World Cup Qualifiers - Europe

World Cup Qualifiers - Europe (163)

Germany head coach Hansi Flick was pleased with his team’s 4-1 win in Armenia as they brought a successful World Cup qualification campaign to an end on Sunday.

Goals from Kai Havertz, Jonas Hofmann and a brace from Ilkay Gundogan saw the Germans home in Yerevan. The victory means that Flick has won all of his first seven games in charge of Die Mannschaft, scoring 31 times and conceding just twice.

It is also their joint-longest winning run this century (also seven in 2017). The last time Germany had a longer winning run was across 1979 and 1980, when they managed 12 in a row.

They finish their World Cup qualifying campaign top of Group J having won nine of their ten games, a comfortable nine points ahead of North Macedonia in second.

"We won 4-1 and achieved our aim of ending the group on 27 points," Flick said after the game. "It wasn't all brilliant, but the way we try to play football is great. You can see that the team always wants to attack and create chances.

"We defend high up the pitch and then allow them a few opportunities on the break, though that's just normal. We know what we need to improve on; we've got time for that.

"I'm satisfied with the team. We've won seven games together now, so I can only congratulate them. It's great as the coach to see the team enjoying themselves so much."

Thomas Muller was also pleased with the win, emphasising the importance of getting off to a good start in a "new era" for the national side.

"I think that was a good performance from us overall," the Bayern Munich attacker said. "It wasn't a goal-fest like against Liechtenstein, but we got the job done well. The first goal was important for us and was really well-made. We were concentrated and committed. It's a good way to finish off the campaign.

"A new era began in September for the first time since 2006. You can see that we've played well over the last three months and we want to continue doing so. It doesn't matter who is on the pitch, everyone will give their all and do their job.

"We may not have played any big teams, but we have performed really well at times. We can go into next year with a positive mindset now. We're happy."

Roberto Mancini insisted Italy must not forget what they have achieved recently as his side prepare for a crunch clash with Northern Ireland.

The Euro 2020 winners sit above Switzerland in World Cup qualifying Group C on goal difference alone, with both teams currently on 15 points after a 1-1 draw between the pair on Friday.

With only the team that finishes top progressing, slipping to second place would see Italy condemned to the play-offs as the Azzurri flirt with missing the World Cup for the second time in a row.

However, as Italy prepare for their final game with Northern Ireland – who are in third with eight points – Mancini implored his team to remember what they have achieved so far, having previously embarked on a world-record 37 matches without defeat.

"We mustn’t think negative thoughts," Mancini said at Sunday's pre-match news conference. "We know it’s an important match, we’ll go there aiming to win and know that Northern Ireland are difficult to beat here.

"If we do miss out, then we’ve got the opportunity of a make-up exam in March, but we want to go through tomorrow and that is what we must focus on.

"Nobody believed in us when we started this journey three years ago and we know there have been difficult moments along the way. It’s a delicate match tomorrow, but the lads mustn’t forget everything they have achieved already.

"They mustn’t feel so much anxiety, they have to play with freedom and concentrate on what needs to be done."

Italy, however, are by no means a certainty to cruise past Northern Ireland, given the Azzurri have never won in Belfast.

Indeed, a 2-1 loss in 1958 saw Italy miss out on the World Cup that year and Mancini appreciates the difficult task that awaits his team at Windsor Park.

"I don’t go back that far, but I do know the history," Mancini responded when asked about Italy's previous record in Belfast.

"It’s not an issue of scoring many goals, it’s about playing the game. Northern Ireland haven’t conceded a goal yet at Windsor Park in this group and there must be a reason for that.

"We have to win and if we score lots of goals that’s even better. We certainly won’t go for high balls into the box, as Northern Ireland are rather tall and that’s their bread and butter.

"We must try to play the ball quickly to feet, what we’ve been doing for the last three years, really.

"All the teams have injuries at the moment, but we remain a strong squad and will aim to get a positive result."

Ilkay Gundogan struck twice as Germany rounded off a dominant World Cup qualifying campaign with a 4-1 win in Armenia on Sunday. 

