World Cup qualification for the UEFA region got underway this weekend with the continent’s top teams back in action vying for a place at Russia 2018. Here are some of the key takeaways from the weekend’s qualifiers.
England left it late but got it done
It took until the fifth moment of extra time for the breakthrough to come but ultimately, Sam Allardyce got his tenure as England manager underway with a win against 10-man Slovakia. In truth, the Three Lions had been dominant throughout, maintaining a majority of possession and putting up 20 shots against a defensive Slovakian side that managed just a single off-target shot.
Wayne Rooney impressed in a deeper-lying midfield role but Allardyce will likely be concerned about his team taking so long to capitalize on their man advantage after Martin Skrtel was sent off in the 57th minute. England’s attack also repeatedly misfired with Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane, Theo Walcott, all spurning opportunities before Adam Lallana finally drove home the winner in extra time.
Spain still firmly among Europe’s elite
Spain rebounded well from their underwhelming showing at this summer’s Euros by dropping an 8-0 scoreline on European minnows Liechtenstein. Although in the first half, Spain manager Julen Lopetegui’s team appeared to struggle. Diego Costa was restored to the starting lineup and opened the scoring with the sole goal of the first half.
He would go on to add another as the floodgates opened in the second half with David Silva and Alvaro Morata also netting braces, while Sergi Roberto and Vitolo each chipped in with a goal each.
Yes it was just Liechtenstein, but as the saying goes you can only beat what’s put in front of you and Spain’s new manager will be encouraged by what his team have shown him.
Netherlands showed signs of life as Sweden struggled post-Zlatan
On Tuesday against Sweden, the Netherlands showed perhaps the first indications that the slow and steady decline they’ve exhibited pretty much since the latter stages of the 2014 World Cup is slowing. Despite the 1-1 scoreline, the Dutch dominated Sweden for most of the proceedings at the Friends Arena in Stockholm.
Had strikers Vincent Janssen and Bas Dost been more clinical, the Oranje could easily have taken all three points, just as they could have, had not a defensive misstep from Kevin Strootman gifted Sweden a goal, albeit a sublimely chipped one from Marcus Berg.
But in the end, the Dutch were able to grab an equalizer through the ever-reliable Wesley Sneijder, who even at 32 showed he may still have a part to play for Holland in terms of getting its World Cup qualifying campaign back on track.
Sweden for their part showed that it may struggle for identity and from the lack of a real game-changer as it moves into the post-Zlatan Ibrahimovic era.
France and Portugal showed Euro hangover
France were held to a scoreless draw by lowly Belarus on Tuesday, thanks in large part to Belarus keeper Andrei Gorbunov who produced a number of fine saves, including three against Euro 2016 top scorer Antoine Griezmann.
Olivier Giroud also came close on a couple of chances but fell victim to the kind of inconsistency in front of goal that’s plagued him through much of his career as France had to settle for a point against the team ranked 70th in the world by FIFA.
It was even worse for fellow Euro 2016 finalist (and eventual winners) Portugal who lost 2-0 to Switzerland as they began their qualification campaign without star player Cristiano Ronaldo. Nani had a header go off the post late on to provide the best chance of the night for a Portugal team that was kept in check and cleanly picked off by a Swiss team that saw goals from Breel Embolo and Admir Mehmedi.
UEFA World Cup qualifiers will resume next month.