World Cup Qualifiers - Europe

World Cup Qualifiers - Europe (225)

A fire broke out at Andorra's Estadi Nacional ground the day before the World Cup qualifying match against England.

Gareth Southgate's squad had been training at the 3,300-capacity stadium on Friday around three hours before the blaze started.

The fire, which caused thick black smoke, appeared to take place in the broadcast gantry in between the two dugouts.

After fire crews dealt with the incident, a VAR monitor and one dugout looked to be damaged, while there was also a burnt area of the playing surface towards the touchline.

Initial reports have suggested the fixture is not in doubt, but UEFA must decide if it can go ahead at the original venue.

There must be a back-up venue in place for all qualifying matches, per UEFA rules.

Gareth Southgate has rejected the suggestion that "most" of his England squad are not fully vaccinated against coronavirus and reiterated his support for a vaccine programme.

The subject of wildly varying vaccination rates at Premier League clubs recently prompted a passionate outburst from Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp.

Southgate supports the vaccination programme and Tammy Abraham this week became the first England player to reveal he had been jabbed, but others have been reluctant to speak about the matter publicly.

Asked about most players in the squad and Premier League in general not being fully vaccinated ahead of England's World Cup qualifier in Andorra, Southgate replied: "I'm not sure that's totally accurate, in terms of 'most', but I think everybody knows where I stand on the subject.

"To move out of a pandemic, the only way is a vaccination programme, I think that was essential.

"There is then the complication that there are lots of individual circumstances around that and I understand that some people would be anxious, perhaps.

"When you are in the camp of mine, over 50, there is less to consider really. The odds are more straightforward, it's a much more straightforward decision and I'm a believer that it's the right thing to do.

"I can kind of understand there are other topics we've talked about where everybody would be aligned and we would all have a very clear view as a team.

"With this, it's a little bit more nuanced, lots of people have had the virus, so maybe they feel the antibodies are high in their own bodies.

"Lots of people might have individual medical conditions, some people in the country might have religious reasons. It's a complicated area, my belief is the route out of the pandemic is a vaccination programme.

"I'm yet to hear anybody offer an alternative and there is not a lot more we can say than that."

Southgate says the England team doctor takes the lead when it comes to communicating with the players on the subject.

He added: "Our doctor over the last year and a half has always spoken to the players about the current situation.

"He has spoken in terms of infection in the country to explain what measures will be needed within the camp for us because those over the 18 months have changed.

"So whether masks are needed indoors for us, the level of testing and whatever that is going to be.

"He's always explaining the benefits of the vaccination. But, of course, we have had to deal with many different topics.

"We also have to prepare a team to play football and sometimes there wouldn't be enough hours to discuss all the things that everybody seems to want us to discuss and prepare a team to play a football match.

"We cannot impact the weather in the next two or three days, we could not jab everyone here in two or three days.

"There is a balance to strike. First and foremost, we are here to win football matches."

England are four points clear of Albania at the top of Group I ahead of Saturday's match with Andorra, who are fifth in the standings.

What is expected to be a more testing match with Hungary follows at Wembley on Tuesday.

Gareth Southgate says England know they are "close" to ending their long wait to win a major trophy as they prepare to try to seal World Cup qualification.

The Three Lions suffered the heartbreak of losing to Italy on penalties in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley in July, three years after crashing out of the World Cup in Russia at the semi-final stage.

It is 55 years since England won their only major trophy in the 1966 World Cup on home soil, but they are well on course to get another opportunity in Qatar next year.

England are four points clear at the top of Group I ahead of an away clash with Andorra on Saturday and an encounter with Hungary at Wembley three days later.

Southgate has been impressed with the way his players reacted to missing out on Euro 2020 glory and feels there is a belief they can avoid more agony.

He said: "Ultimately what I like last month [when they thrashed Andorra and Hungary before drawing in Poland] is that there was no hangover in terms of the disappointment and no complacency in terms of the attitude of the players.

"There was a desire to improve, to make sure the next steps are the right ones and keep the standards every day. 

"Of course we've got to qualify first, that's the task over the next five to six days, to get six points.

