World Cup Qualifiers - Europe

World Cup Qualifiers - Europe (225)

Hansi Flick hailed Germany's attitude and their perfect start to his tenure after they confirmed their 2022 World Cup spot with a 4-0 win over North Macedonia on Monday.

Kai Havertz broke the deadlock at the Tose Proeski Arena and Chelsea colleague Timo Werner netted a quickfire brace, with Jamal Musiala adding the fourth goal to become his country's second-youngest scorer in history (18y 227d).

Flick subsequently becomes just the second Germany head coach – along with predecessor Joachim Low – to win all of his opening five games, while Die Mannschaft have now qualified for every World Cup since 1954, with only Brazil achieving the same feat.

And the former Bayern Munich head coach, whose side have scored 18 and conceded just one since his appointment, was delighted with their performance in Skopje.

"We now have five wins from five this season," Flick told RTL post-match. "The result was perfect.

"We wanted to qualify as quickly as possible. You have to compliment the team on their attitude.

"Of course the first half was a bit wild, but we can be happy that we won and qualified. We were very consistent after the first goal, so we can be satisfied."

Werner attempted a game-high nine shots – two more than the entire North Macedonia team combined – and Flick also found time to praise the striker as he looks ahead to Qatar in 2022.

"We now have time to develop and improve until November 2022," he continued. "I'm looking forward to the task. Timo Werner's second goal was the best today.

"He didn't have it easy. He had a few chances in the game and scored two great goals."

The Chelsea forward, who has scored 21 times for his country, added that his relationship with Flick is vital for his performances.

"If the coach counts on you, it helps every player," Werner said. "I need this trust from outside. He gives me 100 per cent. I'll try to pay that back."

Memphis Depay scored twice and had a penalty saved as the Netherlands maintained their hold on World Cup qualifying Group G with a comfortable 6-0 win over Gibraltar.

Virgil van Dijk's early header got the ball rolling, with Depay responding to Bradley Banda saving his spot-kick by finishing off a neat team move and scoring a second penalty as the Oranje went in at half-time with a commanding lead.

Denzel Dumfries wasted no time in adding to the scoreline in the second half, before substitutes Arnaut Danjuma and Donny Malen completed the scoring to condemn Gibraltar to an eighth defeat from eight.

The Netherlands can ill afford to slip up, with Norway two points behind them, but that was never likely here as Van Dijk opened the scoring inside nine minutes, losing his marker with ease and nodding Depay's corner in at the near post.

Stefan de Vrij's header was blocked in the box by the arm of Graeme Torrilla, with a penalty awarded following a VAR review, yet Depay's spot-kick was at a nice height for Banda to make a convincing save.

The Gibraltar goalkeeper could do little two minutes later, however, as Noa Lang's superb pass carved the visiting defence open and Davy Klaassen squared for Depay to tap in.

Banda made fine saves from Georginio Wijnaldum and De Vrij, but another handball – this time Julian Valarino blocking Steven Berghuis' right-wing cross – gave Depay a second opportunity from the spot he would not pass up.

Dumfries made it 4-0 shortly after the restart, finding himself in the centre of the box to head in Lang's left-wing cross, and a lull in the scoring was brought to an end 15 minutes from time when Wout Weghorst flicked on to Danjuma, who steered the ball into the bottom-left corner on the stretch.

Weghorst thought he had got his name on the scoresheet when he nodded over Banda but Roy Chipolina hacked off the line, with the sixth instead belonging to Malen after slick interplay involving Depay.

Timo Werner scored a double as Germany became the first team to qualify for the 2022 World Cup thanks to a 4-0 win over North Macedonia in Monday's Group J clash.

Hansi Flick's side – who have now won all five games under their new head coach – seized the early initiative at the Tose Proeski Arena, with Timo Werner denied by the woodwork as the visitors registered 15 first-half shots.

However, Kai Havertz broke the deadlock after 50 minutes before Werner added a quickfire double to put the game out of the hosts' reach.