Kai Havertz and Jonas Hofmann were also on target for Die Mannschaft at the Vazgen Sargsyan Republican Stadium, with the hosts replying through a consolation penalty from Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Head coach Hansi Flick made six changes from the team that thrashed Liechtenstein 9-0 on Thursday, but Germany looked strong again, easing past the side bossed by Joaquin Caparros.

The win was a ninth from 10 qualifying matches for Germany and means they finish nine points clear of second-placed North Macedonia in Group J.

Germany took the lead after 15 minutes when Hofmann played a quick one-two with Thomas Muller before crossing from the right for Havertz to steer home.

The visitors had a penalty in first-half stoppage time when a VAR review led to the verdict that Florian Neuhaus had been fouled by Taron Voskanyan in the box, and Gundogan converted with ease.

The Manchester City midfielder had his second goal five minutes into the second half when his shot from the edge of the penalty area inexplicably slipped through the grasp of Stanislav Buchnev.

Armenia captain Mkhitaryan pulled a goal back from the spot after Neuhaus fouled David Terteryan in the box just before the hour, but a mistake from Mkhitaryan allowed Hofmann to intercept and race through to restore Germany's three-goal cushion in the 64th minute.

 

A remarkable 81st-minute Russia own goal on a waterlogged pitch in Split gifted Croatia the 1-0 win they needed to top Group H and qualify for the 2022 World Cup on Sunday.

Russia led the pool coming into the decisive clash after a run of five straight victories, although they showed little ambition of making that six by beating Croatia for the first time in six meetings.

Seemingly happy instead to sit on a goalless draw that would keep them on course for Qatar, the visitors sought to rely on a defensive record that saw them concede just once in their winning run.

That approach looked to have paid off with the game entering the final 10 minutes and Croatia short of ideas, only for an inadvertent intervention from a Russia defender to turn the situation on its head.

A hopeful Croatia cross from the left skidded through a sodden penalty area and bounced off the knees of left-back Fedor Kudryashov, squirming beyond goalkeeper Matvey Safonov into the bottom-right corner.

Incredibly, that was the first goal in four matches between the sides in qualifying for the European Championship and World Cup.

Russia, who had attempted only one shot to Croatia's 19 up to that point, suddenly scrambled forward in search of an equaliser, but the 2018 finalists clung on, condemning their opponents – hosts of the last finals – to the play-offs.

Gareth Southgate suggested pundits produce "quotable" takes to "stay relevant" after Roy Keane criticised Harry Maguire's celebration against Albania.

Maguire opened the scoring on Friday at Wembley, immediately racing to the corner where he cupped his hands beside his head before putting his fingers in his ears.

Former Manchester United captain and television pundit Keane criticised the celebration post-match, labelling the gesture as "embarrassing" considering the centre-back's recent club performances.

Maguire, however, remained adamant the celebration came "naturally" to him and was not about silencing critics, nor aimed at anyone in particular.

Southgate, who initially joked his defender's gesture was a wrestling reference, was again questioned on the topic and – while not naming Keane or Maguire – outlined pundits' tendency to work with headlines in mind.

"I think we always have to understand that, the industry we’re in, there are different roles, and in order to make a living in those different roles you’ve got to take certain approaches," Southgate said at Sunday's pre-match news conference ahead of the trip to San Marino.

"You have a choice about which type of approach you’re going to take [when working as a pundit].

"I was always thinking as an ex-player, ex-manager, recognising how difficult those things were, so I guess I had empathy for those that were stepping over the line to play and those that were in the dugout.

"It really depends on what you need to do to stay in work. Some channels or forums require headlines, some require a certain type of approach, everything's different. I understand that.

"To stay relevant in some of those fields, you've got to say things that are more quotable, and of course everything’s lifted now and used from the live broadcast for the next day’s headlines.

"Everybody in those shows knows that's how it works, and it fills a different part of our industry.

"Personally, as a manager, I get it and so be it. I'm sure the players might feel differently, they're younger and have less experience of those fields, but also they think [pundits] surely remember how difficult it was to play and probably didn't like it when they were criticised."

