World Cup Qualifiers Roundup

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We’re reaching the last lap of the qualifiers in Europe for the Qatar World Cup scheduled for next

The qualification campaign for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ continued to gather pace with several tickets to the world stage on offer.

The action opened in Africa with Cameroon defeating Malawi to keep their qualification hopes alive.

The spotlight then turned to Europe, where 2018 champions France qualified for Qatar 2022 with a dominant 8-0 win over Kazakhstan. Belgium also qualified for the world finals with a 3-1 victory over Estonia. The Netherlands and Norway both drew their matches against Montenegro and Latvia respectively, while Turkey thrashed Gibraltar, which will see Group G go down to the wire.

Salient matches reports:

‘Super dumb’ Dutch speak candidly after collapse

Captain Virgil van Dijk called it “scandalous”, Memphis Depay “super dumb” and coach Louis van Gaal “inexplicable” as the Netherlands blew a two-goal lead in Montenegro on Saturday, and with it their chance to qualify early for the World Cup finals in Qatar.

The Dutch are still top of their group after the 2-2 draw with Montenegro and have a home match against Norway in Rotterdam on Tuesday. But they were furious after letting slip the chance to secure their place with a game to spare.

A goalless draw between Norway and Latvia in Oslo earlier on Saturday handed the Dutch an unexpected chance to win the group, and they were coasting towards Qatar with a 2-0 lead after a double from top scorer Memphis Depay.

But goals from Ilija Vukotic in the 82nd minute and Nikola Vujnovic four minutes later snatched away the punch bowl as the Dutch suffered a dramatic collapse. Van Gaal said he had to take some blame for his late substitutions, aimed at resting some players who had picked up knocks. “The changes were not good but I cannot really explain what happened,” he said. “This leaves a bad aftertaste but I’m not going to criticise my players. They also really want to go to the World Cup. We still have to play against Norway and we have to prepare positively for that. We still have a chance. We are still in the best position,” the veteran coach added.

“I’m speechless and angry. It was scandalous the way we played in the second half. We all want to have the ball, play football, attack and score. But sometimes you also have to think defensively too,” added skipper Van Dijk in a post-match television interview. “Our organisation was not good. We should have kept control and not all run forward. We did. If it has to be ugly, then it has to be ugly. We also said that to each other beforehand.”

Depay was equally candid in his analysis with Dutch NOS television. “This is a hard blow. We sold ourselves short, the fans who have travelled with us and the fans at home. We had it in our own hands and we gave it away completely. That is super dumb. This was simply childish. We know it wasn’t a good game, but if you’re two goals up, you have to take it home.”

The Dutch will play their last qualifier on Tuesday in an empty De Kuip stadium after the government said it was banning spectators at sports events for the next three weeks to fight a new surge in COVID-19 cases. 

Mbappe shines as France thump Kazakhstan 8-0 to qualify

Holders France reached the 2022 World Cup finals with a match to spare after four goals from Kylian Mbappe helped them to an 8-0 home rout of Kazakhstan in their Group D qualifier on Saturday.

The result left France top of the group on 15 points from seven games, four ahead of second-placed Finland who they visit in their final match on Tuesday.

Karim Benzema added two goals while Adrien Rabiot and Antoine Griezmann netted one each to seal France’s berth in next year’s 32-nation tournament in Qatar.

Belgium beat Estonia 3-1 to qualify for World Cup finals

Belgium qualified for next year’s World Cup finals and kept up their unbeaten qualifying run as they beat Estonia 3-1 in Brussels on Saturday.

The Belgians, semi-finalists in Russia in 2018, climbed to an unassailable 19 points in Group E as Christian Benteke scored early and Yannick Carrasco and Thorgan Hazard added second-half goals.

Belgium join Brazil, Denmark, France and Germany among the first five countries to qualify for next year’s finals in Qatar.

But it was in fact a wasteful display from Belgium, whose supporters were expecting more of a goal feast at the King Baudouin Stadium to celebrate qualifying for a third successive World Cup.

Ramsey scores twice as Wales thrash Belarus, Bale earns 100th cap

Wales moved clear in second place in World Cup qualifying Group E with a 5-1 home rout of Belarus on Saturday, as Gareth Bale earned his 100th cap for his country.

Aaron Ramsey scored twice for the hosts in Cardiff with Neco Williams, Ben Davies and Connor Roberts also on target as the Welsh boosted their hopes of finishing runners-up behind group winners Belgium who beat Estonia.

Wales are already guaranteed a place in the March playoffs to earn a place in next year’s Qatar finals having won their Nations League section. But finishing second in Group E could give them a better chance of a home draw.

Real Madrid’s Bale, Wales’s all-time top scorer, lasted only the first half of his 100th appearance before being withdrawn with a calf injury.

But by that stage Wales were already in command.