Jamal Musiala then added a late fourth and, with Armenia dropping points against Romania, Germany claimed an unassailable eight-point lead at the summit to quality for Qatar 2022.

Havertz teed up both Joshua Kimmich and Thomas Muller in the opening stages but neither could beat Stole Dimitrievski with headers, before Darko Velkovski nodded wide at the other end.

Serge Gnabry then poked narrowly wide and Werner, who was earlier denied from point-blank range by Dimitrievski, struck the left-hand post as Germany failed to make their 76.5 per cent first-half possession pay.

Flick's team, however, opened the scoring after the interval as Muller raced onto Gnabry's throughball before squaring for Havertz to tap into an empty net.

Werner was unfortunate to not double the lead after a ricochet off the North Macedonia goalkeeper 10 minutes later, but the Chelsea forward made amends.

Muller collected his second assist as he slotted through for Werner, who rifled an unstoppable right-footed volley into the bottom-right corner before curling into the same corner three minutes later following Florian Wirtz's offload.

Gnabry should have added a fourth but he could only volley over from Muller's chipped pass, though Musiala latched onto fellow substitute Karim Adeyemi's ball to roll into the bottom-right corner and seal the victory.

Louis van Gaal defended Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman and midfielder Frenkie de Jong by claiming foreigners are always blamed for the club's problems.

It appeared Koeman was on the brink of being sacked prior to Barca's 2-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid on October 2 and a 3-0 Champions League loss to Benfica suggested his fate was certain.

However, president Joan Laporta opted to stand by the former Everton boss as he acknowledged the difficulty of managing injury problems and the loss of Lionel Messi amid the club's financial crisis.

Midfielder De Jong moved to defend his side in recent days, insisting the team's issues were "exaggerated a lot" and that their season was far from a write-off.

Netherlands boss Van Gaal delivered two LaLiga titles, a Copa del Rey and the UEFA Super Cup in his first spell as Barca coach, but he endured a difficult relationship with players and supporters at Camp Nou.

Speaking ahead of the Oranje's World Cup qualifier with Gibraltar, Van Gaal said he was not surprised to see his compatriots being criticised.

 "If everything is going smoothly, and you have great contributions that Frenkie has made in the past two years, then there is nothing to worry about," he told reporters.

"But when things go bad, people at Barcelona always look at the foreigners. And in this case, the coach is also a foreigner and a Dutchman.

"I have experienced that, too. History repeats itself. But I think Frenkie handles it very well, and Ronald, and Luuk de Jong and Memphis [Depay], too. I don't think that's the biggest problem.

"At the moment, they are trying to do everything they can. I've never had a striker like Memphis who runs so much, comes so deep and gets on the ball so much. That's commendable."

The Netherlands' 1-0 win over Latvia put them two points clear of Norway in their World Cup qualifying group.

Victory over Gibraltar, who have lost all seven of their games in Group G, would put Van Gaal's men in a strong position to qualify for Qatar 2022.

Switzerland have praised Xherdan Shaqiri for his behaviour after an intruder appeared in a television interview and draped the Lyon star in a provocative jacket.

Shaqiri was conducting post-match media duties on the pitch following his side's 2-0 win over Northern Ireland in World Cup qualifying in Geneva.

A man approached the former Liverpool player and put a coat around his shoulders that bore the symbol of the UCK, or Kosovo Liberation Army, a militia that fought for Kosovan independence from Yugoslavia and Serbia.

Shaqiri, who is of Kosovo-Albanian descent, promptly removed the garment and placed it out of sight of the camera before continuing his interview.

The incident caused uproar in Serbia, with newspaper Kurir describing it as a "scandalous scene" and calling on UEFA to act.

In a statement posted on Twitter on Sunday, the Swiss Football Association (SFV) said: "It is unacceptable that people want to use football stadia, and in this case a player's interview after a match, for political propaganda purposes.

