World Cup Qualifiers - Europe

World Cup Qualifiers - Europe (225)

France head coach Didier Deschamps has opened up about the decision to let Kylian Mbappe return to Paris Saint-Germain after sustaining a minor injury.

Mbappe was taken off in the closing stages of Les Blues' 1-1 World Cup qualifying draw with Bosnia-Herzegovina on Wednesday with a calf problem.

The French Football Federation announced on Thursday that Mbappe had been granted permission to leave the camp ahead of the games with Ukraine on Saturday and Finland on Tuesday.

The 22-year-old's injury is not considered serious, but Deschamps was not willing to take any risks by using the prolific forward in France's next two matches.

"I'll be clear about this. Kylian felt something late in the game," Deschamps said at a news conference on Friday.

"We have done all the tests. The recovery period is very short and a muscle problem was ruled out, but an issue persists.

"It is an injury he had with his club in May. He felt the same pain and missed the second leg against Manchester City in the Champions League.

"I felt there was no possibility he could be used before Tuesday so didn't see the point in keeping him."

Despite fielding Mbappe in a front three with Antoine Griezmann and Karim Benzema, France were held by Bosnia-Herzegovina in Wednesday's Group D clash.

That was Les Blues' first match since exiting Euro 2020 at the hands of Switzerland in the last-16 stage, but Deschamps is not worried about his side's form ahead of facing Ukraine in Kiev.

"I have enough experience to know how the qualifiers work," Deschamps said. "The result against Bosnia was not what we wanted, but we are in the best possible place. I am calm and serene."

France are top of their group, four points better off than second-placed Ukraine, who have drawn all four matches.

"With four matches to play, Ukraine are behind us in the table. A win would consolidate our position, but the Ukrainians also want to win," Deschamps added.

"We'll go into the match with the same intentions as we did against Bosnia. Every match is important and tomorrow's in particular."

FIFA has opened disciplinary proceedings after England's players were allegedly subjected to racist abuse in Thursday's World Cup qualifying clash with Hungary.

England's 4-0 win at the Puskas Arena in Budapest was overshadowed by the alleged behaviour of certain sections of the home crowd.

Raheem Sterling and Jude Bellingham were reportedly subjected to abuse and missiles, including a flare, were launched towards the Three Lions' players during the match.

England condemned the abuse as "completely unacceptable", while United Kingdom prime minister Boris Johnson called on FIFA to take "strong action" against the perpetrators.

The world football governing body announced on Friday it will now look into the scenes.

"Following analysis of the match reports, FIFA has opened disciplinary proceedings concerning the incidents last night at the game Hungary-England," a statement read.

"Once again, FIFA would like to state that our position remains firm and resolute in rejecting any form of racism and violence as well as any other form of discrimination or abuse. 

"We have a very clear zero tolerance stance against such abhorrent behaviours in football."

The Hungarian Football Federation (MLSZ) was fined €100,000 in July and ordered to play three games behind closed doors, the third of those suspended, due to incidents of racism and homophobia from fans during the European Championship finals.

The MLSZ vowed earlier on Friday to "severely punish" fans who disrupted the England clash by launching missiles and entering the pitch, but the governing body steered clear of addressing the alleged racism incidents.

Following Thursday's latest incident, Bellingham has questioned whether enough is being done to eradicate racism from the sport.

Alongside a photo of himself smiling while warming up for the game in the Hungarian capital, Borussia Dortmund youngster Bellingham tweeted: "Thank you for all the messages of support from last night. 

"Part of the game and always will be until proper punishments are put in place by those with the power. We can't let hate win, keep smiling."

Roberto Mancini expects to see more focus and ruthlessness from Italy when they face Switzerland after being held to a 1-1 draw by Bulgaria in World Cup qualifying on Thursday. 

In their first match on home soil since winning Euro 2020, Italy went in front through a fine finish from Federico Chiesa but were pegged back before half-time when a swift counter-attack ended with Atanas Iliev turning home. 

Georgi Georgiev did well to deny Chiesa and Ciro Immobile as the Azzurri searched for a winner in the second half, the Bulgaria goalkeeper finishing the game at Stadio Artemio Franchi with seven saves.

