World Cup Qualifiers - Europe

World Cup Qualifiers - Europe (163)

Hansi Flick was delighted to see Germany show their "enormous quality" as they hammered Armenia 6-0, though Serge Gnabry felt the victory could have been more emphatic.

Germany moved to the top of World Cup qualifying Group J in style in Flick's first home game in charge on Sunday.

Gnabry scored twice in the first 15 minutes before goals from Marco Reus and Timo Werner put the game beyond all doubt by half-time.

Jonas Hofmann and debutant Karim Adeyemi rounded off a rout that thrilled head coach Flick, who was quick to urge his side to stay focused ahead of Wednesday's clash with Iceland.

"I liked this game but on Wednesday we still have a game in Iceland, so the team can be happy with their performance but we have to stay focused," Flick told RTL.

"We have seen that this team has an enormous quality, but what is important is to deliver when it counts."

Flick has won his first two games in charge of Germany, registering a plus-eight goal difference – the best start amongst all Germany coaches after their opening two fixtures.

In UEFA qualification for the 2022 World Cup, only Belgium (10) have scored more first-half goals than Germany (eight), with Gnabry's quick brace leaving Armenia with a mountain they never looked like climbing.

"Compared to the game in Liechtenstein we were more efficient, but we still missed a few chances, we could have scored more goals," said Gnabry. 

"Against Liechtenstein, we had taken three points, but today we are taking the extra euphoria to go to Iceland. 

"Obviously, having led quickly worked in our favour. My two goals are a good feeling when you score and you can help the team."

Luis Enrique was pleased with the way Spain responded to their defeat to Sweden with a comfortable victory over Georgia on Sunday.

La Roja suffered a shock 2-1 loss in Stockholm on Thursday, their first in 66 World Cup qualifying matches stretching back to 1993.

They bounced back in style in Badajoz, with goals from Jose Gaya, Carlos Soler, Ferran Torres and Pablo Sarabia securing a 4-0 win.

Head coach Luis Enrique felt the margin of victory could have been even greater given Spain's dominance, with Torres and Sarabia each seeing a goal disallowed for offside in a match in which the home side completed 820 passes to Georgia's 264.

"We professionals are used to living on a rollercoaster," Luis Enrique said. "You have to go through pain after a defeat, but quickly bite the bullet and think about the next game.

"Although it seems like the result was easy, it wasn't. We got through them on the inside, the outside, we created chances and we could have scored more goals."

The only disappointment for Spain was seeing some players forced off with physical problems.

While Luis Enrique thinks Aymeric Laporte was simply feeling some muscle fatigue, he is worried Gaya could have a bigger concern.

"Most of the changes were due to some discomfort for the players. I hope there are no serious injuries. That's the bad news," he said.

"Laporte has nothing, it's just a small overload. I don't think they'll even test him.

"Gaya does not look good."

 

Roberto Mancini is planning to make changes to Italy's starting line-up for their next match after his "tired" side were held to a goalless draw by Switzerland on Sunday.

The Azzurri created a number of chances and saw a Jorginho penalty saved by Yann Sommer, who made seven saves in total at St. Jakob-Park.

It is the second stalemate in the space of three days for the recently crowned European champions, having also drawn 1-1 with Bulgaria in this week's World Cup qualifiers.

Despite dropping more points, Italy made it 36 games unbeaten to equal Brazil's all-time record, set between 1993 and 1996.

Mancini was once against disappointed with his side's profligacy in front of goal, however, as his side failed to find the net for the first time in 18 matches overall.

"This is a moment when the ball just isn't going in," he told Rai Sport. "Once again, we had too many chances not to win this game.

"It's not the penalty, it's other situations. We need to be more determined, more clinical, more precise. 

"Just like with Bulgaria, it's another match we cannot fail to win with that many scoring opportunities created.

"It was tougher in the second half, but we had the chances in the first half and the second, which means the team did play good football.

"The lads are tired, so there certainly will be some changes for the next game. It's a missed opportunity, exactly like on Thursday. Exactly the same."

