World Cup Qualifiers - Europe

World Cup Qualifiers - Europe (163)

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).

Gareth Bale has been ruled out of Wales' crucial World Cup qualifying double-header next month with what boss Rob Page describes as a "significant hamstring tear".

The 32-year-old has not featured for club or country since sustaining the injury during a training session with Real Madrid three weeks ago.

Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti recently said he is unsure how long Bale will be out but there was hope he would be back in time for Wales' trips to the Czech Republic and Estonia.

However, Bale – who is one cap short of a milestone 100 for Wales – was left out of Page's squad on Tuesday and is also a doubt for his side's final three qualifiers in November.

"Hamstring injuries are graded from one to four and this is a four. It's a significant hamstring tear," Page said at a news conference.

"This camp has come too soon for him. He's not going to be involved, and that may also be the case progressing to November's camp."    

Bale started Madrid's opening three games of the season and featured in all three of Wales' matches last month, scoring a hat-trick in the 3-2 win away at Belarus.

That ended a 17-game drought without a goal for the Dragons – his second-longest such run – but he could not find a way through in the goalless draw with Estonia last time out.

Wales are third in Group E after four matches, one point behind next opponents the Czech Republic with a game in hand as the pair fight for second place behind runaway leaders Belgium.

Page's side will head into that clash in Prague without undisputed star player Bale, who has been involved in all five of his side's goals this campaign (three goals and two assists).

"He's been first class for Wales over the years, so of course it's a blow for myself and the supporters," Page said. "But it does give others a chance.

"We can't cry about it. Gareth showed his worth in the last camp and he was at another level.

"We've got new players coming through, and an abundance of players who can fill the position he plays. There aren't many Gareth Bales in the world but others will have a chance." 

 

Juventus midfielder Aaron Ramsey is back involved for Wales after withdrawing from the last squad through injury.

Ramsey has featured four times in Serie A this term and leads the way for passes per 90 minutes (67.71) and successful passes (61.71) among Juventus midfielders.

He has missed several key fixtures for Wales this campaign, but Page insists the former Arsenal man's commitment cannot be questioned.

"We're confident he'll be with us," Page said.

"I understand the fans' frustration because they want the best players turning up. He can put a shift in and did a full pre-season with Juventus.

"Players like him are prone to picking up injuries. He's managing his body better now and I think we're seeing the best of it.

"He's become more robust and shown over the summer he's more capable of playing games. His training will be adapted but we expect him to play both games."

Hungary have been ordered to play two home games, one suspended for two years, behind closed doors following the racial abuse of England players during their World Cup qualifier.

A 4-0 thrashing by Gareth Southgate's side in early September was overshadowed by reports of racial abuse directed at Raheem Sterling and Jude Bellingham by the home fans.

Objects were seen flying in Sterling's direction after his opener, with alleged monkey chants also coming from inside the Puskas Arena, as England coasted to victory.

FIFA's Disciplinary Committee has also issued the Hungarian Football Federation (MLSZ) a fine of 200,000 Swiss francs (£158,000), with a qualifier against Albania on October 9 the game that will be played without spectators in Budapest.

A suspended penalty of a second game was imposed by the world's governing body for a probationary period of two years.

"After analysing and taking into consideration all the circumstances of the case, specifically the seriousness of the incidents (racist words and actions, throwing of objects, lighting of fireworks, blocked stairways), the Committee decided that the MLSZ would play its next two home matches in FIFA competitions without spectators, the second match being suspended for a probationary period of two years," a FIFA statement released on Tuesday read.

"FIFA's position remains firm and resolute in rejecting any form of racism and violence as well as any other form of discrimination or abuse. FIFA takes a clear zero tolerance stance against such abhorrent behaviour in football."

This is not the first time Hungary have been punished by football's governing bodies. In July, Hungary were ordered to play three UEFA home competition matches without supporters after incidents of racism and homophobia at Euro 2020.

The ban applies only to UEFA competitions and so will not come into effect until the next edition of the Nations League, which will be held between June and September 2022.