Despite failing to secure all three points, Italy made it 35 games unbeaten to equal the European record set by Spain.

Avoiding defeat to Switzerland in Basel on Sunday would see them match the world record for an undefeated run by a men’s international team set by Brazil between 1993 and 1996.

Mancini acknowledged his team may be fatigued by their push to defeat to Bulgaria but is demanding a more clinical display at the weekend. 

"Now the most important thing is to recover our strength for Sunday, because we attacked a lot in the closing stages and became a bit disorganised," said Mancini. 

"But we created so many opportunities. This is football. It happened today and it could happen at other times. When a team attacks, they are bound to suffer something, but the goal we conceded wasn't great. 

"But okay, we will be more focused and mean in Basel. 

"It will be a different game, also because Switzerland are a team that play. That puts you in difficulty but it also lets you play. We will have to play a great match and that's what we'll do. 

"Today, after the first goal we had to kill off the game. We will have to take to the pitch with the attitude of the second half. 

"We need to be more clinical, but the guys did well and what they had to do. We are pleased, but we would have preferred to reach 35 [games unbeaten] with a win."

Roberto Martinez was pleased with the maturity shown by his Belgium side after they recovered from an early setback in their World Cup qualifying win over Estonia. 

The Red Devils fell behind for the third time in four Group E matches when Mattias Kait turned over possession and rifled a shot past Thibaut Courtois inside the first two minutes of Thursday's contest. 

But Hans Vanaken had Belgium on level terms 20 minutes later and Romelu Lukaku scored either side of half-time to give the visitors some breathing space in Tallinn. 

Substitute Thomas Foket bagged his first international goal after Axel Witsel had further extended Belgium's lead, rendering Erik Sorga's late strike nothing more than a consolation. 

Despite conceding a couple of sloppy goals in the 5-2 victory, Martinez was ultimately happy with the result in his side's first game since their Euro 2020 quarter-final loss to Italy two months ago. 

"Estonia deserve all the credit for their first goal – they recaptured the ball high up on the pitch and the shot was great. That just happens in football," Martinez said. 

"The second goal is due to the substitutions we made. I was pleased that after the first goal we remained calm and knew what to do.  

"I'm happy to have scored five goals. The team has shown maturity today. These gatherings in September are not the easiest, and it's not always the favourites who win."

Courtois was well beaten by Kait's early shot and was let down by some sloppy defending for Sorga's strike as Belgium shipped two goals for the second game running. 

The Real Madrid goalkeeper was eager to focus on the positives from the win, however, which leaves Belgium top of Group E with 10 points from four matches. 

"We played a good game today," Courtois said. "Those two goals against us are of course less good, but in possession we were good.  

"The goals we conceded is something that happens. There's nothing you can do about it. We have to analyse it internally, but the most important thing today was the win. 

"We could have scored eight or nine goals in the end, but we know that it has to be better against the Czech Republic on Sunday." 

Thursday's match was a special occasion for Arsenal midfielder Albert Sambi Lokonga, who made his senior debut for Belgium as a second-half substitute. 

"I'm happy with my first cap," he said. "The coach asked me to play for the team, he didn't want the team to relax.  

"It's a good period for me and my family but you have to keep your feet on the ground. It's clearly a good time for me and I hope it will continue." 

Gareth Southgate again praised his England players for their opposition to racism amid allegations they were abused during Thursday's 4-0 win in Hungary.

England secured a superb victory in Budapest, moving five points clear at the top of Group I in qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.

Second-half goals from Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane, Harry Maguire and Declan Rice helped the Three Lions move on swiftly from their Euro 2020 final heartbreak.

But this latest triumph was marred by the actions of Hungary supporters as their side suffered their heaviest defeat in 118 home World Cup qualifiers.

Objects were thrown at Sterling and his team-mates as they celebrated, while there were also reports of chants aimed at the Manchester City forward.

Southgate, like several of his players, said he had not heard the abuse, although England's decision to take the knee at kick-off was widely jeered.

He added: "It sounds like there have been some incidents and everybody knows what we stand for as a team and that that's completely unacceptable."

A Football Association spokesperson said: "It is extremely disappointing to hear reports of discriminatory actions towards some of our England players.