"But there is a definite understanding that we are close, that we are ranked well in the world and that our results over a period of time have been consistent, but we know we ultimately want to go one step further next time."

It is just over five years since Southgate initially took over as manager on an interim basis before landing the role for the long term.

The ex-England defender says there is much more desire in the camp compared to when he took the reins in 2016.

"Different periods across that timeline, I think the first thing we wanted to do was restore confidence and then across the period of time optimism," he said.

"I think it's best embodied in terms of the players in that I can remember at that time it was difficult to get players to come sometimes. Now we had three lads called into the squad late and they couldn't wait to be here.

"There's lots of markers we could use, but for me in terms of working with the team and the enthusiasm of the team the connection with the country I think they are probably the things at the utmost in my mind."

Southgate brushed off concerns about Harry Kane playing on an artificial pitch in Andorra with his history of ankle trouble and says he has no new injuries to contend with.

Harry Kane sits fifth in England's all-time scoring charts, but he could overtake Wayne Rooney's competitive record for the Three Lions against Andorra.

Kane has found the net nine times in 13 appearances in 2021 for Gareth Southgate's men to leave him 12 goals behind Rooney (53) as England's leading scorer.

However, the Tottenham forward has 36 goals to his name in competitive international fixtures – one fewer than Rooney – before the trip to the Estadi Nacional on Saturday.

Kane is also one shy of becoming just the second player to score 10 or more in two separate calendar years for the Three Lions, after Vivian Woodward in 1908 and 1909.

But comparisons between Kane and Rooney are likely to be the focus in the coming months, as the England captain targets his records – starting with this competitive benchmark.

Kane quicker to this point

Since opening his account on debut against Lithuania in March 2015, Kane has scored 36 times across 53 competitive fixtures – averaging a goal every 118 minutes.

By contrast, Rooney played 21 more matches for his 37 goals, netting once every 156 minutes on average having played an additional 1,545 minutes.

Kane, who is still waiting on his first Premier League strike of the season, has needed just 82 shots on target to reach his 36-goal mark as well, with Rooney requiring 32 more to achieve his tally.

Overall, Rooney has attempted 99 more shots than his counterpart, which translates into a 13.8 per cent conversion rate. Kane has turned 21.3 per cent of his 169 shots into goals.

 

Kane delivers on the biggest stage

Rooney may have scored five more goals than Kane (25) in major tournament qualifiers, but the latter shines when it comes to the showpiece events.

Despite playing in just one World Cup, Kane impresses ahead of Rooney in terms of goals at the finals, with his six to claim the 2018 Golden Boot towering above the former Manchester United forward's one across three tournaments between 2006 and 2014.

While Kane's goals were subsequently not enough to see England past Croatia in the semi-finals in Russia, the current Three Lions captain also guided his side to their first major tournament final in 55 years at Euro 2020.

However, Rooney (six) has scored two more European Championship goals than Kane, netting four times at Euro 2004 as he briefly became the youngest scorer in the tournament's history.

Nevertheless, Kane outscores Rooney by three at major tournaments, having proven himself the man for the big occasion on the international stage.

 

Rooney filled his boots with five competitive goals versus San Marino, against whom Kane has netted just once, but England's record scorer had an impressive four against both Croatia and Switzerland.

Kane's best hauls have been his four against Bulgaria and Montenegro, although he did score three in one match against Panama at the World Cup.

Two stars similar finishers

Strangely, Kane and Rooney have almost identical records when it comes to the breakdown of how their goals have been scored.

The pair have each scored four with their left feet and 24 with their favoured right boots, with Rooney heading in nine to Kane's eight.

Kane's swerving long-range finish against Poland last time out was his sole goal from outside the box to date, however, whereas Rooney has smashed in six goals from outside the area – two of those being free-kicks.

Rooney has six from the penalty spot, too, where Kane has proved particularly prolific, his 10 conversions from 12 yards allowing him to close quickly on a fellow great.

Fikayo Tomori has credited Milan legend and current technical director Paolo Maldini with helping him improve his game after earning an England recall.

Tomori looked destined for a promising future at Chelsea, returning to the club in 2019-20 to play under Frank Lampard having also linked up with him the previous season at Derby County.

