World Cup Qualifiers - Europe

World Cup Qualifiers - Europe (225)

Roberto Mancini was pleased with Italy's response to their weekend draw with Switzerland as they cruised past Lithuania 5-0 to set a new all-time record of 37 matches without defeat.

The Azzurri equalled Brazil's record with an underwhelming 0-0 draw against Switzerland on Sunday but they moved clear of the Selecao with a resounding win at Mapei Stadium on Wednesday.

Moise Kean was the star of the show, the Juventus man scoring twice in a pulsating first half that also saw an own goal from Edgaras Utkus and a Giacomo Raspadori strike – the Sassuolo man's first in international football.

Giovanni Di Lorenzo scored after the break as the European champions moved onto 14 points at the top of World Cup qualifying Group C, six points clear of second-place Switzerland after their goalless draw with Northern Ireland.

Mancini made eight changes from the side that drew with Switzerland and he was pleased with how his new-look starting XI acquitted themselves.

"Despite losing so many players over the last couple of days, the lads reacted well. Obviously, the opponents weren't of the highest quality, but you can't always score five or six goals, so they did well," he told RAI Sport.

"Anyone can make a mistake [the result with Switzerland], the important thing is to stay calm, not lose our heads, and it will be fine."

Kean and Raspadori took their chances to shine and Mancini insisted both players will be given more opportunities to impress.

"We already brought Raspadori to the Euros, we saw he has quality, but he is young and needs to gain experience," the Italy boss added.

"Of course, it's all in their minds and their feet. If they do what they need to do, work hard, remain organised on the field, then it depends on them, but they can have their chance."

 

Kean did not make the cut for Italy's triumphant Euro 2020 squad, but he shone in Reggio Emilia.

The 21-year-old scored with both his shots on target and was full of running as Italy swept their sorry opponents aside with ease.

Kean, who is back at Juventus after a torrid time in the Premier League with Everton, acknowledged it was not easy to watch his country's success from afar but said he is delighted to be back in the fold.

"It was important to get back in this shirt and give 100 per cent for the jersey, as it means so much to me every time," he said.

"It was not easy to be at home watching the Euros, but I was always in front of the television cheering on my team-mates. They brought home the trophy for Italy and that's what matters.

"It's all about hard work, how professionally I approach it. My team-mates gave me a warm welcome, I am working every day and returned with new objectives, a new mentality, and I'm always ready to help my team-mates."

Germany captain Manuel Neuer says it was important for his side to "set an example again" after winning each of their first three games under new head coach Hansi Flick.

Die Mannschaft eased to a 4-0 win over Iceland in Wednesday's World Cup qualifier to open up a four-point lead at the top of Group J with four matches to play.

That routine victory in Reykjavik followed on from wins over Liechtenstein and Armenia over the past week, with Flick's side scoring 12 goals and conceding none across that spell.

Flick is only the second Germany boss to win his first three games without conceding after Joachim Low, the man he succeeded following his nation's Euro 2020 last-16 exit to England.

On the back of a morale-boosting week for Germany, Neuer believes a marker has now been laid down.

"It's important that we set an example again," he told RTL. "We were dominant and defended well, so of course we are extremely satisfied.

"After these three games we now want to work on our game and set a trend. You have seen across these matches that there is an upward trend. We want to continue like this.

"The teams we have played do not compete in knockout games at major tournament, but you have to set yourself goals as a team and as a professional.

"Of course we have a long way to go, but we have started to send out a positive message."

 

Serge Gnabry's tap-in and Antonio Rudiger's header had Germany two goals ahead inside 24 minutes and Leroy Sane killed off the contest early in the second half.

Timo Werner added a late fourth to make amends for a horror miss earlier in the game as Germany moved a giant step closer to sealing automatic qualification for Qatar 2022.

While happy with what he has seen during his first international window at the helm, former Bayern Munich coach Flick insists there is still more to come from his side.

"Nine points from these games was our goal and we succeeded," he told RTL. "The way we have played is a step forward, though not everything is at one hundred per cent.

"Still, you can't expect that. I am satisfied with what I have seen, but there are a few things we will try to do even better next time."

Rudiger's goal – a powerful header after being picked out by a Joshua Kimmich delivery – was his second for Germany on his 47th appearance.

