A Texan in California, free-scorers’ frustration in La Paz, and a baptism of fire in Sofia feature in FIFA.com's latest stats review, along with Iranian impregnability and Brazilian bliss.
days before the 21st FIFA World Cup™ kicks off, Brazil became the second team to qualify for it after hosts Russia. A Seleção, who only secured their place at USA 1994 and Korea/Japan 2002 – competitions they won – with victory in their last preliminary match, tied the South American record Argentina set in 2001 by qualifying with four rounds to spare. It seemed impossible when Tite took charge, with Brazil languishing in sixth place and their proud, unique record of appearing at every World Cup seemingly in serious danger. However, Tuesday’s 3-0 triumph ended their eight-year winless streak against Paraguay and gave them 24 points from a possible 24 under the 55-year-old. Neymar starred once again in Sao Paulo, leaving him with four goals and four assists in Brazil’s last four home qualifiers. Brazil now require ten points from their final four qualifiers to equal the 43-point record haul for a South American preliminary campaign, set by the aforementioned Argentina team – one featuring Ariel Ortega, Claudio Lopez, Hernan Crespo and Gabriel Batistuta – in the run-up to Korea/Japan 2002.
years had passed since Bolivia kept a clean sheet against Argentina until Tuesday. Since Luis Galarza frustrated Diego Maradona, Claudio Cannigia and Co in a goalless draw in the Copa America 1989 – the 38-year-old made one particularly stunning save from a free-kick from ‘El Pibe de Oro’ – La Verde had failed to stop La Albiceleste scoring in 17 consecutive encounters. Argentina had won the past four editions of the fixture, netting 17 times and conceding zero in the process, but they could not find a way past Carlos Lampe in La Paz. Marcelo Moreno ended his ten-game goal drought for Bolivia to seal a 2-0 success, giving them back-to-back home victories in World Cup qualifying for the first time since 2008. It sent the 29-year-old forward joint-third on his country’s list of all-time leading marksmen (15 goals), behind Victor Ugarte (16) and Joaquin Botero (20).
years and 225 days made Matthijs de Ligt the Netherlands’ youngest player since 1931. Mauk Weber (17 years and 92 days) had been the only other sub-18-year-old to represent the country, with de Ligt being over a year younger than the likes of Frank Rijkaard, Marco van Basten and Clarence Seedorf on his debut, and almost two years younger than Johan Cruyff (19 years and 135 days). It did not end well for the young defender or the Oranje. De Ligt was taken off at half-time after being at fault for both of Spas Delev’s goals – the first of an international career that began six years ago. Bulgaria’s 2-0 win left the Netherlands having failed to keep a clean sheet in eight consecutive UEFA EURO and World Cup qualifiers – their longest streak since 1963 – and having failed to score in as many preliminaries since Brazil 2014 (five), as they had in the previous 17 years. That got Danny Blind the sack, but their miserable fortunes continued three days later: the Dutch lost 2-1 to Italy at the Amsterdam ArenA to make it seven home games without victory for the first time in their history.
hours and 28 minutes is, incredibly, what Iran have gone without conceding in World Cup qualifying. Turkmenistan’s Mekan Saparov was the last man to ripple Team Melli’s net in a 3-1 loss in November 2015. Back-to-back 1-0 defeats of Qatar and China PR – both courtesy of a Mehdi Taremi goal – left Carlos Queiroz’s side with ten consecutive clean sheets in the Russia 2018 preliminaries. None of Iran’s last six games have produced more than one goal, and even though they have scored more than only four sides in the 12-team third round of Asian qualifying, they have an unsurpassed 17 points.
goals without reply is what USA netted to post their biggest-ever win over Honduras – they had never previously won the fixture by more than four goals – and their finest all-time result in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying for the World Cup. It took just 12 seconds for 18-year-old Christian Pulisic to score the Americans’ fastest-ever goal following the half-time restart, while Clint Dempsey took just 22 minutes to bag the third-quickest hat-trick in USA history after Brian McBride (12 minutes against El Salvador in 2002) and Eddie Johnson (17 minutes against Panama in 2004). It also made the 34-year-old Texan only the second player to record multiple trebles for the Stars and Stripes after Landon Donovan. Dempsey followed that up by grabbing USA a 1-1 draw in Panama that moved him on to 56 international goals, one shy of record-holder Donovan.
50 goals for Japan is the tally on to which Shinji Okazaki climbed this week, becoming just the third player - after Kunishige Kamamoto and Kazu Miura - to hit this half-century mark.
37 goals is what Alexis Sanchez reached to tie Marcelo Salas as Chile’s all-time leading marksman.
15 games unbeaten at Aviva Stadium: that is the run that came to an end for Republic of Ireland on Tuesday, with Hordur Bjorgvin Magnusson's beautiful free-kick earning Iceland victory.
5 goals is what Christian Benteke has scored from his last five shots on target and two appearances for Belgium.