FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ qualifying continued across two continents
Turkey made history with Norway win, Croatia and the Netherlands bounce back
Preliminary action concluded with more matches in the Concacaf zone
After some shocks and stunning performances on Wednesday and Thursday, qualifying for Qatar 2022 resumed in the UEFA and Concacaf zones on Saturday.
Turkey continued their fine form and won their first two World Cup qualifiers of a campaign for the first time in their history, while Croatia and the Netherlands both bounced back after opening-match losses.
There were plenty of goals across the six Concacaf matches with St. Kitts and Nevis, Guatemala, Dominican Republic and Suriname all boasting perfect records after two matches.
Nicholas Ioannou of Cyprus and Josip Brekalo of Croatia in action during the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar qualifying match between Croatia and Cyprus on March 27, 2021 at HNK Rijeka stadium in Rijeka, Croatia.
Romelu Lukaku of Belgium and Jan Boril of Czech Republic compete.
Montenegro made it six points from two games with a 4-1 win over Gibraltar. Fatos Beqiraj tapped home the opener in the 26th minute, before Reece Styche swiftly restored parity from the spot. It was all the Brave Falcons thereafter, though, and headers from defenders Marko Simic and Zarko Tomasevic put them in control. Stevan Jovetic put the icing on the cake late on with a brilliant free-kick, which was his 12th goal in his last 11 appearances in World Cup qualifying.
FIFA World Cup hero Artem Dzyuba emerged as Russia’s darling once again, scoring a match-winning double against Slovenia to boost the 2018 hosts’ Qatar 2022 hopes. Boosted by that opening-match win over Croatia, Slovenia gave as good as they got in the early stages but, just as the home fans were becoming frustrated, Dzyuba settled their nerves with a cool side-foot finish into the bottom corner. The Russia captain then bustled his way through to double his team’s lead nine minutes later, although that two-goal cushion lasted merely seconds before it was halved by Josip Ilicic’s fine first-time left-foot strike. Dzyuba’s double leaves him on 29 Russia goals - just one short of Alexandr Kerzhakov’s all-time record.
After losing heavily to the Czech Republic 6-2 on the opening matchday, Estonia responded positively by opening the scoring in Minsk. Henri Anier rocketed a shot past Aleksandr Gutor. Belarus, however, answered with a goal of their own via the penalty spot. Vitali Lisakovich sent Matvei Igonen the wrong way before referee Robert Hennessy blew the half-time whistle. Anier scored his second on the night with a tidy finish, guiding in a lofted ball sent into the area. However, once again, Belarus struck back ten minutes later when Yury Kendysh headed in a free-kick sent in by captain Ihar Stasevich. Pavel Savistki scored the winner after Estonia went a man down with a nifty, lofted finish and Lisakovich added another with a stylishly-worked free-kick routine that culminated with him scoring from over 20 yards out to cap off a strong start to Belarus’ Group E campaign.
The Netherlands bounced back from their opening-match defeat to Turkey by recording a dominant victory over Latvia. The 2-0 scoreline did scant justice to the Oranje’s superiority, and would have been higher but for the woodwork being rattled on several occasions and Memphis Depay enjoying a luckless evening in front of goal. Their opening goal was worth the wait though, with Steven Berghuis cutting in from right and curling an unstoppable left-foot shot just inside the post from 25 yards for his first international goal. Luuk de Jong rounded off the win with a powerful downward header from Depay's out-swinging corner as the Dutch became the first European team to reach the milestone of 300 goals in World Cup qualifying.
Turkey continued their scintillating form in Group G with a 3-0 win over Norway in Malaga. Ozan Tufan opened the scoring when he finished off a great team move within five minutes. Caglar Soyuncu doubled Turkey’s lead when he broke free and headed in the first corner kick of the match. Tufan’s second of the afternoon was the pick of the bunch. The versatile Fenerbahce man curled in an unstoppable effort past substitute Andre Hansen to ensure Turkey won their first two World Cup qualifiers of a campaign for the first time.