Roberto Martinez knows expecations are always high for his Belgium side, and he was proud to tick another important box Saturday as the Red Devils secured qualification for the 2022 World Cup. 

While Belgium did not repeat their 2018 feat of being the first European side to qualify, they will take their place alongside Denmark, France and Germany in Qatar after defeating Estonia 3-1. 

Winners of all but two of their qualifiers since Martinez took charge in 2016, Belgium have plenty of reason to be proud. 

"We're in a situation where we always have to win everything," Martinez told reporters. “That is what the outside world expects and it creates extra pressure. I am very happy that our players are handling this well. They always go for it. 

"Every player is always in a special situation at his club, but with the national team all noses are in the same direction. That's a good mindset. It's not as obvious as it seems.

“We have now played 27 qualifiers under my reign. We won 25 of those. We should be happy about that. That is why we should really celebrate this qualification. That is not so normal.”

Belgium played their penultimate 2022 qualifier without star Romelu Lukaku, who continues to recover from an ankle injury. 

In his absence, Christian Benteke, Yannick Carrasco and Thorgan Hazard found the net in Brussels. 

Martinez said goalkeeper Thibault Coutois may not travel to Cardiff for Tuesday's Group E finale against Wales, but otherwise Belgium will put forth a representative side as their opponents try to lock up second place in the group. 

“We have to try to win there, play the game fairly," Martinez said. "The atmosphere will be very hostile as Wales want to qualify for the play-offs. I will therefore go there with the strongest possible core. 

"Only Courtois may not go to Wales, he is not completely fit and has not trained much. For the rest, no yellow cards or injuries, so everyone is coming along.”

Virgil van Dijk was left fuming with a "scandalous" second-half performance after the Netherlands missed a chance to seal qualification for the World Cup when they drew 2-2 with Montenegro.

The Oranje knew a win at Podgorica City Stadium would seal top spot in Group G and their place in the tournament in Qatar next year following Norway's goalless draw with Latvia earlier in the day.

It appeared to be mission accomplished when Memphis Depay doubled their lead early in the second half, having opened the scoring from the penalty spot.

But Montenegro struck twice in the final eight minutes to stun Louis van Gaal's side, Ilija Vukotic rounding Justin Bijlow and slotting home before fellow substitute Nikola Vujnovic rose above Daley Blind to head home.

The Oranje go into what promises to be a tense final group game against third-placed Norway on Tuesday leading their opponents and Turkey by two points.

Captain Van Dijk offered a frank and scathing assessment of his side's collapse.

The Liverpool defender told NOS: "It is just scandalous how we played the second half. We all want to have the ball, we all want to play football, attack and score. 

"But we have to make sure that we also think defensively. Spaces were created for them on the counter. And if you don't have the organisation right... It's just awful."

Van Dijk says there can be no excuses for the group leaders failing to get the job done with a game to spare.

He added: "We just had to secure qualification here. With all due respect to Montenegro, but as the Netherlands you just have to win here.

"Especially if you are leading 2-0. Maybe it was a bit of laziness. We need to discuss that carefully. Now it just has to happen on Tuesday in an empty stadium.

"We are going to prepare well. We keep faith in our group and are going to give everything, we can't do more. But it should definitely be better than tonight."

The Netherlands had not let a 2-0 lead slip in a competitive game since a 2004 clash with the Czech Republic at Euro 2004.

Depay is the leading European scorer in this World Cup qualifying campaign with 13. The Barcelona forward has scored 37 times for his country, the joint-fourth highest along with Dennis Bergkamp and Arjen Robben.

Didier Deschamps hailed a "beautiful" win for his France side after Kylian Mbappe inspired Les Bleus to an 8-0 thrashing of Kazakhstan.

Mbappe scored a first-half hat-trick at Parc des Princes, paving the way for Karim Benzema, Adrien Rabiot and Antoine Griezmann to get in on the act after the break.

The Paris Saint-Germain star rounded off the scoring as France booked their place at the Qatar World Cup in truly excellent fashion.