England manager Gareth Southgate defended his lack of substitutions in the team's 1-1 draw away to Poland in World Cup qualifying.

Southgate did not make a change as England's winning start to World Cup qualifying ended after Damian Szymanski nodded home a dramatic first Poland goal on Wednesday.

Szymanski's 92nd-minute equaliser cancelled out Harry Kane's second-half opener in Warsaw, though England remain top of Group I on the road to Qatar 2022.

It was the first time England did not make a sub since the Euro 1996 semi-final against Germany.

Afterwards, Southgate was asked about his decision not to introduce fresh faces midweek.

"We were in total control of the game and to bring players into that moment when everybody was performing to a good level, and we were in control of possession," Southgate told reporters.

"You can put players into the game who have had to sit in the stands and it's not so easy to come on in those latter stages, so there are a couple of times where we looked at it and said now that we're doing well, no, no problem.

"We're going to refresh the wide players right at the end, but really, that would have been to run the clock down as much as anything. But before we could get them in, we've conceded the goal and once we've conceded the goal, again, we didn't think that was a good moment to make a change, so that was that was why we did it."

For only the second time in their last 18 major tournament qualifying matches, England failed to register victory, also failing in October 2019 against the Czech Republic.

England have not lost any of their last 18 matches against Poland (W11 D7), a run that stretches back to October 1973.

Southgate's England, meanwhile, are unbeaten in their last 16 international matches (W13 D3) – their longest streak without defeat since a 16-game run between September 1995 and November 1996.

"We knew that today if we could win the game then we were pretty much in Qatar," Southgate said. "That isn't the case we've still got some work to do.

"We could have been in an even stronger position, so that is a disappointment, but I can't fault what the players have given over that period and the way they've responded to the summer."

Harry Kane described Poland's late equaliser as "a kick in the teeth" after England's winning run in World Cup qualifying was ended on Wednesday.

Gareth Southgate's side took the lead through Kane's stunner in Warsaw, but were pegged back by Damian Szymanski's header from Robert Lewandowski's cross.

The Three Lions still sit top in Group J, five points clear of Albania and six clear of Poland in the hunt for a spot at Qatar 2022.

"A kick in the teeth at the end there, it's never easy conceding in the last minute," Kane told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"It was a good performance from the boys though, we controlled the game well.

"Of course [there was an 'edgy' atmosphere], we're playing for the opportunity to play in the World Cup. Poland clearly saw this as their last opportunity to take some points off us and get closer to us in the group.

"I thought we handled it well. The Hungary game and this game away from home were not easy to play in. The boys stepped up and put in good performances."

Kane also believed his goal - a superb effort from around 25 yards out - was one of the best he has netted in his international career, as he moved onto 41 England strikes (only four players have scored more).

"That's probably one of the best goals, probably the furthest out I've scored for England," added Kane, who has now netted in 15 consecutive such games across the World Cup and European Championship, tallying 19 goals.

"I caught it really nicely, it wobbled in the air and caught the keeper off guard. It was a nice one to get because it's a tough place to play and it broke the deadlock, putting us in a good position. Hopefully I can continue that going into the next camp."

A fracas broke out between the teams at half-time, with Kane explaining England's players had reported an incident to the Football Association.

"There was an incident just before half-time which has been reported to the FA guys," he said. "They're taking care of it and investigating it and we'll go from there.

"Allegedly it was something that was done, not said. We haven't had a chance to look at the footage and talk to the lad."

Southgate, meanwhile, was satisfied with England's performance in what he labelled the most difficult game of their qualification campaign.

"It was no surprise that this was the hardest game in the group. Early in the game, we were a little slow to move the ball and Poland pressed us well," he told 5 Live.

"In the second half we controlled the game. If there's a criticism it's that we didn't create enough clear chances from that possession and we didn't get enough players in the box.

"While it's 1-0 you run the risk of what happened at the end. We're clearly disappointed not to get the three points but I have to look at what the players have done across these three matches.

"Given that there was no way of telling how they would react after what happened in the [Euro 2020] final, I think their mentality and application has been really good."

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."

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