 

That next game is against Lithuania in Reggio Emilia on Wednesday, a game Italy will be overwhelming favourites to win no matter what side Mancini fields.

Sunday's draw leaves Italy four points clear of Switzerland, though the Group C second seeds have two games in hand still to play.

With the sides set to face off again on Italian soil in two months' time, Mancini believes that showdown could well be a decider for the only automatic qualification spot.

"I think that will be the case, yes," he said.

Italy's run of draws spans four successive matches inside 90 minutes, though they won two of those matches on penalties on their way to Euro 2020 success.

Ten members of Italy's starting line-up were also part of the XI that helped brush aside Switzerland 3-0 in that tournament, with Emerson Palmieri for Leonardo Spinazzola the only change.

Skipper Giorgio Chiellini believes his side played better in Basel on Sunday than they did in that European Championship match two months ago.

"We played really well this evening in every sense, with technique and aggression, probably better than when we beat Switzerland 3-0 in June," he told RAI Sport.

"What we lacked was the little bit extra to score a goal. This is what we need to find as soon as possible, because this was already a big step forward from Thursday's game, as we were back to the team we saw at Wembley.

"We'll make another step forward for the Nations League in November, then we'll take World Cup qualification after that. 

"Let's take it one step at a time, recover some energy. There's a long way to go and we have to prepare for Wednesday."

Jorginho's penalty miss was his first for Italy from his sixth spot-kick, though that excludes shoot-outs, having also missed in Italy's triumph over England in the Euros final.

"At that moment, it's the team that has to help Jorginho and we did," Chiellini added. "If we didn't have that bit of focus, we could've lost tonight and then made it really complicated for our qualification.

"There are many positives to be taken from this performance and we have to build on those."

Romelu Lukaku marked his 100th cap with a goal as Belgium swatted aside the Czech Republic 3-0 to move a step closer to an automatic place at the World Cup.

Chelsea striker Lukaku and former Blues forward Eden Hazard rampaged almost at will, with both getting on the scoresheet in a comfortable qualifying win for the Group E leaders at the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels.

The Belgians remain top of the FIFA world rankings despite their quarter-final defeat to eventual winners Italy at Euro 2020, and this was a reminder of how they got there.

A two-goal cushion by half-time meant they were largely on cruise control afterwards, with Alexis Saelemaekers grabbing their third goal midway through the second period.

Adam Hlozek saw an early firecracker of a shot deflect wide for a corner off Jason Denayer, before Belgium's big guns did their damage.

The Czechs were caught out by Lukaku in the eighth minute as he ran in behind their defence to meet a precise pass from Hans Vanaken and finish coolly with his left foot into the bottom-right corner.

That was his 67th international goal and it was hardly a secret he would present the biggest threat to the Czech goal. Before half-time he had headed another chance over, thrashed a powerful shot that Tomas Vaclik parried away well, and scooped an 18-yard strike 10 yards over the crossbar.

Hazard had laid on each of those chances, and in the 41st minute the Real Madrid forward got the second goal himself, with a pass from Youri Tielemans cleverly helped on with a backheel by Vanaken into Hazard's path, and he toed the ball low beyond Vaclik.

A third goal arrived in the 65th minute as substitute Saelemaekers applied the finishing touches after sensational flicks from Hazard and Lukaku freed him to shoot.

That came moments after Hlozek almost cut the deficit with a thumping shot that Thibaut Courtois tipped behind, and the third goal truly killed the contest.

An over-eager Lukaku was booked for hacking down Filip Kasa while chasing giddily after the ball, before he was roared off the pitch 10 minutes from time, replaced by Michy Batshuayi for the closing stages.

Italy were held to a goalless draw by Switzerland at St. Jakob-Park in Sunday's World Cup qualifier as they extended their unbeaten run to 36 games and matched the all-time record.

The Azzurri equalled Spain's European mark with a 1-1 draw against Bulgaria earlier this week and are now level with Brazil's global record, set between 1993 and 1996.

But the point will be considered a disappointment by Roberto Mancini as Jorginho missed a penalty and the wasteful visitors squandered a number of other presentable opportunities.