"Xherdan Shaqiri reacted in an exemplary manner, stayed calm and did not react.

"The man was questioned by police and an immediate stadium ban was imposed on him."

Shaqiri and team-mate Granit Xhaka were fined 10,000 Swiss francs at the 2018 World Cup after celebrating goals in a 2-1 win over Serbia by making a double-headed eagle gesture.

FIFA considered the celebration, which symbolised the emblem on the Albanian flag, to be "unsporting behaviour".

Germany's midfield partnership of Leon Goretzka and Joshua Kimmich is "one of the best duos in the world", according to Hansi Flick.

The Bayern Munich pair have started together in each of their country's last three matches and are likely to anchor the midfield in the World Cup Qualifying Group J clash against North Macedonia on Monday.

Goretzka and Kimmich have also partnered each other in all seven of Bayern's Bundesliga outings this season, helping Julian Nagelsmann's side to the top of the table in the process.

Ahead of Germany's trip to North Macedonia, where victory could see Die Mannschaft secure their place in Qatar with two matches to spare, Flick lauded Kimmich and Goretzka, who also formed a key part of his dominant Bayern team.

"Everyone knows they get along well off the pitch," he told a news conference. "They complement each other and are top professionals. 

"We need them to dictate our game. They harmonise well in midfield and we're glad we have them. 

"It's one of the best midfield duos in the world."

Manuel Neuer could return in goal for Germany, having missed Friday’s win over Romania with an adductor injury. Flick also revealed that defender Antonio Rudiger is a doubt after missing training on Sunday.

Meanwhile, winger Serge Gnabry has defended team-mate Timo Werner, who received criticism after a subdued performance against Romania.

Although involved in an early penalty incident, the Chelsea striker was substituted in the 67th minute having amassed just 24 touches and 19 passes – the lowest tallies recorded by any of Germany's starting outfield players – while also seeing both of his shots go off target.

Nevertheless, Gnabry was full of praise Werner's work rate and determination, insisting the former RB Leipzig star was simply unfortunate.

"We know there are periods when a striker doesn't always score," Gnabry said. "Then, there's criticism, but we stand behind Timo. 

"He did a good job in the last game; he missed a little bit of luck, but he's giving everything, and that's the most important thing.

"Timo is not [Robert] Lewandowski and not a classical striker, but he also has his qualities; he's quick and can also score goals."

After the 2018 World Cup final, when highlights of France's thrilling 4-2 win were played back at Luzhniki Stadium, one man in particular was enraptured.

Antoine Griezmann stood on the pitch, ignoring the celebrations that surrounded him, his gaze fixed upwards at the big screen beneath the storm-laden sky.

His hands to his mouth, eyes watering, smile beaming, the face of the man bore an expression of boyish disbelief: I was just man of the match in the World Cup final. And we won.

It's unlikely anything in Griezmann's career will ever top that victory over Croatia in the Russian capital. Win or lose, Sunday's Nations League final against Spain almost certainly won't. Still, it will be another special occasion for the Atletico Madrid forward, who is set to win his 100th cap against the national team of his adoptive country.

It also offers a chance to reflect on Griezmann's international career, which began only seven years ago. In the Didier Deschamps era, there has been no more important player.

 

Didier's favourite

Reaching a century of international games is commendable for any player – only eight men have ever achieved it for France before. What makes Griezmann unique is that all of his caps have come under the same coach.

It was Deschamps who handed Griezmann his debut on March 5, 2014 against the Netherlands, starting the forward wide on the left of a front three. Griezmann has since been used across the forward line in changing systems, but his presence in Deschamps' set-up has been constant: he has only missed four France games since his first appearance and has played in 56 matches in a row for Les Bleus, the longest such streak in their history.

 

Under Deschamps, only Olivier Giroud (101) has played more often than Griezmann, while only goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris has started more games (96 compared with Griezmann's 84) or played more minutes (8,700 to Griezmann's 7,300).