"We will be asking FIFA to investigate the matter.

"We continue to support the players and staff in our collective determination to highlight and tackle discrimination in all its forms."

Southgate's England have repeatedly taken a stand against racism, although the manager has been keen to highlight the negative responses to these demonstrations from a section of their own support.

"It's still taking us a long, long time to get to where we want to get to, and inevitably if other countries don't have the same level of diversity, it's probably not been in their thinking in the same way it has in our country," he explained.

"We will continue to do what we do. We will continue to set the right example for people in our own country, who will be more influenced by us than perhaps people will be elsewhere."

Little of Southgate's post-match news conference focused on the game – a 25th World Cup qualifier in succession without defeat – but he praised his players throughout.

"I don't think our players can do any more than they have done in the last two or three years in getting the right messages in, making the right stands," he said.

"It's for other people to protect them. It's for me to protect them in the main, but for authorities to protect them as well. They shouldn't have to be subjected to any form of racism."

The Three Lions boss added: "[The players] recognise that the world is changing and, although some people are stuck in their ways of thinking and their prejudices, they're going to be the dinosaurs in the end, because the world is modernising."

He finished his media duties saying: "I'm always conscious that whenever I speak about this, I don't know if I get exactly the right tone or the right words – I never want to be dismissive of it.

"Our intentions are good and we hope that people understand that and respect that."

Jordi Alba leapt to the defence of Spain coach Luis Enrique after La Roja suffered their first World Cup qualifying defeat since 1993 at the hands of Sweden on Thursday.

In what was their first game since losing to Italy on penalties in the Euro 2020 semi-finals, Spain were in Stockholm hoping to go top of Group B on the road to Qatar 2022.

It was initially going well too, as Carlos Soler opened his account less than four minutes into his international debut as he turned in an Alba delivery.

But the Valencia midfielder made an error almost straight after the restart and Alexander Isak netted from 20 yards, meaning Spain's lead lasted just 63 seconds.

Viktor Claesson got the winner for Sweden in the second half, producing a cleverly disguised finish after inventive play by Dejan Kulusevski, with Spain's late pressure coming to nothing.

In the end, Spain – who had 75 per cent of the ball – finished with an expected goals value of 2.2 to Sweden's 0.6, highlighting the lack of decisiveness shown by La Roja in front of goal compared to their hosts.

Alba does not believe a major re-think is required for Luis Enrique, though he accepts Spain now have to be faultless if they are to usurp Sweden atop Group B given they are now two points adrift having played a game more than Janne Andersson's men.

"As in all matches, when you win or lose, you have to improve," he told Teledeporte. "The ideas of ​​the coach have been very good since he arrived and the players are taking to it perfectly. We have to improve as in all games, but we are doing a good job.

"It's clear we still have a lot to do. We have no margin for error. Today we have lost and there are still difficult games to be won.

"We have done things well, they have had their chances, they have put them in and we must continue to improve and do the job that the coach asks of us.

"We didn't deserve to lose. We had a very good first half, it's just a shame that after our goal they scored their goal in the next play.

"In the second half they waited for their strengths [counterattacks] and they did very well. We have no margin for error, we must win every game; we had that idea from the beginning, but now more than ever."

Luis Enrique echoed his left-back's sentiments and stressed Spain did not play poorly in general, though he rued a lack of success in midfield duels as well as Sweden's success in transition, with the pace and ability of Kulusevski and Isak routinely threatening the defence.

"It was not a bad game, there was ambition, good positioning, we have created many chances but we have lost many duels in midfield," he added.

"And with the transitions they have done us a lot of damage. We have lost many duels and they have generated more transitions than in the last ten games."

Italy extended their unbeaten run to a record-equalling 35 games despite being held to a disappointing 1-1 draw by Bulgaria in Florence on Thursday. 

The Azzurri, who last lost a game in September 2018, matched the European mark set by Spain despite being far from their best in the Group C clash - their first outing since overcoming England on penalties in the Euro 2020 final. 

Federico Chiesa gave Roberto Mancini’s men the lead with a powerful finish in the 16th minute, but Atanas Iliev restored parity before half-time. 