Not only did Rudiger get on the scoresheet, he also gained possession a joint-high 10 times for his side, level with left-back Thilo Kehrer.

Reflecting on this week's triple-header, Rudiger said: "It was important we got nine points and improved our goal difference.

"Keeping out the opposition each time gives us confidence. But there should have been more goals today. Overall it has been a good week and a half for us."

Luis Enrique claimed Spain are among the top teams in the world, but insisted they have to improve if they want to be the best.

La Roja defeated a plucky Kosovo side 2-0, making it consecutive wins to top Group B after Sweden ended their 66-game unbeaten run in World Cup qualifying that stretched back to 1993.

Pablo Fornals was on target for his first international strike, while Ferran Torres scored to become the first player to score six goals in a calendar year for Spain since David Silva (seven) in 2017.

Second-place Sweden slipping up against Greece opened a four-point gap but Luis Enrique implored his team to improve if they are to challenge to be the world's number-one outfit.

"We have made many mistakes, we have had many inaccuracies and we have suffered because of that," Luis Enrique told reporters post-match.

"It was a great relief to score the second goal, which ended the match and see the result that we all hope.

"This group is excellent and eager to improve, accept everything that they are told with the idea of being a stronger team. [We] made changes, six or seven new players coming in but the idea and philosophy stays the same.

"But we are not the best in the world even though we are among the best. Anyone can beat us and there is no one who wins every game."

The Spain head coach also bemoaned the quality of the pitch in Pristina, a sentiment echoed by Aymeric Laporte, who recorded a game-high 139 touches and completed another game-leading 96.9 per cent of his 129 passes.

"It was a highly contested game, we got [the win] at the end and it relieved us," Laporte said post-match.

"The pitch was not optimal. We kept our idea of playing and with a pitch like this, it is complicated.

"In the end, the important thing is the result. We have the determination to win everything, we are Spain and now we have to win everything."

Spain consolidated their spot at the top of Group B with a narrow 2-0 win over Kosovo in Wednesday's World Cup qualifying clash.

Pablo Fornals' first international goal from a tight angle and Ferran Torres' late strike proved the difference as Milot Rashica and Vedat Muriqi were made to rue missed chances for the hosts.

The visitors' loss against Sweden was their first in World Cup qualifying since 1993 and ended a 66-match unbeaten run but wins against Georgia and Kosovo have got them back on track.

Luis Enrique's men sit four points clear of Janne Andersson's side, who were beaten 2-1 by Greece on Wednesday, although they have two games in hand.

After Koke's deflected shot brought the first save from Arijanet Muric, Elbasan Rashani fired narrowly wide with a curling left-footed effort as the hosts dominated the opening stages.

Fornals punished Kosovo for not making their dominance pay, the West Ham man blasting a left-footed strike past Muric after a smart turn following Alvaro Morata's offload.

Morata almost doubled the lead with a long-range attempt before Carlos Soler's speculative free-kick forced the Kosovo goalkeeper to parry away.

Rashica offered Spain first-half warnings running in behind but they did not learn their lesson, Muriqi racing through one-on-one with Unai Simon after the break before dragging into the side-netting.

Torres then attempted a cute free-kick, arrowing under the wall but the wrong side of the left-hand post before Simon produced a low reflex save against Zymer Bytyqi as Spain clung onto their lead.

Torres added a late finish of his own, racing through and finding the bottom-left corner, with the goal standing after VAR reversed an initial offside decision.

What does it mean? Spain by no means cruising in Group B

Luis Enrique's men had won only one of their previous nine away fixtures, including friendlies, in all competitions but Wednesday's performance ended that poor run of form on the road.

Spain have coasted past Kosovo and Georgia by an aggregate score of 6-0 and now hold a four-point advantage over second-place Sweden, who now have Greece just three points behind them.

Kosovo, in contrast, responded well to a timid start in World Cup qualifying but failed to extend their unbeaten run to three games, leaving them in fourth with four points.

Super Soler

Despite being withdrawn in the 58th minute, Soler stood out as one of the visitors' key performers.

Against Georgia, he became only the second player since 2006 to score in their two opening games for Spain and he followed up in similar fashion, recording a game-high five key passes.