Croatia rebounded from a disappointing defeat in their Group H opener by edging Cyprus 1-0 in Rijeka. Luka Modric won his 135th cap, breaking Darijo Srna’s national team record, but the Russia 2018 runners-up struggled to break down their visitors. They did, however, score from their first attempt on target, Mario Pasalic capitalising upon a defensive mistake to head home from close range just before half-time. Cyprus got more into the same as the second half wore on, but failed to seriously trouble Croatia, who got their campaign up and running.
Republic of Ireland’s qualifying hopes were dealt a crushing blow as they fell to a shock home defeat to an impressive Luxembourg team. The visitors were good value for this sensational win, which was secured in spectacular style when Gerson Rodrigues crashed home an unstoppable late winner from 25 yards.
Serbia turned a two-goal half-time deficit into a 2-2 draw with Portugal in Group A. Two Diogo Jota headers had the visitors in command, but Aleksandar Mitrovic pulled one back and Filip Kostic equalised on the hour mark. Thereafter, with Dusan Tadic shining, Serbia pressed for a winner, but two fine saves from Anthony Lopes denied them. Nikola Milenkovic was sent off for Serbia in injury time, before Cristiano Ronaldo thought he’d won it for Portugal, only for the linesman to adjudge that the ball hadn’t crossed the line.
Slovakia came from two goals down to snatch a 2-2 draw with a battling Malta side. The visitors, who hadn’t scored in 13 straight qualifiers, were on the verge of a famous win after scoring twice inside four first-half minutes – first through a terrific Luke Gambin shot, then a powerful Alexander Satariano header. But the hosts avoided an embarrassing defeat with two quickfire goals of their own. The comeback started with David Strelec’s glancing header three minutes after the restart, and a point was secured when Milan Skriniar dived in to power another header home four minutes later.
The Czech Republic earned a point against number one-ranked Belgium in what was a very competitive match on a rainy night in Prague. Michael Krmencik came closest to scoring in the first half, but his effort hit off Thibaut Courtois’ left-hand post. Lukas Provod gave the hosts a deserved lead early in the second half with a powerful, low and driven shot from just outside the penalty area that Courtois could do nothing about. Belgium’s record goalscorer Romelu Lukaku saved Roberto Martinez's side a point, though, as he latched on to the end of Kevin De Bruyne’s through ball and found space to unleash a shot past Tomas Vaclik. De Bruyne struck the post moments later, but the sides shared the spoils in a wide-open looking Group E. The result ended an impressive ten-match run of wins for Belgium in away World Cup qualifiers.
Captain Juan Barrera and Ariagner Smith both bagged a brace to propel Nicaragua to a resounding victory over Turks and Caicos Islands in San Cristobal and to the top of Group E in Round 1.
Dominican Republic remained perfect in Group D; their 6-0 victory over Anguilla by far the more convincing result than the 1-0 opener against Dominica. Jacques Passy’s side scored three goals in each half at Inter Miami’s new stadium to build a strong foundation for the rest of their campaign. Dorny Romero and Nowend Lorenzo both scored braces, while Domingo Peralta and Luis Espinal also added to the goals.
Guatemala made it two wins from as many starts with a 3-0 victory in neutral Willemstad. Los Chapines were two goals to the good by half-time thanks to Darwin Lom and Moises Hernandez, and they duly sealed the contest late on despite a determined showing from British Virgin Islands.
After edging out Puerto Rico 1-0 four days ago, St. Kitts and Nevis had a far more comfortable outing in Nassau as they will enjoy sitting top of Group F, ahead of Trinidad and Tobago, at least momentarily. Keithroy Freeman led the scoring with his brace to keep The Sugar Boyz's aspiration of reaching the next round alive.
Antigua and Barbuda bounced back after recording a disappointing 2-2 draw with Montserrat in the Group A opener and defeated Gilberto Damiano's US Virgin Islands 3-0 in St. Thomas. Quinton Griffith scored a brace and put The Benna Boys back on track ahead of tricky-looking ties with Grenada and El Salvador in June.
Three goals in each half and a Nigel Hasselbaink treble led Suriname to a comfortable 6-0 victory over an outclassed Aruba in neutral Bradenton, Florida. Victory in the Dutch-speaking derby leaves Suriname with two wins from as many matches, with group rivals Canada to face Cayman Islands on Sunday.