Although Italy were unable to find a winner and maintain their 100 per cent start in Group C, they can still make history by avoiding defeat away to Switzerland in their next qualifier on Sunday. 

Lorenzo Insigne had a great chance to open the scoring in the 12th minute but, after being played in by a fortunate ricochet, he was unable to guide his shot past Georgi Georgiev. 

After Kiril Despodov missed the target with Bulgaria’s first decent effort, Chiesa dribbled in off the right and lashed an excellent drive into the bottom-right corner to put Italy in front. 

Georgiev did well to keep out a powerful attempt from Ciro Immobile and Bulgaria surprisingly equalised in the 39th minute when Iliev got in front of Francesco Acerbi to turn home Despodov’s pass. 

Insigne failed to take another good opening before half-time, while Immobile rounded Georgiev but was unable to convert from a tight angle three minutes after the restart. 

Italy were back on top but a strong hand from Georgiev stopped Chiesa clipping home a second after spinning away from his marker in the 62nd minute. 

The Bulgaria keeper made another fine stop to thwart Immobile from close range and the Azzurri had to settle for a point.

What does it mean? History on Italy’s side  

Italy will of course be keen to make it 36 games unbeaten against Switzerland at the weekend. Not only would it be a new European best, it would equal the world record set by Brazil between 1993 and 1996.  

History suggests a loss in Switzerland would not have to be a bad thing, though. Spain’s 35-game streak came to an end against the United States in 2009, less than a year before they lifted the World Cup for the first time in their history. 

Ballon d’Jorginho  

Jorginho is considered a serious contender for the Ballon d’Or after winning the Champions League with Chelsea and Euro 2020 with Italy last season. His display was of the quality you would expect from such a player, with the midfielder creating four chances while 89 of his 125 total successful passes took place in the opposition half. 

King Georgiev 

Italy would have been comfortably out of sight midway through the second half had it not been for Georgiev. The Bulgaria keeper made seven saves in total, with the pick of the bunch coming from second-half efforts courtesy of Chiesa and Immobile.  

What’s next?  

Italy’s historic night could come against Switzerland in Basel on Sunday, while Bulgaria will be hoping to score their first Group C win against Lithuania. 

Germany enjoyed a comfortable start to life under Hansi Flick as they ran out 2-0 winners over minnows Liechtenstein in World Cup qualifying Group J. 

Following a trophy laden 18-month stint at Bayern Munich, Flick replaced long-serving Germany coach Joachim Low after Euro 2020. 

Liechtenstein's goal lived a charmed life throughout on Thursday, with it taking until the 41st minute for Timo Werner to break the deadlock. 

The scoreline would have reflected Germany's dominance if not for Liechtenstein's goalkeeper Benjamin Buchel, yet Leroy Sane capped a fine individual display with a terrific strike to ensure there was no chance of a shock comeback. 

Two of Flick's former Bayern players combined in the fourth minute, Sane teeing up Joshua Kimmich, who saw his on-target strike blocked. 

Sane swiftly crafted another chance – Buchel making a fine stop to deny Werner – before Robin Gosens headed Kimmich's wonderful cross against the left-hand upright. 

Germany's opener finally came with their 12th attempt of a one-sided contest, Werner slotting home from Jamal Musiala's flick after a brilliant run from the Bayern youngster.  

Buchel somehow denied Germany a second before the hour, making a fantastic double save to keep out close-range efforts from both Gosens and Ilkay Gundogan. 

Gosens finally seemed set to get his goal with a blistering strike that was destined for the top corner, yet Daniel Kaufmann's brave block summed up a stoic defensive effort from Liechtenstein. 

Their resolve was finally punctured again in the 77th minute by Sane's brilliance, however, as the winger set himself up with some neat footwork before drilling a low finish across Buchel, emphatically making sure of the victory for new boss Flick. 

 

What does it mean? Easy does it for Hansi 

The short trip to Liechtenstein was never likely to present too many issues for Germany, though a stunning defeat would hardly have been the way Flick wished to start his reign. 

Germany, who are second in the group, barely got out of first gear, so there cannot be too many judgements made based on this display. Still, Flick will want his team to be more clinical in future. They ended the game with 85.3 per cent possession and had 30 attempts, albeit just seven were on target, so cannot truly be pleased with only the two goals. 