In the Championship, Tomori played 47 times as Derby got to the play-offs, and he proved an able back-up option upon his return to Stamford Bridge as he made 15 Premier League appearances – all as a starter – in 2019-20.

But things soon changed, the signing of Thiago Silva at the start of 2020-21 pushing Tomori further down the pecking order – when January came around, he had played in just one Premier League match and was seemingly heading out of the door.

Tomori joined Milan on loan and quickly established himself in the team, striking up a solid partnership with Simon Kjaer. He could not help the Rossoneri to a first Scudetto in 10 years, but they did end their seven-year Champions League hiatus and Tomori's loan was made permanent.

No team in Europe's top five leagues have kept more domestic clean sheets than Milan (eight) since the start of May, and Tomori's role landed him a recall to the England squad, with the 23-year-old lauding the influence of club great Maldini.

Speaking to reporters ahead of England's World Cup qualifier against Andorra, Tomori said: "When he [Maldini] was speaking to me, I was like, 'Wow, it's Paolo Maldini'.

 

"There is that pressure knowing he's watching every game, he's there at the training ground every day, so as a defender I want to impress him.

"When I was midway through my loan, we had a chat, I asked what he thinks about my game, what I need to improve.

"He's really engaging with all the defenders, and having a legend like that around, you're going to listen. It's a nice thing to have him around, and he's been a big help."

For a while it seemed Tomori and Lampard enjoyed a similarly close bond given their time together with Derby and then the Chelsea first team.

But shortly after leaving Chelsea, Tomori said in an interview that he felt the treatment of him by Lampard – who was sacked a matter of days after the defender left – was "personal".

However, Tomori says he has not spent time dwelling on such struggles.

"To be fair, since I've been at Milan I've not really thought about it," he continued. "It was difficult, when you aren't able to play, it is difficult.

"Being able to overcome that, forget about that is part of the reason why now it's going so well. I didn't really dwell on it, I moved on. It's part of football.

"I've a really good support system, and now I've overcome all that I want to keep progressing.

"Every player wants to play, and when that opportunity came at such a big club like Milan, I was so happy, excited, and I'm really happy it's gone so well so far.

"We've started the new season well and the club has shown a lot of faith in me. I'm happy, confident and feeling really settled, and it's led me to be here [back with the England squad]."

James Ward-Prowse has received a late England call-up to replace the injured Kalvin Phillips for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Andorra and Hungary.

Leeds United midfielder Phillips has been ruled out with a calf strain he suffered in his club's 1-0 win over Watford on Saturday.

Ward-Prowse, who became the fourth Southampton player to both score and be sent off in a Premier League match after Peter Crouch (May 2005), Sadio Mane (October 2015) and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (December 2018) after he followed up a successfully converted penalty with a straight red card in the defeat to Chelsea on Saturday, is the latest addition to the squad for manager Gareth Southgate.

England's manager is already without a host of players for the October fixtures.

Reece James was ruled out on Monday, the Chelsea defender replaced by club colleague Ben Chilwell, who was part of England's Euro 2020 squad but did not feature in the tournament.

Meanwhile, ex-Blues striker Tammy Abraham was another to be drafted in, his addition coming amid the absences of Patrick Bamford, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Marcus Rashford.

Defensive duo Harry Maguire and Trent-Alexander Arnold are also sidelined, while Southgate opted to leave out Jude Bellingham and Mason Greenwood, allowing the young duo to rest.

Phillips started all seven games as Southgate's Three Lions reached the European Championship final. Indeed, only goalkeeper Jordan Pickford (690) and John Stones (679) played more minutes in the campaign.

The 25-year-old ended the tournament with a passing accuracy of 85.92 per cent, creating three chances in the process, though missed out on glory as Italy secured the trophy via a penalty shoot-out win at Wembley Stadium.

Sitting top of Group I in the quest to qualify for Qatar 2022, England visit Andorra on Saturday before hosting Hungary three days later.

Raheem Sterling has praised the "fantastic job" done by Gareth Southgate in helping to change the perception of the England team, both with the national media and the supporters.

After a spell as interim boss, Southgate was appointed on a permanent basis in November 2016. Since then, he has steered England to a World Cup semi-final and the Euro 2020 final, where the Three Lions lost on penalties to Italy.