The draw leaves Italy, who had scored in each of their previous 17 matches, top of Group C and four points better off than a Switzerland side with two games in hand to play.

Domenico Berardi was reinstated in Italy's starting line-up and wasted the best of the first-half chances when failing to beat Yann Sommer after being played clean through.

Lorenzo Insigne was denied from a free-kick by Sommer, who was also equal to a weak shot from Ciro Immobile after Manuel Akanji had glanced just over at the other end.

An annoyed Mancini's mood did not improve eight minutes into the second half as Jorginho's tame penalty, awarded for Ricardo Rodriguez's foul on Berardi, was easily saved by Sommer.

That was the first penalty Jorginho has missed for Italy at the sixth time of taking one, excluding shoot-outs, having missed one in the Euro 2020 final against England.

Mancini instantly turned to substitutes Federico Chiesa and Nicolo Zaniolo but Italy struggled to create many more openings, with Insigne not getting enough power behind his shot to beat Sommer from the best of those.

Germany marked Hansi Flick's first home game in charge in style as they thumped Armenia 6-0 in World Cup qualifying to go top of Group J.

Having suffered a shock 2-1 defeat to North Macedonia in the last round of qualifiers back in March, Germany had found themselves looking up at their less illustrious opponents in the group.

Armenia were unbeaten with 10 points from four games ahead of Sunday's clash in Stuttgart, but Germany, coming off a 2-0 win over Liechtenstein on Thursday, changed that situation in emphatic fashion, Serge Gnabry the undoubted star of the show.

Gnabry scored twice in the opening 15 minutes and Marco Reus and Timo Werner put the result beyond doubt before half-time, with Jonas Hofmann's long-range effort and Karim Adeyemi's goal on his senior debut rounding off a rout.

The players took to the centre circle for a pre-match tribute to Gerd Muller following the Germany legend's death last month, and 'Der Bomber' would surely have been delighted by the attacking football displayed by Flick's side.

A well-worked move on the right concluded with Gnabry lashing home at the near post after latching on to Leon Goretzka's superb pass to open the scoring, and he netted his second from almost the same spot.

Reus' ball in was missed by Werner but Gnabry beat the outstretched leg of David Yurchenko and that trio were too the fore again to make it 3-0 after Leroy Sane's wicked long-range effort clattered the crossbar.

Gnabry lofted a wonderful ball from the right wing towards Werner, whose clever flick was met with a confident first-time finish from Reus.

Goretzka's header across goal teed up Werner for a tap-in for 4-0 in the final minute of normal time in the first half, with more pain for the visitors coming seven minutes after the restart when Hofmann powered home a fifth from outside the box.

Hofmann was only denied his second through a goal-line clearance and Werner was correctly thwarted by the offside flag late on, before Adeyemi capped off another superb attack to make it a debut to remember for him on a night Armenia will quickly want to forget.

Spain responded to their defeat to Sweden with an impressive 4-0 victory over Georgia in Badajoz on Sunday in their latest qualifier for Qatar 2022.

Goals from Jose Gaya, Carlos Soler, Ferran Torres and Pablo Sarabia earned Luis Enrique's men a comfortable victory and temporarily put them back on top of their group.

While that 2-1 loss in Stockholm on Thursday ended a 66-game unbeaten run in World Cup qualifying, there was little hangover in Extremadura as the hosts delivered a controlled and entertaining display for the packed crowd.

Gaya's first-time strike from the edge of the box was not the cleanest, but it was enough to give Spain a 14th-minute lead as it took a big deflection on its way past goalkeeper Giorgi Loria.

Soler made it 2-0 with 25 minutes gone, stylishly side-footing high into the net after Marcos Llorente's cut-back found its way to his feet.

Torres saw a goal disallowed for offside but still made it 3-0 before the break, his scuffed effort bouncing beyond Loria and into the bottom-left corner.

Georgia posed a threat to Unai Simon's goal early in the second half, but Spain pounced via a quick counter-attack, Sarabia lifting a finish high past Loria after he was brilliantly set up by Pablo Fornals.