Buchel keeps things respectable  

With no points and 12 goals conceded from their first four games, there is no doubting Liechtenstein's place as the whipping boys in the group. 

Yet their goalkeeper can come out of this match with his head held high. Buchel made four saves, including a truly excellent stop from Gundogan in the 58th minute – a chance which registered an expected goals (xG) value of 0.51, making it the second-best opportunity of the match after Werner's opener. 

Sane returns to form in style 

It has been a difficult start to the season at Bayern for Sane, who was substituted off at half-time in Julian Nagelsmann's first competitive home game in charge last month. 

However, playing in his preferred position on the left, the former Manchester City winger had plenty of joy on duty for his country. He created a game-leading four chances, all of which were missed by his team-mates, before slamming in a deserved goal for himself. 

What's next? 

Germany host Group J leaders Armenia in Flick's first home game at the helm, while Liechtenstein face Romania, with both matches taking place on Sunday. 

England claimed a comprehensive 4-0 victory in Hungary in their first match since the Euro 2020 final, taking a giant stride towards 2022 World Cup qualification.

Goals from Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane, Harry Maguire and Declan Rice gave the Three Lions a fourth win in four in this campaign as they aim to move on from July's Wembley heartbreak against Italy.

An England side showing only one change from that penalty shoot-out defeat – Jack Grealish in for Kieran Trippier – dictated play in Budapest, but had to bide their time.

Sterling took his chance early in the second half, though, and Gareth Southgate's men were comfortable thereafter, the outing only marred by objects thrown from the home supporters during England's celebrations as they moved five points clear at the top of Group I.

England had waited until the 50th minute for their first clear-cut opportunity, which Kane then uncharacteristically squandered, scuffing his finish and allowing Peter Gulacsi to block after an incisive Kyle Walker pass.

But the visitors soon carved Hungary open again and Sterling was less forgiving, steering into the bottom-right corner from Mason Mount's cutback.

And there was no way back for Hungary when Mount and Sterling combined again and the latter's driven cross deflected off Attila Szalai onto the head of Kane, who this time did not disappoint.

Gulacsi was able to deny Kane again as Grealish led a counter on the left, but the goalkeeper was less impressive moments later as Maguire's header squirmed into the net, further rewarding a patient first-half display.

A bizarre display from Gulacsi was complete when he recovered a tame Sterling finish after the forward had set up an open goal and then blocked once more from the profligate Kane, only to let Rice's straightforward shot beneath him.

Germany enjoyed a comfortable start to life under Hansi Flick as they ran out 2-0 winners over minnows Liechtenstein in World Cup qualifying Group J. 

Following a trophy laden 18-month stint at Bayern Munich, Flick replaced long-serving Germany coach Joachim Low after Euro 2020. 

Liechtenstein's goal lived a charmed life throughout on Thursday, with it taking until the 41st minute for Timo Werner to break the deadlock. 

The scoreline would have reflected Germany's dominance if not for Liechtenstein's goalkeeper Benjamin Buchel, yet Leroy Sane capped a fine individual display with a terrific strike to ensure there was no chance of a shock comeback. 

Two of Flick's former Bayern players combined in the fourth minute, Sane teeing up Joshua Kimmich, who saw his on-target strike blocked. 

Sane swiftly crafted another chance – Buchel making a fine stop to deny Werner – before Robin Gosens headed Kimmich's wonderful cross against the left-hand upright. 

Germany's opener finally came with their 12th attempt of a one-sided contest, Werner slotting home from Jamal Musiala's flick after a brilliant run from the Bayern youngster.  

Buchel somehow denied Germany a second before the hour, making a fantastic double save to keep out close-range efforts from both Gosens and Ilkay Gundogan. 

Gosens finally seemed set to get his goal with a blistering strike that was destined for the top corner, yet Daniel Kaufmann's brave block summed up a stoic defensive effort from Liechtenstein. 

Their resolve was finally punctured again in the 77th minute by Sane's brilliance, however, as the winger set himself up with some neat footwork before drilling a low finish across Buchel, emphatically making sure of the victory for new boss Flick. 

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