World Cup Qualifiers - Europe

World Cup Qualifiers - Europe (226)

England captain David Beckham scored a last-minute free-kick on this day in 2001 to salvage a 2-2 draw against Greece and secure his country a place at the upcoming World Cup.

Sven-Goran Eriksson’s team were losing 2-1 entering stoppage-time at Old Trafford and heading for a World Cup play-off with Ukraine when Beckham rescued his team.

Beckham curled home a trademark free-kick in the third minute of added time to send England to the World Cup in Japan and South Korea and help the midfielder earn redemption for his red card at the 1998 World Cup.

 

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The sending-off of Beckham for kicking out at Argentina’s Diego Simeone during England’s last-16 penalty shoot-out defeat in France three years earlier had resulted in a huge public backlash for the then-Manchester United winger.

Beckham would go on to help United win the treble in 1999 before he became permanent captain of his country upon the arrival of Eriksson as England manager.

Ahead of England’s final World Cup qualification match against Greece, the Three Lions were still vying with Germany for top spot in Group Nine.

Greece took a shock lead at Old Trafford through Angelos Charisteas and while England substitute Teddy Sheringham levelled in the 68th-minute, the hosts’ joy was short-lived.

Demis Nikolaidis immediately put Greece back in front and England were – at this point – set to finish a point behind Germany, who were being held by Finland.

Beckham was desperate to lead his country to the 2002 World Cup and after several failed set-piece efforts, he found his range in the third minute of second half stoppage time with a stunning strike to spark wild celebrations at his home ground.

News filtered through around the same time of Germany’s draw with Finland, which meant England finished top of Group Nine and were assured of their place at the tournament in Japan and South Korea.

Gareth Bale described Wales' World Cup qualifying play-off final win over Ukraine as the "greatest result" in the national team's history.

Andriy Yarmolenko's own goal ensured a 1-0 triumph for Wales, who were largely indebted to the heroics of Wayne Hennessey as Rob Page's team held on to book their spot at Qatar 2022.

It meant Wales qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1958 and Bale, who will leave Real Madrid when his contract expires at the end of the month, was in no doubt about the significance of the result.

"It's the greatest result in history for Welsh football," Bale told Sky Sports. "We are all ecstatic. The fans together, it was a delight, and we are going to a World Cup!

"It means everything. It's what dreams are made of. It's what we've been working for since we first came here. I'm so happy for all our amazing fans and our country. Words can't describe how we're feeling at the moment.

"It was difficult. I haven't done too much over the last four weeks because of my back spasm, which everyone knows about.

"Contributing in whatever way I could, but the most important thing was to get through it and get through to the World Cup.

"I gave my all on the pitch and I was running a bit on empty, it's always good to have players come off the bench and do a job."

 

Wales' victory means they will face England, the United States and Iran in Group B in Qatar.

And interim manager Page dedicated the Red Dragons' success to former boss Gary Speed, who died in 2011.

"I've said in the build-up, Gary Speed started this 12 or 13 years ago," he told a media conference. "I want to dedicate this to Gary. He started the culture, 12 years ago.

"There was a difference, there was a change. The environment completely changed. I've inherited that, Chris Coleman took it on and took it to another level, and I've inherited that group.

"We're confident going into games now. We don't hope to qualify for the World Cup or Euros now, we believe we can do it, so there's been a massive change in the mentality as well.

"I had a difficult decision tonight. I've got people like Harry Wilson and Brennan Johnson, who is going to be a superstar, isn't he? You've got people like him who didn't start tonight. But we had our best 11 on the pitch.

"It's encouraging, it's good, we're going in the right direction. We need to continue to develop these young players that we have done for the last few years, and it's only going to get better for us."

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Scotland boss Steve Clarke is "desperate" to reach the Qatar 2022 World Cup as his side prepare for an emotionally charged encounter with Ukraine.

The two sides meet in a UEFA qualifying semi-final playoff at Hampden Park this week, with the winner set to face Wales for a spot at the end-of-year tournament.

The match will mark Ukraine's first competitive fixture since the nation was invaded by Russia in February, with neutrals likely to be cheering Oleksandr Petrakov's visitors on in Glasgow.

Speaking ahead of the clash, Clarke says the emotional tenor of the game will be led by their opponents, but insists his side will only be focused on their own on-field goals.

"We always said we would be guided by the Ukrainians as to how they felt," he stated.

"They made a decision to get their football players out of the country and into a training camp to prepare for the game because they want to play, they want to try and give their nation a boost by qualifying for Qatar.

"The game goes ahead but still with the horrific outside influence, for us we focus on the game on football.

"Nothing but good thoughts and good wishes for them, except during the game.