Sterling has been a key member of the squad during the current reign, having made his international debut under Rory Hodgson back in 2012.

"I feel like when I first went into the camp, it was very much them versus us, the media versus the players," Sterling, who has won 70 international caps and scored 18 goals, said in an interview with Sky Sports.

"When Gareth came in, he made it very clear what his intentions were, they were to make England challenge on all fronts, make us challenge at Euros and World Cups.

"If we were to do that, we had to change the perception in the media, public and us the players – we all had to be one if we wanted to achieve something with the national team.

"From the moment he [Southgate] came in, he really tried to work on building that relationship with the media and the fans and I think he's done a fantastic job at doing that."

The Manchester City forward scored three goals in the European Championship run, with the team as a whole embracing the opportunity to play on home soil in all bar one of their fixtures.

England have shown few signs of suffering a Euros hangover since the agonising defeat to Italy at Wembley Stadium; they sit top of their group in World Cup qualifying, despite a late equaliser by Poland last month ending their 100 per cent record.

Ahead of games against Andorra and Hungary, Sterling made clear how much the players appreciate the support they receive when representing their country.

"I think the fans are reconnected with the players again and you can see it when you go into the games, the players feel loved," Sterling added.

"Going into the games, even in the summer, you didn't feel any pressure. People might say 'you played every game at Wembley', but that's huge pressure as you're at home and people expect things from you."

Louis van Gaal is worried about Georginio Wijnaldum's lack of playing time with Paris Saint-Germain ahead of the Netherlands' next batch of World Cup qualifiers.

The 30-year-old joined the Ligue 1 giants on a free transfer in June after failing to agree a new contract with Liverpool, where he had spent the previous five seasons.

Having been a regular under Mauricio Pochettino at the start of the season, Wijnaldum has since lost his place in the side to Idrissa Gueye.

He has started just half of PSG's 12 matches since arriving and has featured a further five times from the substitutes' bench.

Wijnaldum's tally of 502 minutes is only the 12th most among PSG players in all competitions this term, with Gueye and Ander Herrera featuring more frequently in midfield.

But while having concerns over Wijnaldum's situation at the Parc des Princes, Van Gaal intends to stay loyal to his vice-captain.

"Of course I'm worried," he said at a news conference on Monday ahead of his side's qualifiers against Latvia and Gibraltar over the next week. 

"I already talked to him about that when he arrived here. But the alarm bells are not sounding just yet. I have lots of trust in certain players. 

"You will remember I took him to the World Cup in 2014 when he was carrying an injury. I started with [Jonathan] De Guzman but Wijnaldum soon took over and did well."

Wijnaldum is suspended for Friday's trip to Latvia as the Netherlands go in search of a third successive victory in Group G.

Van Gaal's side are above Norway on goal difference ahead of the games with Latvia and then Gibraltar three days later.

"This break is a bit calmer. Last time it was almost impossible with three matches," Van Gaal said. "We played those three games with a new group, new manager and new staff.

"I had to convince everyone of my plan, all within one and a half days. We then had one and a half days between each game."

England have called up Ben Chilwell to replace the injured Reece James, while Tammy Abraham features as a late inclusion for October's internationals.

Gareth Southgate named a 23-man squad on Thursday for World Cup qualifiers against Andorra and Hungary but has announced two changes to his group.

James, who suffered an ankle injury in Chelsea's 1-0 loss to Manchester City last month, is ruled out through injury and club colleague Chilwell takes his place.

The left-back was encouraged to prove his worth to both Southgate and Thomas Tuchel at club level after initially being left out, and he duly did so as he scored in a 3-1 defeat of Southampton on Saturday.

In that contest, Chilwell attempted four shots and made a game-high three key passes, subsequently earning a call-up at the expense of his team-mate, who was somewhat of a surprise inclusion in the first place.

Former Chelsea striker Abraham has also been included as a late call-up, with Southgate opting to extend his squad to 24 players due to the Roma forward's current form.

Abraham – who had not been selected since November 2020 – has six caps to his name and will have been disappointed with his initial omission, given the injuries to Patrick Bamford, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Marcus Rashford.

