By Mike Collett
European champions Spain beat minnows Luxembourg 4-0 on Friday to reach the Euro 2016 finals in France where they will aim to complete an unprecedented hat-trick of continental titles.
They were 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 Luxembourg 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.
“As far as the way we play and renewing the team we have made progress,” coach Vincent Del Bosque said.
“We have a team that is practically the finished article and an idea of how we want to play.”
Spain will contest a 12th straight international tournament in France and will look to bounce back after going out of last year’s World Cup in Brazil at the group stage when they were defending the title they won for the first time in 2010.
Switzerland made sure of their place by finishing second behind England in Group E when they beat San Marino 7-0 and Slovenia and Lithuania played out a 1-1 draw in their match affected for a spell by a partial floodlight failure.
In all, nine matches were played on Friday with the penultimate round now completed in six of the nine groups and the places thinning out before next week’s final qualifiers.
While Spain were winning Group C, Ukraine’s 2-0 victory in Macedonia and Slovakia’s surprise 1-0 home defeat by Belarus means Ukraine or Slovakia will join Spain as the automatic qualifiers while both are guaranteed at least a playoff place.
With England already through from Group E, the main points at issue against Estonia at Wembley was whether they would maintain their 100 percent record and if Estonia could keep alive their slim playoff hopes.
England won 2-0 but because Slovenia and Lithuania drew, Estonia still have an outside chance of third place and a playoff spot albeit with the slimmest of mathematical probabilities.
Estonia meet Switzerland in their final match on Monday, Lithuania host England and San Marino welcome Slovenia when Slovenia, Lithuania or Estonia will finish third.
Group G is more clear-cut following Russia’s 2-1 win in Moldova and Sweden’s 2-0 victory away to Liechtenstein, where their striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic missed a penalty.
Already-qualified Austria preserved their unbeaten record with a 3-2 win in Montenegro to reach 25 points.
Russia, who have 17 points, play Montenegro on Monday, while Sweden, who have 15, are at home to Moldova. A win for Russia will guarantee them second place.
The ninth round of qualifiers in Groups A, B and H take place on Saturday with Wales, Belgium, Italy and Norway hoping to wrap up automatic qualification with a round to spare.