LONDON – England, which reached Euro 2016 last month, comfortably beat Estonia 2-0 at Wembley Stadium on Friday night to stay on course to complete a qualifying campaign with a 100 percent record for the first time ever.
Goals from Theo Walcott after 45 minutes and Raheem Sterling in the 85th gave England its ninth successive win in a qualifying campaign for the first time.
England leads Group E with 27 points from nine games, with Switzerland also qualifying after beating San Marino 7-0 to climb to 18 points. Estonia has a remote mathematical chance of finishing third after Slovenia was held 1-1 by Lithuania.
England manager Roy Hodgson told ITV: “It was as tough as we thought it would be because we have played against an organized team that are also quite intelligent in the way they play.
“We attacked a lot and saw a lot of the ball and had quite a few chances but it was a question of putting them away.
“But I think we were good value for our 2-0 win. In these type of games if you are not careful and lose your concentration you can slip up.
“People are telling me that this victory tonight will ensure we are seeded for the tournament in France and that is important, too.”
England was never under any threat from an Estonia side that has only scored four goals in nine matches on a generally subdued night at Wembley.
One of the high spots came before kickoff when Bobby Charlton presented fellow Manchester United great Wayne Rooney with a golden boot for breaking his 45-year-old scoring record with his 50th goal for England last month.
Rooney was out injured, but England did not miss him. Ross Barkley created Walcott’s opener before halftime with a superb through ball which the Arsenal man collected with a deft right foot touch before his shot gave ‘keeper Mihkel Aksalu no chance.
Sterling doubled the lead five minutes before the end with an easy chance following a cross by substitute Jamie Vardy, who had only been on the pitch for two minutes.
In other action, European champion Spain beat minnow Luxembourg 4-0 to reach the finals in France where it will aim to complete an unprecedented hat trick of continental titles.
Spain was joined by Switzerland as the eighth and ninth countries through to the expanded 24-team tournament. Spain made it eight wins out of nine with a comfortable victory over a Luxembourg side soured by injuries to forward Alvaro Morata and midfielder David Silva, who came off in the first half to be replaced by Juan Mata and Paco Alcacer, respectively.
Alcacer took his chance to impress with a double and Santi Cazorla also struck twice in a dominant win for La Roja.
Portugal and Northern Ireland booked their places on Thursday, while world champion Germany was made to wait after being upset 1-0 by Ireland in Dublin.
Irish substitute Shane Long ran onto a kick out over the German defense from goalkeeper Darren Randolph and blasted past Manuel Neuer to the top corner to ensure Group D will be decided on the final day.
Germany, Portugal and Ireland are vying for the top two spots to ensure direct qualification. Scotland’s hopes were ended when Robert Lewandowski salvaged a 2-2 draw for Poland in Glasgow.
Steven Davis scored twice for Northern Ireland in Belfast to qualify for its first European Championship tournament with a 3-1 victory over Greece in Group F.
Joao Moutinho struck for Portugal to beat Denmark 1-0 and secure its place by winning Group I.
Allardyce steps in
Sunderland, England — After three draws, five defeats and a string of stagnant displays in its opening eight Premier League matches, Sunderland hired Sam Allardyce as its new manager on Friday in the hope of avoiding yet another scrap for survival.
Allardyce signed a two-year contract to take over a team which is firmly rooted in the relegation zone, lying second to last in the standings on three points.
For Sunderland, the attraction is obvious — the 60-year-old Allardyce has a proven record of keeping sides in mid-table safety in the English top-flight. “I hope to be able to help to bring the stability and success that everyone wants,” Allardyce said. “Of course it’s a challenging job, but it’s something I have experience of in the past. I’m looking forward to working with the players and of course I will be relying on the help of the Sunderland supporters, whose tremendous passion I have experienced first-hand.”