European Championships qualifiers midweek review


England edge an eight-goal thriller, Scotland are taught a lesson by Belgium & Ronaldo sets a new record

european-championships-qualifiers-midweek-reviewAnother entertaining round of Euro 2020 qualifiers saw wins for some usual suspects, as well as some surprising results and last-minute drama as some big names edged closer to qualification and others opened the door for their rivals. With England, Germany and Portugal all in action, there were a host of exciting games to choose for avid football fans.

England 5 – 3 Kosovo

If England were ruthless against Bulgaria, then the focus they had at Wembley was lost on the South Coast as a ragged, patchy performance saw eight goals and a missed penalty at St. Mary’s Stadium in Southampton.

While England manager Gareth Southgate will be pleased with the strike-rate of his forwards, Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Jadon Sancho all finding the net, his defence will be of huge concern. Harry Maguire looks composed on the ball, but he was not able to rely on the same from Michael Keane, and it was the latter who made a massive error with 30 seconds on the clock to gift Kosovo an unlikely lead.

England struck back through Raheem Sterling and went ahead via the left foot of Harry Kane. They took a commanding 5-1 half-time lead with three more goals in the closing seven minutes of the half, two from Jadon Sancho. But Kosovo came back again in the second half to score twice and frustrate a lacklustre England who are in danger of turning the qualification campaign into a way of getting themselves into bad habits they cannot eradicate come the vital tournament ties that shape International reputations.

On this evidence, Southgate has work to do to justify England’s tag of second favourites to win Euro 2020.

Scotland 0 – 4 Belgium 

Scotland were taught the harshest of lessons at Hampden Park, which is namely to avoid playing Belgium. The Scottish players were simply outclassed by the nous and movement of Belgium, who have hovered around the top of the FIFA rankings for around five years now, albeit without adding silverware to back up that respect.

In truth, the game was a complete mismatch from the off, with Romelu Lukaku slotting an opener inside 10 minutes. Within another 20 minutes, the match was effectively over as a contest, Thomas Vermaelen and Toby Alderweireld both profiting from the right boot of Kevin De Bruyne and the petrified backline of the home side.

De Bruyne notched a deserved goal to rubber-stamp yet another man-of-the-match performance in the 82nd minute to leave Belgium almost certain to make the finals. Scotland, meanwhile, look very much as if they are planning for the World Cup 2022 qualification campaign already.

Lithuania 1 – 5 Portugal

Cristiano Ronaldo scored four as Portugal smashed Lithuania for five in a fun fixture in Group B. With the world’s most iconic player starring for the away side, Cristiano Ronaldo opening the scoring in the 7th minute due to a penalty that improves his success rate to over 88% in the last 12 months form the spot.

Lithuania actually had the temerity to equalise in the 28th minute, through Vytautas Andriuskevicius, but it only made the Euro 2016 winners angry. Ronaldo netted three more times in 15 second half minutes, and in doing so, set a new record.

Not only was it Ronaldo’s eighth international hat-trick, his four-goal haul put him top of the goalscoring charts for the European Championships – overtaking Ireland’s Robbie Keane – and also saw him elevate himself to 93 international goals. Only Iran’s Ali Daei with 109 goals eludes the mercurial talent, and with CR7 himself pledging to play until he is 41, that record may yet fall too.

Selected results:
Finland 1 – 2 Italy
Sweden 1 – 1 Norway
Scotland 0 – 4 Belgium
Russia 1 – 0 Kazakhstan
Poland 0 – 0 Austria
Hungary 1 – 2 Slovakia
Azerbaijan 1 – 1 Croatia
Northern 0 – 2 Germany
France 3 – 0 Andorra
Albania 4 – 2 Iceland
Lithuania 1 – 5 Portugal
Montenegro 0 – 3 Czech Republic
England 5 – 3 Kosovo