Simon did produce a remarkable one-handed stop to deny Georges Mikautadze before he was replaced by Robert Sanchez, as Luis Enrique gave some game time to the substitutes in the closing stages.

Sarabia thought he had scored a fifth with the last kick of the game, but Fornals was judged offside before delivering his pinpoint cross.

What does it mean? Stylish response from Spain after Sweden shock

Amid the inquest into that defeat to Sweden – their first in World Cup qualifying since 1993 – this was a comfortable return to winning ways for La Roja.

There was a welcome clinical edge to their performance as they moved back to the top of Group B, a point ahead of Sweden but having played two games more.

Georgia remain bottom with one point from their five matches.

Torres terrific

This was another performance to show why Pep Guardiola likes to use Torres in a central attacking role for Manchester City.

Not only did he twice put the ball in the net, the first disallowed after a VAR check, but he also contested 10 duels – the most of anyone in his hour on the pitch.

He is the first Spain player to score at least five times in a calendar year since Isco in 2018.

Can Spain sustain momentum?

Kosovo away in the coming days will be a tougher test than this one, but it is crucial to Spain's hopes of topping the group that they keep up the pressure on Sweden.

Building some form and confidence would also do no harm to their Nations League chances – they face Italy in the semi-finals on October 6.

What's next?

Spain face Kosovo in Prishtina on Wednesday, while Georgia head to Sofia to play a friendly with Bulgaria.

England kept up their 100 per cent record in World Cup qualifying with a 4-0 win over Andorra at Wembley on Sunday.

Gareth Southgate made 11 changes to the team that won in Hungary by the same scoreline, with Trent Alexander-Arnold starting in midfield and Patrick Bamford handed a full debut in attack.

Jesse Lingard broke the deadlock after 18 minutes but it was not until the final quarter of the game that the Euro 2020 finalists at last pulled clear on the scoresheet, Harry Kane scoring a penalty before Lingard prodded home a clever second.

Bukayo Saka headed in a late fourth from Lingard's cross after England caught Andorra napping with a quick corner.

Lingard, who has only played four minutes for Manchester United this season, was in the mood to impress from the off. He finished with aplomb with his left foot after Saka's cross was nodded into his path, and only the offside flag denied him a quick-fire second when he raced through and lobbed goalkeeper Josep Gomes.

Bamford almost provided a debut assist for Conor Coady, his header down hooked over by the Wolves defender from six yards.

Reece James crashed a fine effort off the crossbar early in the second half but, with Andorra keeping the home side at bay, Southgate turned to Kane, Jack Grealish and Mason Mount off the bench.

That was the trio that finally got England their second goal: Grealish and Mount combined well, the Chelsea man was bundled over in the box by Christian Garcia, and Kane converted from the spot.

Lingard had a quieter second half but made it 3-0 with 12 minutes remaining, a toe-poke from the edge of the box bamboozling goalkeeper Gomes and finding the bottom-right corner.

And it was the United man who delivered a pinpoint cross for Saka to nod in the fourth, the Arsenal winger marking his 20th birthday in style.

 

What does it mean? England comfortably on track for Qatar

With five wins from five games and just one goal conceded, England are six points clear at the top of Group I and their place at the World Cup is now well within reach.

This straightforward win also allowed Southgate to hand some fringe players the chance to impress while experimenting with his line-up, Alexander-Arnold's and James' credentials in midfield perhaps something to consider for tougher matches.

Andorra, with one win from their five qualifiers, are fifth in the group.

Lingard looking lively

Despite a lack of action at club level, Lingard looked sharp and eager to impress, taking his two chances extremely well and completing all but six of his passes.

He will hope to have caught the eye not just of Southgate, but also of United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer ahead of the resumption of the Premier League next weekend. There was something pointed about his Cristiano Ronaldo-esque celebration after his opener.

A missed chance to impress?

While the game was something of an exercise in possession – England had 90 per cent of the ball – there was an argument that some could have done more to grab Southgate's attention.

Bamford only had 17 touches in his 62 minutes on the pitch, while Alexander-Arnold failed to create a goalscoring chance until the 89th minute.

What's next?