The Valencia midfielder also misplaced just three of his 43 passes, while also winning a team-high three fouls alongside Sergio Busquets.

Misfiring Muriqi

Muriqi wasted Kosovo's best chance as he slammed wide when set free one-on-one with Simon and after scoring in back-to-back games he will have been frustrated to not convert.

The forward also misplaced half of his 18 passes, losing possession 17 times as he completed just 27.3 per cent of his 11 opposition-half passes.

What's next?

Spain face Italy in the Nations League semi-final in October before travelling to Greece for their next qualifier the following month. Kosovo make the trip to Sweden on October 9.

Damian Szymanski nodded a dramatic first Poland goal to end England's winning start to World Cup qualifying in a 1-1 draw, although the Three Lions remain firmly in pole position.

Gareth Southgate's side still hold top spot in Group I, yet they were moving eight points clear of Poland courtesy of Harry Kane's second-half blast until Szymanski's intervention.

The substitute headed past Jordan Pickford in the 92nd minute to secure a precious point in Warsaw.

It was a result England might have taken beforehand, but the late leveller will send the Euro 2020 finalists home frustrated after five straight victories.

Germany made it three wins from three under Hansi Flick and tightened their grip on top spot in World Cup qualifying Group J with a routine 4-0 victory over Iceland.

After putting eight unanswered goals past Liechtenstein and Armenia in their opening two games under Flick, Die Mannschaft kept up their positive start in Reykjavik.

Serge Gnabry's tap-in and Antonio Rudiger's header had Germany two goals ahead inside 24 minutes and Leroy Sane killed off the contest early in the second half.

Germany passed up a number of further opportunities before Timo Werner added a late fourth to seal a win that moves his side four points clear of second-place Armenia, who were held to a surprise 1-1 draw by Liechtenstein earlier on Wednesday.

Gnabry opened the scoring after six minutes in the 6-0 win over Armenia three days ago and needed just four minutes to get off the mark against Iceland at Laugardalsvollur.

Joshua Kimmich played in Sane with a pass on the spin and the Bayern Munich winger laid the ball on a plate for club-mate Gnabry to convert from close range.

That goal was allowed to stand after a VAR check for offside and the visitors had a second when Rudiger powerfully headed Kimmich's delivery away from Hannes Halldorsson.

Germany were then given a scare when, moments after Werner missed a one-on-one, Johann Berg Gudmundsson struck the post and Albert Gudmundsson's follow-up was ruled out for offside.

Kai Havertz, brought on for Gnabry at half-time, was next to miss a glorious chance as he slotted wide with just Halldorsson to beat, but Sane thumped a third into the rood of the net to seal the points.

After Leon Goretzka had a goal ruled out for offside it was left to Werner to complete the rout, the Chelsea attacker's shot trickling over the line as he made amends for an earlier horror miss from six yards out.

 

What does it mean? Flick's flying start continues

As far as starts to international coaching go, three wins from three with 12 goals scored and none conceded is just about as good as it gets for Flick.

The calibre of opponent may not have been all that daunting, but Germany have done what was asked of them to overtake Armenia and open up a healthy lead at the top.

Tougher tests lie ahead for Flick, but the transition from the disappointing end to Joachim Low's long tenure has been seamless and Germany's place in Qatar is almost assured.

Kimmich runs the show

Gnabry, Rudiger, Sane and Werner will receive the plaudits for getting their names on the scoresheet, though Kimmich was once again superb for Germany in central midfield.

He was pivotal in the opening goal with his vision, set up the second and played more key passes (four) than any other player on the field.

Wasteful Werner

Werner undoubtedly has his qualities, but he is arguably now better known for his collection of horror misses than world-class goals.

The Chelsea man did manage to score his 19th international goal on his 45th cap, but only after failing to convert a one-on-one and what was effectively an open goal from his four shots in total.

What's next?

Germany host Romania in their next Group J match on October 8, the same day that that Iceland welcome Armenia to Laugardalsvollur.

Belgium took another big stride towards assuring their automatic qualification for the 2022 World Cup with a routine 1-0 win over Belarus.

The Red Devils – ranked number one in the world – made it three wins from three in this batch of qualifiers to all but ensure their place at Qatar.

