Bulgaria's loss and move into sole possession of second place as a stoppage- time goal from Alberto Aquilani gave Italy a point from a 2-2 draw. The Czech Republic also kept its World Cup hopes alive by smashing Malta by a 4-1 score.

Italy, already qualified for the World Cup, leads the group on 21 points. Bulgaria and Denmark are following closely on 13 points apiece while the Czech Republic and Armenia remain in with a shout on 12 points apiece.

In Group D, Romania and Turkey remained neck-and-neck in their race for second place thanks to their 4-0 and 2-0 defeats of Andorra and Estonia, respectively. Hungary, which was smashed in an 8-1 loss to the Netherlands on Friday, also has a chance to finish in second place as it sits just two points shy of Romania and Turkey.

In Group E, Switzerland clinched a spot in next year's World Cup behind a 2-1 defeat of Albania. Second place remains up for grabs between Iceland and Slovenia, which claimed 2-0 and 3-0 wins against Cyprus and Norway, respectively, on Friday.

In Group F, Russia retained top spot following a 4-0 drubbing of Luxembourg while Portugal was held to a 1-1 draw by Isreal following Eden Ben Basat's 85th-minute equalizer. Russia can clinch first place in its next outing with a draw at Azerbaijan, which earned a 2-0 victory over 10-man Northern Ireland on Friday.

In Group G, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Greece remained level atop the group following 4-1 and 1-0 wins over Liechtenstein and Slovakia, respectively, while Lithuania picked up a 2-0 victory over Latvia.

In Group H, England stayed one point clear at the summit thanks to a 4-1 defeat of Montenegro, but Ukraine remains within striking distance after its 1-0 victory over Poland. Moldova also handed San Marino its ninth defeat in group play, getting a 3-0 win over the Group H minnows.

And in Group I, Spain moved into sole possession of first place as goals from Xavi and Alvaro Negredo produced a 2-1 win over lowly Belarus.