England face a far sterner test on Wednesday against Poland in Warsaw. Andorra will visit the Ferenc Puskas Stadium to face Hungary.

Gareth Bale ended his marathon Wales goal drought with a hat-trick to boost World Cup qualification hopes as the Real Madrid forward showed his class against Belarus.

The €100million man scored for the first time in his past 17 internationals to give Wales a fifth-minute lead from the penalty spot, the first of two spot-kicks he fired home in Kazan.

Captain Bale then hit a stoppage-time winner past Sergey Chernik to give Wales a 3-2 success from their trip to Russia, with the game moved to the neutral location as Wales could not enter Belarus due to sanctions imposed against that country's government.

The tussle did not go entirely to plan for Wales, who conceded twice in quick succession around the half-hour mark, with just 92 seconds between Vitali Lisakovich's equaliser and Pavel Sedko putting the nominal home team ahead. Those had been the first two shots on target for Belarus.

But Bale levelled up in the 69th minute and then produced fresh heroics for his country in the dying moments. He had seven goal attempts in total, and the three he put on target paid handsome dividends for Wales' all-time record goalscorer.

He described the victory as "massive" and said: "We know these kinds of games are probably the hardest because you are expected to win and other teams make it difficult.

"To get that kind of last-minute goal and three points will hopefully keep our momentum going and hopefully we can keep that into the next game."

Wales had missed their previous three penalties, including Bale's failure at Euro 2020 against Turkey, and he admitted that big-stage blunder was in his thinking when he won the early spot-kick chance.

"Of course, you have it in the back of my mind," Bale told Sky Sports. "Missed penalties are a thing in football, it happens and it's about how you bounce back. It was great to score two tonight, because they were important goals.

"[The winner] was kind of last-gasp. Everything was in the box and bouncing around, and I tried to hook it in, and as soon as I saw it go just past his fingers and roll in, I was ecstatic. I knew it was right at the last few seconds."

Only once before had Bale gone longer without scoring for his country – a run of 20 games from 2007 to 2010, in the infancy of his Wales career.

Kazan is over 400 miles east of Moscow, and Bale was unimpressed by Wales being told to play there by UEFA.

"Obviously everything hasn't really gone for us in terms of travelling to Russia," said Bale. "It's not exactly ideal for UEFA or FIFA to put us here, but it is what it is and we've had to use that as extra motivation. Thankfully, we got the three points and we can get out of here."

Paul Pogba insists he and his fellow France players have no problem with head coach Didier Deschamps but were "disgusted" by the team's failure at Euro 2020

Draws against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Ukraine in World Cup qualifying have followed France's wretched European mission.

Despite going into Euro 2020 as many people's favourites, France were knocked out on penalties by Switzerland in the second round, with Pogba seen in a lively discussion with Deschamps after the game.

Deschamps has been boss of France since 2012 and is set to lead his reigning world champions into next year's World Cup, assuming they qualify.

Manchester United midfielder Pogba looks set to face Finland on Tuesday as France attempt to end a run of five successive draws – including the 3-3 thriller with the Swiss that was followed by the spot-kick sucker punch.

France had never before drawn five consecutive games, and they perhaps need a win to lift spirits.

Speaking about his post-Switzerland talks with Deschamps, Pogba told TF1 on Sunday: "It wasn't hard-nosed. It was a discussion with frustration. But it was just that. There is nothing at all. It's going very well with the coach."

Pogba added: "We were disgusted with the Euro. But we want to get over that and move on. It really hurt us. When you think back to that match against Switzerland, nobody would have imagined that. We are the ones who lost the game. It was not Switzerland that won it."

France led 3-1 against the Swiss but folded in the closing stages of normal time, and Pogba said: "If we replayed the game it wouldn't be the same. We would certainly have changed the way we entered the field."

Against Finland, Deschamps will be determined his team avoid another slow start.

France have surprisingly conceded the opening goal in each of their last five games, their longest such run since another run of five from November 2009 to June 2010, during Raymond Domenech's reign as national coach.

They sit top of Group D but Finland, four points behind in second place, have two games in hand, making Tuesday's clash in Lyon a significant game in how the campaign pans out.

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