When he scored his second in the 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over Finland in September, Griezmann moved level with Michel Platini on 41 international goals. Only Giroud (46) and Thierry Henry (51) have managed more in the national team's history. Given his rate of just over five international goals per year, the outright record looks well within Griezmann's reach, even if he insists it is not an "obsession" to get it.

Another record beckons in 2022: should France reach the semi-finals in Qatar, Griezmann could surpass Henry and Fabien Barthez (both on 17) for the most appearances for Les Bleus at World Cup finals.

 

Griezi does it on the biggest stage

In the 2018 World Cup final, Griezmann won and took the free-kick from which Mario Mandzukic scored the opening own goal, and he converted the penalty that restored France's lead when Croatia were beginning to take control.

It was a decisive display in the biggest match of the Deschamps era, but the fact Griezmann stepped up for his country when it mattered should not have come as a shock.

In the knockouts in Russia, Griezmann scored in the 4-3 win over Argentina, got a goal and an assist in the quarter-final with Uruguay and crossed for Samuel Umtiti's headed winner against Belgium in the last four. He won the bronze ball as the third-best player at the tournament and the silver boot for finishing as second in the goal standings, two behind England's Harry Kane on six.

 

Two years earlier, he scored twice against the Republic of Ireland, got a goal and two assists against Iceland and two more strikes against Germany in the knockouts of Euro 2016 before France fell at the final hurdle on home soil against Portugal. In both 2016 and 2018, he came third in the Ballon d'Or standings.

Griezmann won the golden boot and was named player of the tournament at Euro 2016. Indeed, in the history of the European Championship finals, only Cristiano Ronaldo (20) and Michel Platini (10) have been directly involved in more goals than the 30-year-old (nine).

 

Antoine-derful

Griezmann scored 22 goals in 74 LaLiga games for Barcelona as he struggled to find his place in the system alongside Lionel Messi under three different coaches. It was a fairly poor return for €120million. Yet for France, regardless of tactics and personnel, he has delivered consistently when it matters.

Since his debut, Griezmann has nine goals and four assists in 16 World Cup qualifying games. No player has managed more, or made more appearances. He also leads the way for chances created (33, 14 more than anyone else), and shots (46, seven more than nearest rival Paul Pogba).

In Euros qualifying, only Giroud matches Griezmann for games (10) and beats him for goals (six), while the Atleti man is again top for assists (seven). In fact, he has created 42 goalscoring chances in those games, which is 28 more than anyone else for France during his international career.

At World Cup finals, no France player has played more matches (12), scored more goals (four) or provided more assists (two) than Griezmann in the Deschamps era. His 17 chances created are, again, the most in that time.

And, at the European Championships... well, you can guess where we're going here. His seven goals and two assists in 11 games is a better return than any other France player since his debut. If you add in four goals and an assist in 11 Nations League matches – again, nobody for France has played as many – then Griezmann stands on 43 direct goal involvements in competitive internationals, which is 15 more than any other player since he made his bow on the senior stage.

 

In Spain, Griezmann went from underrated Real Sociedad talent to Atletico Madrid superstar to Barcelona let-down. For France, he has been Monsieur Dependable for more than seven years.

If he marks his 100th cap with a decisive turn in a Nations League final victory, nobody – among the French, at least – would be surprised.

Jack Grealish was delighted to finally get off the mark in an England shirt after adding the final goal in Saturday's 5-0 win at Andorra.

A reshuffled England side were comfortable throughout as they closed on World Cup qualification, recording their sixth win in seven matches in this campaign.

The Three Lions were two up by half-time through Ben Chilwell and Bukayo Saka, the latter assisted by the outstanding Phil Foden. It was the first time two England players aged 21 or under had combined for a World Cup qualifying goal since Steven Gerrard's assist for Michael Owen against Germany in 2001.

Tammy Abraham got in on the act after half-time, before Grealish made a significant impact from the bench.