It took them only two minutes to go in front, as Ben Davies’s crisp volley was parried out by Belarus keeper Syarhey Chernik and Ramsey converted the rebound.

Williams doubled their lead in the 20th minute when he was played in by Bale and embarrassed Chernik with a near-post shot.

Ramsey coolly converted a penalty awarded for handball in the 50th minute to become only the sixth player to score at least 20 goals for Wales, and Davies then bundled in his first, on his 68th appearance for his country.

Artem Kontsevoi scored a late consolation for Belarus with a dipping shot, but Roberts completed the scoring as he touched in a Harry Wilson corner in the last minute.

Wales host Belgium in their final group game on Tuesday trailing the world number one nation by five points but with a three-point lead over third-placed Czech Republic.

A draw will be enough to seal the runners-up spot. The Czechs finish off against Estonia.

Norway’s World Cup hopes dealt hammer blow by Latvia draw

Norway’s hopes of qualifying for the World Cup finals in Qatar suffered a serious blow when they were held to a 0-0 draw at home by Latvia in their Group G clash on Saturday.

The single point earned leaves the Norwegians in third spot in the group on 18 points, behind second-placed Turkey on goal difference with Netherlands in the lead on 19 points. The Dutch can win the group by beating Montenegro later on Saturday.

Norway travel to meet the Netherlands in their final game on Tuesday while Turkey, who thrashed Gibraltar 6-0 to move ahead of the Norwegians on goal difference, are away to Montenegro.

The Norwegians dominated throughout in front of a packed Ullevaal Stadion but were thwarted by a combination of some poor finishing and a superb performance by visiting goalkeeper Roberts Ozols.

Turkey hit Gibraltar for six in World Cup qualifier

Turkey forward Halil Dervisoglu netted a double as they cruised to an easy 6-0 win over 10-man Gibraltar to continue their fight to secure a spot at the Qatar 2022 World Cup. Dervisoglu’s Galatasaray team mate Kerem Akturkoglu and Atalanta defender Merih Demiral were also on target for the home team, along with Fenerbahce forward Serdar Dursun and Sassuolo defender Mert Muldur.

Turkey are second in Group G on 18 points, a point behind the Netherlands who can secure automatic qualification later on Saturday with victory over Montenegro.

Norway, who also have 18 points, were held to a 0-0 draw at home against Latvia.

Gibraltar were reduced to 10 men in the 23rd minute, when defender Jayce Olivero was sent off after a reckless challenge on Turkey fullback Zeki Celik.

Gibraltar are still searching for their first-ever points in World Cup qualification, having lost all of their 19 outings to date.

Denmark defence finally breached in 3-1 win over Faroes

Already-qualified Denmark secured a comfortable 3-1 win over the Faroe Island on Friday but their proud run of eight World Cup Group F qualifiers without conceding a goal came to an end as Klaemint Olsen netted late on for the visitors.

Andreas Skov Olsen gave the Danes the lead in the 18th minute and Jacob Bruun Larsen came off the bench to add a second after the hour with the hosts cruising to a convincing victory.

However, Faroese substitute Olsen struck in the 89th minute to dent Denmark’s defensive record before Joakim Maehle added a third for the home side three minutes into stoppage time.

The Danes, who had previously booked their ticket to next year’s finals in Qatar, round off their campaign with a trip to Scotland, who earlier guaranteed second spot and a place in the March playoffs with a 2-0 win away to Moldova.

Italy draw 1-1 with Switzerland to leave top spot still up for grabs

Italy midfielder Jorginho blazed a late penalty over the bar as his side were held to a 1-1 draw by Switzerland in their Group C World Cup qualifier at the Stadio Olimpico on Friday, leaving both sides with a chance of automatic qualification for Qatar.

With 15 points from seven games and the winners going through to the finals, Italy top the group on goal difference ahead of the Swiss, with Northern Ireland third on eight points. Italy are away to Northern Ireland in their final qualifier on Monday, while the Swiss host fourth-placed Bulgaria.

Switzerland took an early lead when Noah Okafor, making his first start for the national team, teed up full back Silvan Widmer to fire a piledriver into the back of the net, shocking the home crowd in the 11th minute.

Italy struck back after the half-hour mark through a cleverly-worked free kick that Giovanni Di Lorenzo headed home. They could have snatched all three points in the final minute of normal time, but Jorginho’s effort from the spot flew high over the bar as the game ended in a draw.

England all but qualified as Kane hat-trick sinks Albania

England captain Harry Kane plundered a hat-trick before halftime in a 5-0 hammering of sorry Albania at Wembley on Friday to all but guarantee his side’s spot in next year’s World Cup finals in Qatar.

Two draws in their last three Group I matches for Gareth Southgate’s team had opened the door slightly ajar for chasing Poland in the qualification race, but Kane slammed it shut in memorable fashion as he moved level in fourth place on England’s all-time scoring list.