It was an emotional match on Saturday, with the game played six years to the day since the terrorist attacks that took place across Paris on November 13, 2015. 

In total, 130 people were killed across separate incidents, with one target having been the Stade de France, which was at the time hosting a game between France and Germany.

With tributes paid before kick-off, Griezmann celebrated his goal by lifting up his jersey to show a shirt with "13/11/15" and a love heart. 

And on a significant day in France's history, Deschamps believes France's performance delivered.

"It is a very beautiful evening of football, even if we do not forget that it is a day of remembrance," Deschamps told M6.

"The objective was to qualify, but in addition there is the manner [in which it is done] and the pleasure that the players have playing together, the understanding between them, especially the forwards.

"It is good, everyone had their piece of the pie. It's a result that rewards everything we did well. We had the right tempo. The risk is always to relax a little but we continued."

Star of the show Mbappe added: "The most important thing was qualifying. We wanted to give ourselves this chance to defend our title.

"Even for those who played and won it, it remains an unimaginable dream to play in a World Cup. We respected the game and the opponent, we wanted to hurt until the end."

Mbappe is the first player to score four goals in a game for France since Just Fontaine in June 1958, against West Germany.

The 22-year-old also got an assist when he teed up Benzema's second goal of the game - a strike that saw the latter overtake David Trezeguet as France's fifth-top scorer (35).

"I am proud of it. Trezeguet, he is a legend and that makes me happy, but the most important thing is to participate in a victory," said Benzema.

France have now qualified for a 14th consecutive major tournament, having not failed to do so since missing out on the 1994 World Cup.

The Netherlands missed the chance to seal qualification for the 2022 World Cup as Montenegro produced a late comeback to snatch a 2-2 draw.

Norway's goalless draw with Latvia earlier in the day gave the Oranje a chance to win Group G with a game to spare at Podgorica City Stadium and they were well on course to grasp their opportunity courtesy of a Memphis Depay double.

Depay struck from the penalty spot in the first half before the leading scorer in European qualifying took his tally to 11 after the break to give Louis van Gaal's breathing space.

Montenegro looked beaten, but Ilija Vukotic set up a tense finale when he halved the deficit with eight minutes to play and fellow substitute Nikola Vujnovic stunned the Netherlands when he equalised after 86 minutes.

The Oranje go into what promises to be a tense final group game against third-placed Norway on Tuesday leading their opponents and Turkey by two points.

Belgium clinched their spot at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar with a routine 3-1 victory over Estonia in their penultimate qualifier.

Roberto Martinez's men were predictably in control throughout the Group E encounter, Christian Benteke's simple finish putting them on course for victory inside a quarter of an hour.

The Red Devils peppered the Estonia goal to no avail for the rest of the first half before Yannick Carrasco, having played a part in the opener, thrashed home a second in the 53rd minute.

Erik Sorga pulled one back for the group's second-bottom side but Thorgan Hazard, after replacing brother Eden, restored Belgium's two-goal advantage, their five-point lead at the summit ensuring they will be at the Finals in the Middle East, which begin next November.

Estonia could only delay the inevitable until the 11th minute as Benteke tapped in after Matvei Igonen spilled Carrasco's pull back following a stunning ball from Kevin De Bruyne.

De Bruyne saw a free-kick superbly turned onto the post by Igonen before Benteke was frustrated by the woodwork and then Igonen as Belgium piled on the pressure.

The instrumental De Bruyne sent Eden Hazard through on goal with a magnificent pass with the outside of his boot, but the Real Madrid man failed to round Igonen, who made a fine smothering stop.

But Igonen could do nothing to stop a swerving long-range effort from Carrasco nestling in the top corner to give Belgium the measure of command their performance merited.

Estonia did produce an unexpected reply, Sorga pouncing on the rebound after Thibaut Courtois could only parry Rauno Sappinen's drive.

It was fittingly De Bruyne who made sure Belgium had the final say as his perfectly weighted cross to the far post was nodded home by Thorgan Hazard, further gloss to the scoreline from Alexis Saelemaekers removed by the offside flag.

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