With 16 points to their name, Belgium need just one win from their remaining two fixtures to seal top spot in Group E, with Dennis Praet's goal the difference on Wednesday.

Shorn of Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne, Belgium did not make the most of their dominance, yet Belarus never threatened a comeback.

Toby Alderweireld played in a cross De Bruyne would have been proud of from the right-hand channel in the 20th minute – the ball falling to Batshuayi, who dragged his attempt wide.

Batshuayi headed in the rebound from Dedryck Boyata's effort against the crossbar soon after, only for the offside flag to cut short his celebrations.

Belgium had their lead two minutes later, however – Praet sweeping home across Sergey Chernik.

Dodi Lukebakio stretched his legs early in the second half, though made a poor decision to shoot from the edge of the area rather than slide in Leandro Trossard.

Batshuayi's search for a goal continued to prove fruitless as he saw an effort kept out by Chernik, Belgium missing the cutting edge to make the scoreline as comfortable as their performance warranted.

Artem Bykov tried to make them pay with a hopeful long-range attempt, but it never came close to testing Koen Casteels as Belgium eased to victory – Eden Hazard seeing a late free-kick saved well by Chernik at the other end.

Italy set a new all-time record of 37 matches without defeat as a Moise Kean brace helped them thump Lithuania 5-0 in World Cup qualifying on Wednesday.

Roberto Mancini's side equalled Brazil's record, set between 1993 and 1996, with a 0-0 draw against Switzerland at the weekend and the European champions moved clear of the Selecao in some style at Mapei Stadium.

The game was over as a contest by half-time courtesy of Kean's double either side of an own goal from Edgaras Utkus and Giacomo Raspadori's maiden international strike.

Giovanni Di Lorenzo rounded off the scoring early in the second half as the Azzurri moved onto 14 points at the summit of Group C, six points clear of second-placed Switzerland.

 

Italy wasted little time stamping their authority on the game, Mancini's men racing into a 2-0 lead after just 14 minutes.

Kean put them ahead with a clinical finish after a sloppy pass from Arvydas Novikovas, before Utkus inadvertently diverted Raspadori's 20-yard drive past Ernestas Setkus.

Sassuolo striker Raspadori did open his international account after 24 minutes, though, powering into the roof of the net from six yards, while Kean added another five minutes later, the Juventus man steering home a sumptuous volley from Federico Bernardeschi's lofted pass.

Di Lorenzo made it five nine minutes into the second half, the Napoli full-back scoring his first goal for his country with a cross that looped into Setkus' far corner. 

Gaetano Castrovilli thundered against the post from 18 yards in the closing stages as Italy cruised to a record-breaking three points with the minimum of fuss.

What does it mean? Fresh faces deliver for Mancini

Mancini shuffled his pack after admitting his players were "tired" following the draw with Switzerland and his new-look starting XI were anything but sluggish during an electric opening 45 minutes.

They slowed down after the interval, but the damage had been done against a sorry Lithuania side who have now lost all five of their Group C matches.  

Resurgent Kean shines

Kean doubled his international tally with two first-half strikes, the second of which will have had Juventus fans licking their lips at the prospect of what he can achieve this season after a torrid time in England with Everton.

Quiet game for Jorginho

Captaining his country for the first time, Jorginho endured a subdued game. The Chelsea midfielder failed to take a shot or play a single key pass during his 61 minutes on the pitch.

What's next?

Italy face Spain in the Nations League next month before wrapping up their qualifying campaign against Switzerland and Northern Ireland in November. Lithuania, meanwhile, face Bulgaria and Switzerland in Group C in October.

Louis van Gaal insisted "it will only get better" for the Netherlands after turning on the style in Tuesday's 6-1 World Cup qualifying win over Turkey in Amsterdam.

Memphis Depay scored his first international hat-trick and was joined on the scoresheet by Davy Klaassen, Guus Til and Donyell Malen in a dominant display from the Dutch.

The Netherlands opened the scoring inside 54 seconds and were three up with 38 minutes played, the fastest they have led 3-0 in a competitive match in a decade.