Defender Harry Maguire settled any early nerves with a ninth minute headed opener before Kane’s spree began when he headed in from close range in the 18th.

With Albania in disarray Jordan Henderson weaved his way through to make it 3-0 before Kane powered in his second from a tight angle and then completed his fourth England hat-trick with a stunning overhead kick on the stroke of halftime.

It moved him level on 44 goals for the national team with former Tottenham Hotspur great Jimmy Greaves who died in September.

The second half was a non-event but the fans cared not as with one match remaining England have 23 points to Poland’s 20 and a far better goal difference ahead of the formality of a trip to group whipping boys San Marino on Monday.

Albania’s capitulation ended their slender hopes of grabbing a playoff spot as they are now five points behind Poland.

Croatia thump Malta to set up crunch game v Russia

Croatia stayed on course to qualify automatically for the 2022 World Cup as a 7-1 rout of Malta in Thursday’s Group H qualifier left them needing to beat Russia on Sunday to reach the finals.

Croatia are second in the group on 20 points from nine games, two behind the Russians who stayed in the driving seat with a 6-0 rout of Cyprus.

Ivan Perisic fired Croatia into a sixth-minute lead as he steered the ball into an empty net and Duje Caleta-Car doubled their advantage when he headed home a Luka Modric free kick.

Hosts Malta pulled one back thanks to a clumsy Marcelo Brozovic own goal before Mario Pasalic netted after a rapid break and Modric made it 4-1 with a neat finish on the stroke of halftime.

The Croatians stayed on the attack after the break and Lovro Majer scored his first international goal in the 47th minute, sweeping in a rebound after goalkeeper Henry Bonello parried Andrej Kramaric’s header.

The lively Kramaric netted six minutes later when he took advantage of sloppy Maltese passing in midfield and beat the stranded Bonello with a precise low shot from 40 metres.

Majer grabbed his second with a thumping finish into the roof of the net as 2018 World Cup runners-up Croatia ran riot ahead of their decisive clash with Russia in Split.

Cameroon, Ivory Coast stay on course for crunch World Cup clash

Cameroon and the Ivory Coast both won World Cup qualifiers on Saturday to set up a crunch clash to decide the outcome of their group, but Tunisia suffered a surprise loss in the African preliminaries.

The Cape Verde Islands and Nigeria were also winners on Saturday and will play against each other in Lagos on Tuesday to decide the outcome of their group.

Cameroon, who have made the most World Cup finals appearances by an African country with seven, put in their most convincing performance of the 2022 qualifying campaign as they beat Malawi 4-0 away.

Vincent Aboubakar tucked away a first-half penalty and Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa added a second before the break.

Christian Bassogog scored a double in the closing stages of the match, which was played in Johannesburg because Malawi were banned from hosting World Cup qualifiers because none of their stadiums passed a FIFA inspection earlier this year.

The Ivorians were forced to move their last two home games to Cotonou, Benin because of a poor playing surface but were still good enough to beat Mozambique 3-0 later on Saturday.

Max-Alain Gradel scored early to settle the nerves and Maxwel Cornet and Jean Michael Seri netted two more in the second half.

It meant the Ivorians stayed one point ahead of Cameroon in the Group D standings but they must avoid defeat away in Yaounde on Tuesday if they are to advance to the March playoffs instead of the Indomitable Lions.

The 10 group winners play five two-legged ties to decide the African representation for Qatar and Tunisia were expected to add their name to a list that already includes Egypt, Mali, Morocco and Senegal.

Tunisia were fancied to win away against Equatorial Guinea, but beaten 1-0 in Malabo with a late goal from Pablo Ganet, who plays in the fourth tier of Spanish club football.

Both countries now have 10 points in Group B but Tunisia finish at home to Zambia on Tuesday while Equatorial Guinea are away in Mauritania at the same time. Tunisia also have a plus seven goal difference to plus one for Equatorial Guinea.

Nigeria stayed two points ahead of the Cape Verde Islands in Group C after they won 2-0 away against Liberia. A first-half penalty from Victor Osimhen and a stoppage-time effort from Ahmed Musa secured the points.

Cape Verde had to come from behind to beat the Central African Republic 2-1 in Mindelo.

Sunday sees the start of the final sequence of group qualifiers with the outcome of Group G and Group J to be decided.

Ghana need to beat South Africa to win Group G while the Democratic Republic of Congo host Benin in Kinshasa also needing a victory in Group J. If neither home side triumphs, their visitors will advance.

Reuters

Photo Antoine Griezmann of France celebrates after the FIFA World Cup 2022 qualification soccer match between France and Kazhakstan at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, France, 13 November 2021. EPA-EFE/IAN LANGSDON

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