"They want to go to Qatar to represent their country but I'm desperate to go to Qatar with Scotland.

"My staff are desperate to go and most importantly our players are desperate to take their country to a World Cup final so that's what we focus on."

Ukraine's hopes of reaching the World Cup will be decided in early June after new dates were confirmed for the postponed play-off games.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine meant the original plan to play Scotland in March was shelved and the knock-on effect was that Wales have also been kept waiting.

To reach the finals in Qatar, Ukraine must win away to Scotland on Wednesday, June 1, before coming out on top in another away game against Wales on June 5.

Wales secured their place in the final round of the play-offs with a 2-1 victory against Austria on March 24, which had been the original date for the Scotland-Ukraine fixture.

The winner of the final European play-off will go into a World Cup group alongside England, Iran and the United States.

UEFA announced the new play-off dates on Thursday, as well as explaining how its Nations League opening fixtures, also set for the June international window, would be rearranged to allow for Ukraine, Wales and Scotland to fulfil their World Cup commitments.

European football's governing body said it had held "extensive discussions" with eight national associations who would be affected by the World Cup games being switched to the intended Nations League dates and said there had been "a remarkable spirit of solidarity and cooperation" in negotiating an updated schedule.

Wales were due to play Poland in the Nations League on June 3, but that game has been switched to June 1, meaning Rob Page's team will have a competitive game in the build-up to facing either Scotland or Ukraine.

Scotland had been due to play Ukraine in the Nations League on June 7, but that game has been shunted back to September 21, with both teams then due to play three games in seven days.


Nations League group A4 and B1 games affected by World Cup play-offs, with new dates:

June 1: A4 - Poland v Wales
June 4: B1 - Armenia v Republic of Ireland
June 8: A4 - Belgium v Poland, Wales v Netherlands; Scotland v Armenia, Republic of Ireland v Ukraine
June 11: A4 - Netherlands v Poland, Wales v Belgium
June 14: A4 - Netherlands v Wales, Poland v Belgium
September 21: B1 - Scotland v Ukraine
September 24: B1 - Scotland v Republic of Ireland, Armenia v Ukraine
September 27: B1 - Republic of Ireland v Armenia, Ukraine v Scotland

Russia has withdrawn its appeal against a ban for its teams from FIFA competitions after World Cup qualifying continued without its senior men's national team.

Russian teams were suspended from FIFA and UEFA competitions following the country's invasion of Ukraine.

The FIFA sanction meant Valeri Karpin's Russia could not compete in their scheduled World Cup play-off semi-final against Poland.

The Russian Football Union (RFU) asked for the ban to be delayed, with that match set for late March, but the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) rejected its request.

It meant Poland progressed to a final against Sweden, who had defeated the Czech Republic. Poland won to advance to Qatar 2022.

With that tie settled and Poland drawn into a World Cup group alongside Argentina, Mexico and Saudi Arabia, CAS announced on Tuesday the RFU had withdrawn its appeal last week.

Russia's challenges of various bans – including from UEFA – appear set to continue, however.

Ukraine midfielder Taras Stepanenko wants their World Cup qualifying play-off semi-final against Scotland to be postponed again.

Scotland and Ukraine were meant to meet last month, but FIFA delayed the match until June due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

As such, Wales – who beat Austria 2-1 in their play-off semi – are yet to find out which team they will face for a place at the Qatar World Cup in November.

Wales, Scotland and Ukraine all know which group they will be in should they progress, however, with the winner of the play-off path having been drawn alongside England, Iran and the United States in Group B.

But with no sign of the conflict in Ukraine ceasing, Stepanenko, who has played 69 times for his country, has called on FIFA to delay the match with Scotland again. 

The Shakhtar Donetsk man, who last played a match in December, told The Sunday Times: "We don't want to be known as victims here. We are strong and capable guys, everyone is fine, and we can play 100 per cent.

"But the question I would ask is how can we play such an important game when you haven't played a match for such a long time?

"Every football player knows that if you recover from an injury for a long time, no matter how much you work out in the gym and do running, you go out to play football and everything is different.

"The level and strength may not be enough with one match, but we will be asked to play two incredibly tough matches in maybe four days to get to the World Cup. If there is no option, then we must play.

"But I think it would be extremely difficult to achieve two positive results. We are hoping FIFA and UEFA recognise this and postpone the matches to give us more time to prepare."

Speaking after the World Cup draw was made in Doha on Friday, both England manager Gareth Southgate and USA coach Gregg Berhalter stressed they were not concerned by how long it might take for the final team in their group to be confirmed, given the extraordinary circumstances.

"When that tie is played out is irrelevant really," said Southgate, while Berhalter added: "We're patient on that and pulling for [Ukraine] 100 per cent."

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