Turkey lost Caglar Soyuncu to a red card before half-time but profited from a mix-up at the back to add a late consolation through Cengiz Under, though it was still their heaviest defeat since losing 8-0 to England in 1984.

Oranje have won two and drawn one of their three games since van Gaal replaced Frank de Boer, scoring 11 goals in the process, yet van Gaal can see room for improvement.

"If you win 6-1, you can expect a lap of honour," he told NOS. "This is what I signed up for, for the competition. 

"I projected my vision onto the players. I did a lot of what the players wanted. I said after the Norway and Montenegro games that it was a fantastic group, and I'm saying that again now.

"They boys have lasted the whole game, which is not normal. The first goal was college football. We haven't worked on that in training, it just comes out. 

"I'm dealing with a very happy group. I have passed the first threshold and I'm very happy with it. From now on it will only get better. We were too careless in possession."

 

Depay has scored five goals for the Netherlands in their last two games and has 12 in total for 2021, equalling the record for goals in a calendar year set by Patrick Kluivert in 2000.

The Barcelona forward is now joint eighth on Oranje's all-time top-scorers list, level with Johan Cruyff and Abe Lenstra with 33 goals in 71 caps.

Depay, who made his debut under in the first of van Gaal's three spells in charge in 2013, is now looking to climb further up that legendary list.

"Cruyff and Lenstra are legends," Depay told NOS. "They have meant so much to the Dutch national team and put our football on the map.

"You can't compare anyone with that. I now have to make sure that I remain important for the team with my game and with my goals.

"I am now in the top 10 of top scorers, but I want to be in the top three one day."

The only blemish for the Netherlands came in added time when Virgil van Dijk failed to get to a short Justin Bijlow pass under pressure from Halil Dervisoglu.

Under walked the ball into an empty net and van Dijk stayed on the ground after being caught by Dervisoglu in what appeared to be an injury scare for Liverpool.

However, the centre-back – who led the way with 88 passes at the Johan Cruijff ArenA – has provided a positive update on the ankle issue.

"I'm lucky. I'm already over it," he said. "Maybe because I am so big, they think I am acting.

"But all-in-all it was a very nice evening. There is no doubt in our minds that the next two games are very important in a month's time."

The Netherlands are top of Group G with four games to go, ahead of second-placed Norway – who they still have to face at home – on goal difference.

Fernando Santos felt Portugal deserved to win by an even bigger margin in their 3-0 victory over Azerbaijan in Tuesday's World Cup qualifier.

Portugal made it four wins in five Group A matches to reclaim top spot from Serbia, who were held 1-1 by the Republic of Ireland.

The 2016 European champions were two goals ahead inside 31 minutes thanks to Bernardo Silva's volley and Andre Silva's tap-in.

Diogo Jota added a third for the visitors 15 minutes from time, but only after the Liverpool attacker and Andre Silva had wasted some glorious opportunities.

Portugal scored from three of their 21 attempts in total, a third of those on target, and Santos was disappointed his side did not further improve their goal difference.

"The only thing about the result that is not good was the amount of goals we scored," he told RTP.

"When teams are not organised then they have difficulties, running a lot after the ball and wearing themselves out. When they have the ball they have more difficulties.

"Without some balance in the game it becomes difficult. We knew this was a game of patience as the opponents usually defend well. We knew an early goal would force them to change.

"That happened after the second goal when they went with a 4-3-3. We were always looking for the goal and creating spaces to enter, either through the middle or out wide."

 

Jota was responsible for a team-high five of Portugal's shots, finding the net from one of those having earlier claimed an assist for Andre Silva's goal.

He now has eight goals in 21 caps for the Selecao, who have put their Euro 2020 disappointment behind them with three wins from three over the past week.

"In these three games, one of which was a friendly, we did our job, which was to win each of them," Jota told RTP. "Today's performance was good and so was the result.

"This is what football is all about. You should never give up after missing. I'm glad I scored in the end. I always want to help individually, but the result is the most important thing."

Portugal were without the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo, who has now linked up with Manchester United, but are two points clear of Serbia in Group A with three more fixtures still to play.

"Every opponent and every match is tough and will be like a final for us," Andre Silva said. "We drew in Serbia and still have to play them in our last game.

"We have to focus on ourselves as we have those three finals to win."

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