World Cup Qualifiers - Europe

World Cup Qualifiers - Europe (225)

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.

Kylian Mbappe scored four and set up another as France thrashed Kazakhstan 8-0 to seal their place at the 2022 World Cup with ease. Going into Saturday's Group D fixture…
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Jorginho missed a late penalty as Italy were held to a 1-1 draw by Switzerland in Friday's eventful contest at Stadio Olimpico, leaving both sides' automatic qualifying hopes for the 2022 World Cup in the balance. 

There was nothing to separate the teams at the top of Group C in terms of points accrued heading into the contest and that is how it remained after a gripping 90 minutes in Rome. 

The Azzurri fell behind to a powerful Silvan Widmer drive after 11 minutes but hit back through fellow right-back Giovanni Di Lorenzo's header before half-time. 

European champions Italy had a glorious chance to win the game in the 90th minute and take control at the summit, but Jorginho skied his spot-kick to set up a tense final round of fixtures. 

France boss Didier Deschamps confirmed Karim Benzema will be available for their penultimate World Cup qualifier against Kazakhstan on Saturday.

The world champions sit top of Group D and will qualify for Qatar 2022 if they win either of their final two games against Kazakhstan and Finland.

Benzema was taken off in the 83rd minute of Real Madrid's 2-1 win over Rayo Vallecano by coach Carlo Ancelotti last weekend, but Deschamps said he is on course to play for his country despite a "small problem".

At a media conference ahead of Saturday's match, the former Monaco and Juventus head coach was asked about the availability of Benzema and reassured reporters. He said: "He didn't do a collective session but did some very good [individual sessions]. We took no risks.

"Karim also knows how to manage himself after a small problem with Madrid. He will participate in the session and will be available this Saturday."

Deschamps also hinted he is considering starting Bayern Munich's Kingsley Coman, saying: "Coman is an option out wide but not only on this match. He is an option for the start or during the match.

"It depends on whether we have the ball or not. This requires defensive adjustments on the coverage of the areas. This may be an option."

France go into the game against Kazakhstan as heavy favourites, with the visitors to the Parc des Princes bottom of the group having taken just three points from seven games, but Deschamps refuses to take them lightly.

Deschamps, who saw France win 2-0 in the reverse fixture in March, added: "It wasn't an easy game there. I had Kazakhstan's last two games scouted. There is a well-defined system choice.

"I am not going to talk about the weak points. The team knows how to defend and knows that we have to make efforts together. It is a block, a team that does not give up and fights to the end.

"We must not underestimate this team and respect them as we did in the first game."

Captain Hugo Lloris also faced the media and emphasised the need for Les Bleus to try and wrap up qualification at the first time of asking against Kazakhstan.

The Tottenham goalkeeper said: "We will say that we know what we have to do, and that is to ensure a victory on Saturday. This would be ideal to stamp our ticket for Qatar.

"Once again everything remains to be done on the field against an opponent who will do everything to challenge us. We will have to score quickly and try to have a good time with our supporters and continue our phase of progression after winning the Nations League."

France's last game was the Nations League final success against Spain in October, and when asked about the 2-1 win, Lloris said: "When you win there is always a smile. We were honest about our situation after the Euros. There were moments of doubt but we showed our mental and collective strength through adversity.

"The matches against Belgium and Spain bear witness to this. It is always good to win with the national team, it has a special feel. The goal now is Qatar and we have to do the job on Saturday."

Harry Kane scored a perfect hat-trick as England moved within one point of qualification for the 2022 World Cup after a ruthless first-half performance saw them win 5-0 against Albania at Wembley Stadium on Friday.

Kane's treble and goals from Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson - all in the first 45 minutes - sealed a comfortable win for the Three Lions, leaving them needing only to avoid defeat in San Marino on Monday in their final game in Group I to book their place at Qatar 2022.

The visitors were all over the place defensively, looking a shadow of the team that had won three of their previous four away games in the group.

England slowed things down in the second half with the game already well won and Gareth Southgate was even able to rest Kane for the final 30 minutes ahead of the trip to San Marino.

The hosts took the lead in the ninth minute when a superb free-kick from Reece James found an unmarked Maguire at the back post and the Manchester United man thundered his header past Thomas Strakosha.

Myrto Uzuni had a glorious chance to equalise five minutes later when Kyle Walker played a loose pass back to Jordan Pickford, but England's goalkeeper denied him.