In 17 minutes, the £100million man won a penalty, which James Ward-Prowse saw saved before tucking away the rebound, and then hit the net following Sam Johnstone's throw from an Andorra set-piece.

The last substitute to win a penalty and score a goal in a European World Cup qualifier while playing 17 minutes or fewer had been Nicklas Bendtner in a six-minute cameo for Denmark against the Republic of Ireland in November 2017.

Grealish's goal came in his 16th appearance for his country, and the Manchester City winger acknowledged the drought had been on his mind. 

"It has been a long time coming, and it's about time that I scored because everyone has been saying it to me," Grealish told BBC 5 live.

 

"I think that is 16 games now. It was coming, and I'm just delighted that I've got off the mark.

"I want to be starting games, to be starting the biggest of games and keep playing for England. Luckily over the past few months and during the Euros I've had the chance to do that.

"In the back of my mind there has been that feeling that I've just wanted to score, just to get off the mark. Obviously I've done that tonight, I'm delighted, and it's a night I won't forget."

For Abraham, meanwhile, it was his first England goal for almost two years.

The Roma striker became the first England player to score while affiliated to an Italian team since David Platt, then with Sampdoria, netted against Sweden in 1995.

"I need to keep performing for my club and I hope I'll be in more camps going forward leading to the World Cup," said Abraham.

"It is never straightforward against Andorra. It was hard to break them down, but you could see the quality in the team as we had to find ways to score, and we did.

"I knew the opportunity would come. Jadon told me at half-time that sometimes he would cut back on his right and try and find me in the middle of the goal, so I should be ready.

"I was ready that time and got a good toe onto the ball. I was in the right place at the right time and I took my chance."

Bukayo Saka and Tammy Abraham were on target as England cruised to a comfortable 5-0 win over Andorra in World Cup qualifying Group I on Saturday.

Gareth Southgate named a largely second-string outfit at the Estadi Nacional but they had no problem dispatching a side ranked 153 places beneath them, Ben Chilwell setting them on their way in the 17th minute with his first international goal. 

Bukayo Saka added a second before half-time, while Tammy Abraham, James Ward-Prowse and Jack Grealish sealed the most routine of wins in the second period. 

A sixth win in seven group games means England move onto 19 points at the summit, while Andorra remain in fifth on three points. 

Netherlands head coach Louis van Gaal says his side does not need to play to entertain after they ground out a 1-0 World Cup qualifying win over Latvia in Riga on Friday.

Davy Klaassen netted a 19th-minute winner for the Dutch to move clear in Group G, although they needed an injury-time save from goalkeeper Justin Bijlow to preserve their lead.

Klaassen's goal came when he volleyed home a Memphis Depay corner with Van Gaal's side putting in an uninspiring performance, where they bossed 75 per cent possession and had the bulk of the chances with 19-10 shots and 4-1 shots on target.

Van Gaal would not be drawn on his side's ability to entertain, insisting World Cup qualification is the only goal after the Dutch missed out in 2018.

"We don't have to entertain the public here," van Gaal told NOS after the game. "We have to make it to the World Cup, that's the goal.

"These are very difficult matches. Every long ball was a fight with that striker [Roberts Uldrikis] of theirs."

The Netherlands sit clear atop Group G with 16 points, two points ahead of Norway, who drew with third-placed Turkey 1-1 on Friday.

Van Gaal conceded the Dutch invited Latvia's pressure, with Bijlow denying Igors Tarasovs late, by not adding to their one-goal advantage and felt they should have scored more.

"It has become 0-1, but it could also have been 0-4, 1-6 or 2-1," he said. "We did that ourselves. Frenkie de Jong's pass was too soft and Denzel Dumfries did not come to the ball. Everything went wrong there."

He added: "We had 15 chances and they had four. We had 75 per cent of the ball. That is not surprising, because I had already expected this.

"You can say it’s not that great, but we won 1-0, and Turkey-Norway made it 1-1. We are one step closer to the World Cup."

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