Abraham has scored twice and assisted as many in seven Serie A appearances for Jose Mourinho's men and he will now act as a likely deputy to Harry Kane, who has scored nine times in 13 internationals in 2021 for England.

Gareth Southgate is cautious of overusing Jude Bellingham and Mason Greenwood and has left the young pair out of England's squad for their upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

Bellingham and Greenwood were high-profile omissions from the 23-man group named by Southgate on Thursday, along with injured defenders Trent Alexander-Arnold and Harry Maguire.

Borussia Dortmund midfielder Bellingham has started all 10 games at club level this season and played an hour for England in their 4-0 win over Andorra earlier this month.

Greenwood has been used regularly by Manchester United this term, meanwhile, starting seven times and featuring from the bench on one occasion.

Bellingham's 802 minutes of playing time this term is the most of any England-qualified player in Europe's top five leagues when taking all competitions into account, while Greenwood's 634 minutes is the fourth-most of any United player.

Speaking at a news conference after announcing his squad on Thursday, Southgate said: "They're both in similar situations, young players with heavy workloads at the moment.

"I've spoken to both of them. Jude at the moment is playing a high level of matches with Champions League games, league games. As an 18-year-old he had a full season last season and then into the Euros with no break.

"We have to remember these lads are still physically growing, so when we talk about young player development we have to be really careful in how we handle them.

"These are two players we think can be really exciting for England's future. We don't want to overload them, we want to make sure we are making the right decisions with them."

With Maguire missing out through injury, Milan centre-back Fikayo Tomori has been called up nearly two years since earning his one and only cap against Kosovo.

Tomori has helped Milan to nine clean sheets in Serie A since arriving at San Siro from Chelsea in January on an initial loan deal that has since been made permanent, a tally that has been bettered by only three others.

He also ranks 11th for successful passes among defenders in the Italian top flight over that period, which played a part in Southgate's decision to recall the 23-year-old.

"I like Fikayo in terms of his aggressiveness of defending," Southgate said. "Because he's got speed he's confident enough to defend on the front foot and he's improving on the ball as well.

"I have been very impressed. I thought he finished last season well. We were tracking him well last season and he is playing well this season. 

"He is at a club that's expected to win every week. I thought he did well against Liverpool and Juventus recently."

Reece James and Mason Mount have also been selected for the games with Andorra and Hungary over the next fortnight, despite missing Chelsea's 1-0 loss to Juventus in the Champions League on Wednesday as they continue to recover from injury.

Southgate explained: "They're clearly still to have appeared for their clubs so there's an unknown, but our understanding is Mason and Reece have a good chance for the weekend."

 

The other big news to come out of Southgate's penultimate squad selection of a memorable 2021 was the inclusion of Ollie Watkins and Aaron Ramsdale, the pair replacing Patrick Bamford and Nick Pope, respectively.

Ramsdale has made a positive start to life at Arsenal since ousting Bernd Leno as number one, his save percentage of 91.67 the second-best return of any keeper to have played at least three times for a team in Europe's top five leagues this term.

"Aaron was with us all summer and we had the opportunity to work with him for a long time and get to understand his strengths," Southgate said.

"Nick is still I think coming back from injury a little bit, but I think Aaron is just in a better vein of form at the moment.

"From Aaron's perspective, the move to a bigger club with higher expectations and a style of play where he is asked to build with his feet from the back, he's coping really well.

"I think that's an important factor for us when looking at the biggest matches, having a goalkeeper who has really adapted well to a move and is full of confidence."

 

England squad:

Sam Johnstone (West Brom), Jordan Pickford (Everton), Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal); Conor Coady (Wolves), Reece James (Chelsea), Tyrone Mings (Aston Villa), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), John Stones (Manchester City), Fikayo Tomori (Milan), Kieran Trippier (Atletico Madrid), Kyle Walker (Manchester City); Phil Foden (Manchester City), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Jesse Lingard (Manchester United), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Kalvin Phillips (Leeds United), Declan Rice (West Ham); Jack Grealish (Manchester City), Harry Kane (Tottenham), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Jadon Sancho (Manchester United), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa).

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