European Qualifiers: Germany, Netherlands, Russia, and Croatia grind out wins

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Late Mueller goal earns 2-1 comeback win for Germany over Romania

HAMBURG -Substitute Thomas Mueller scored an 81st minute winner to complete Germany’s 2-1 comeback win over visitors Romania in their 2022 World Cup qualifier on Friday that kept them on course for a spot in next year’s tournament.

The Germans, who have now won all four matches under new coach Hansi Flick, lead the standings in Group J with 18 points from seven matches, six ahead of North Macedonia and Armenia. Germany, eager to make amends for their last two disappointing tournament performances at the 2018 World Cup and this year’s Euro, have conceded just one goal in their last four matches. They could now seal their spot with a win over North Macedonia on Monday.

“We were about to get a penalty and then suddenly we concede a goal,” said Flick, who took over from Joachim Loew earlier this year. “But the team fought, the boys threw everything they had in the game and the fans supported us. “We were confident, kept trying. Some things in terms of precision were not as we wanted them and we must improve but it was a deserved win. We controlled the game throughout.”

Netherlands win away in Latvia to stay ahead in World Cup qualifying group

RIGA – Davy Klaassen scored the only goal as the Netherlands beat Latvia 1-0 away in Riga on Friday to keep themselves ahead in a tightly contest World Cup qualifying group. Klaassen was unmarked at the back post to tuck away Memphis Depay’s corner after 19 minutes for the lone goal of the game, although the Dutch did dominate with almost relentless attacks in the closing 20 minutes and might have won by a larger margin. Stefan de Vrij and Depay both sent good chances wide in the second half while at the other end of the field, Dutch goalkeeper Justin Bijlow made an important save from a corner in stoppage time to keep his side’s full haul of points intact. The Netherlands advanced to 16 points in Group G, two ahead of Norway and four in front of third placed Turkey after those two countries drew 1-1 in Istanbul at the same time.

Croatia stay on course with 3-0 win at Cyprus

LARNACA – Croatia stayed on course to qualify automatically for the 2022 World Cup after goals from Ivan Perisic, Josko Gvardiol and Marko Livaja helped the 2018 runners-up to a 3-0 win at Cyprus in their Group H qualifier on Friday. The result kept Croatia top on 16 points from seven games, ahead of Russia on goal difference after the Russians ground out a 1-0 home win over Slovakia. Third-placed Slovenia are six points behind the front-runners after they beat Malta 4-0 away.

Own goal gives Russia 1-0 win over Slovakia

An own goal by Slovakia defender Milan Skriniar handed Russia a 1-0 home win in their World Cup qualifier in Group H on Friday. In an attempt to clear the ball from the six-yard box, Skriniar sloppily deflected a dangerous cross by Arsen Zakharyan past goalkeeper Marek Rodak, handing Russia the lead in the 24th minute.  Slovakia dominated possession, their best chances coming late in the first half. Russian goalkeeper Matvei Safonov denied Lukas Haraslin with a diving save, and a low strike by Slovak midfielder Ondrej Duda sailed just wide of the far post. Slovakia pressed in the second half but failed to capitalise against a revitalised Russian side under the leadership of new coach, Valery Karpin.

Norway fight back to hold Turkey to 1-1 draw in Istanbul

ISTANBUL – Turkey were held to a 1-1 draw at home by Norway in a result that could be costly for the hosts in their bid to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, as they stayed two points behind their opponents and four behind Group G leaders the Netherlands.

Turkey had an impressive start, taking the lead after six minutes with Olympique de Marseille midfielder Cengiz Under finding Kerem Akturkoglu who only had to tap the ball in.  Norway equalised shortly before halftime following a short corner routine between Martin Odegaard and Jens Petter Hauge. Andreas Hanche-Olsen headed the ball on and Kristian Thorstvedt finished the move. The second half had a slower tempo with fewer chances created by either team in contrast to the first 45 minutes. The Dutch lead Group G with 16 points from seven matches, followed by Norway on 14 points and Turkey on 12.

Wales fight back for 2-2 draw against Czechs in World Cup qualifier

PRAGUE – A Daniel James strike helped Wales fight back to draw 2-2 with the Czech Republic in an entertaining World Cup qualifier on Friday after the visitor’s goalkeeper had gifted the hosts a second half lead. Wales opened the scoring in the 36th minute on the counter-attack when Aaron Ramsey fired home from a sharp angle after a James header from a long Neco Williams pass found the Juventus midfielder at the far post.

The hosts responded less than two minutes later when Welsh goalkeeper Danny Ward palmed an Antonin Barak shot into the path of Jakub Pesek who swept the ball into the net to level the score. The Czechs took the lead just after the break when Ramsey played a simple back pass to Ward who failed to control the ball and watched it dribble over the line in a match in which both sides created chances. The visitors — playing without an injured Gareth Bale — levelled in the 69th minute after substitute Harry Wilson slotted a through ball to James who drove a shot past Czech keeper Tomas Vaclik into the far corner.

Malta find going tough against Slovenia

TA’ QALI – Malta’s much anticipated meeting with Slovenia ended in heartache as the visitors ran away with a 0-4 victory at Ta’ Qali. After a bright start, Malta had no reply to the efficient Slovenian attacks and their clinical finishing, while Malta did not take the few chances that came their way. Atalanta star Josip Ilicic was in excellent shape, scoring two of the goals for Slovenia.

Compared with the starting line-up of the last match played in Russia last month, Kurt Shaw, Enrico Pepe and Shaun Dimech were roped in instead of Ryan Camenzuli, Steve Borg and Andrei Agius. Midway through the second half, Floriana’s Adam Magri Overend made his national team debut, while Jurgen Degabriele returned to the national team after injury late on in the match.

Within the first ten minutes there where three goalscoring opportunities, two on the side of Malta and one for the guests. First, it was Luke Montebello who tested Jan Oblak with a grounder from close range, immediately followed on the other side by a shot from Sandi Lovric from the edge of the box, which was easily paraded by Henry Bonello. The best opportunity of the three was for Cain Attard at the far post, after being served by Joseph Mbong, who could not give the right direction on the ball to open the score, much to the relief of Oblak, who was caught on the wrong foot. 

On 20 minutes, a Lovric goal was annulled or off-site, but seven minutes later, Slovenia managed to open the score, thanks to a grounder of Josip Ilicic, after some excellent work by Jure Balkovec on the right wing. Four minutes before half-time, Montebello’s header from close range missed power and target after an inch perfect pass from Teddy Teuma, Malta’s second big opportunity to score in the first half. 

Five minutes after the break, Slovenia doubled the score thanks to a wonderful Andraz Sporar goal, which had initially been given as off-site, but the goal was given after the VAR check. On the hour, Ilicic added more misery to the hosts by scoring Slovenia’s third goal, after the Maltese rear-guard were caught on the wrong foot. On 65 minutes, Kurt Shaw’s free header just missed target after a corner-kick by Steve Pisani. Three minutes later, substitute Benjamin Sesko scored Slovenia’s fourth from a dubious off-side position. On 82 minutes, Adam Gnezda Cerin missed a sitter with only Bonello to beat. Deep into stoppage time, substitute Domen Crnigoj hit the crossbar with a clever lob over Bonello.


Photo Germany’s Leon Goretzka (bottom) in action against Romania’s Andrei Burca (top) during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifying Group J soccer match between Germany and Romania in Hamburg, Germany, 08 October 2021. EPA-EFE/FOCKE STRANGMANN

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