It was 2-0 in the 18th minute, Henderson playing a one-two with Phil Foden on the right before lifting in a delicate cross to give Kane a simple header.

Henderson then got in on the act himself as he played another one-two, this time with Kane, and the Liverpool captain finished it off himself with his left foot to make it 3-0 before the half-hour mark.

Kane got his second and England's fourth in the 34th minute by firing past Strakosha with his left foot after being played in by Raheem Sterling. It was the England skipper's 38th competitive goal for England, beating the record set by Wayne Rooney.

The Tottenham man then completed his perfect hat-trick in first-half stoppage time when he executed a sublime scissor kick with his right foot from a Foden corner to make it 5-0 before the break.

The second half was a much quieter affair, though Southgate was able to give a senior international debut to Arsenal youngster Emile Smith Rowe, who replaced Raheem Sterling with 15 minutes remaining. 

What does it mean? Southgate continues to impress

This game was Gareth Southgate's 67th in charge of England, the joint-most of any England manager since Sir Bobby Robson left in 1990, and equalling Sven-Goran Eriksson's tally between 2001 and 2006.

Southgate has won more games (43) than Eriksson could (40) and his latest victory was never in doubt here.

A single point in San Marino will see England qualify for Qatar 2022, and ensure that the Three Lions have progressed to every major tournament since Euro 2008.

Defence is the best form of attack for England

Southgate has often been criticised for his team selections being on the cautious side, and he went into this one with five defenders and two defensive-minded midfielders in his starting XI.

His team then proceeded to tear Albania to shreds in the first half, having 71 per cent of the ball, taking 11 shots and banging in five goals.

England have now scored 42 goals in 2021 - their most ever in a calendar year, overtaking their previous record of 39 in 1908.

Lack of discipline hurts Albania

Albania have had a good qualifying campaign, winning five of their previous eight games heading into this.

They always looked to be on a hiding to nothing against a determined England though and did not help themselves by picking up three bookings in first 25 minutes, making looking after Sterling, Foden and Kane all the trickier.

Edoardo Reja's team were either too strong or too weak in the tackle, only winning 36.9 per cent of their duels.

What’s next?

England travel to San Marino while Albania host Andorra in the final round of UEFA World Cup qualifiers in Group I on Monday.

Belgium boss Roberto Martinez has insisted that qualifying for the World Cup remains his priority, explaining he will take it slow with Eden Hazard as the Real Madrid forward makes his way back to full fitness.

The Red Devils are five points clear at the top of Group E with two games left to play and can seal their spot at the World Cup with a win over Estonia on Saturday.

Hazard has not started a game at club or international level since the 3-2 defeat against France in the semi-finals of the Nations League last month, however, with his last start for Madrid coming in a 2-1 loss to Sheriff on September 28.

The 30-year-old is set to feature in some way over Belgium's next two games, but Martinez is more concerned with his side confirming their place at the World Cup.

"At the moment all our work is based on trying to qualify," Martinez said ahead of the game against Estonia. "If we need two games to qualify, so be it, and that's our approach.

"If we can qualify with our home game in front of our fans then it's going to be another reset on how we approach the last game [against Wales], but it's important for us that we compete to qualify for the World Cup and try to preserve our position in the world rankings.

"Then it comes to bearing in mind all the [players'] physical states. In the case of Eden he hasn't played a lot of football so every day that we assess here we take a lot into consideration, the same way that we do with every single player that we have.

"The first goal is to qualify for the World Cup and see when we can do that."

Martinez explained that he was pleased with the former Chelsea winger's work in training since arriving for national team duty, but warned that Hazard is unlikely to be fit enough to play for a full match.

"Obviously, when you welcome Eden Hazard into the camp it's just to assess the work that he can do here and I've been very pleased in that respect," Martinez continued. 

"He looks happy, he looks forward to the game and then I just feel that we're going to use how he feels during the game to see if he can play 90 [minutes] or not.

"I would be surprised if he can play 90 at this stage [although] it depends a lot on what type of game we get. With Eden, we're going to go slowly and make sure we make good forward steps.

"I see him in a very, very good mental state, he looks really sharp, so for me, it's a question of seeing how long he can play rather than anything else."

After facing Estonia, Belgium's final Group E game is on Tuesday against Wales, who are five points behind them in the standings.

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