THE DAY REPLAYED – It often seems that international teams are in a constant state of renewal, as experienced stalwarts give way to the latest wunderkinds. But now and again veterans get a second chance to show what they can do, as England’s Jermain Defoe and Germany’s Mario Gomez did with aplomb during the latest round of European qualifying matches for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.
FIFA.com *runs the rule over all of Sunday’s qualifying action. *
Group C: Azerbaijan 1-4 Germany, San Marino 0-6 Czech Republic, Northern Ireland 2-0 Norway
Group E: Armenia 2-0 Kazakhstan, Montenegro 1-2 Poland, Romania 0-0 Denmark
Group F: England 2-0 Lithuania, Malta 1-3 Slovakia, Scotland 1-0 Slovenia* *
Match of the day
*Montenegro 1-2 Poland
First travelled to second in *Group E, *and leaders *Poland took the lead through their star forward and captain, Robert Lewandowski, who fired home a gem of a free-kick. In the second half, Montenegro stepped up the pressure and found a deserved equaliser via Stefan Mugosa, much to the delight of the home crowd. It wasn’t to be for the Hrabri Sokoli, *however, as the experienced Lukasz Piszczek lobbed a crucial winner for the Poles eight minutes from time.
In *Group C, world champions *Germany *took another step towards defending their title in Russia next year by outclassing a plucky *Azerbaijan *side 4-1. Mario Gomez, who was not included in *Die Nationalelf’s squad for Brazil 2014 and who was not even certain to travel to UEFA EURO 2016 (although Joachim Low eventually took him to France), once again proved his worth to his country, heading home the third goal in Baku. Andre Schurrle and Thomas Muller, who have had inconsistent seasons at club level, gave themselves a confidence boost by also getting on the scoresheet.
Two of the Czech Republic’s *three largest-ever wins have come against *San Marino: 7-0, in 2006, and then again in 2009. On Sunday, the Czechs came close to equalling that scoreline, but in the end they had to be content with a 6-0 victory. Northern Ireland, meanwhile, snatched the lead versus *Norway *in the second minute through Jamie Ward. Conor Washington’s goal sealed a 2-0 success, which enabled Michael O’Neill’s men to retain second spot in the section.
Back in* Group E, Armenia defeated *Kazakhstan *2-0 in Yerevan, their captain and high-profile playmaker Henrik Mkhitaryan scoring the opening goal of a win that keeps his country in a four-way race for second place behind frontrunners *Poland. *Two of the other teams vying for that runners-up slot, Romania* and *Denmark, *drew 0-0.
Now 34, and three and a half years after his last international match, Jermain Defoe showed that he still has something to offer at this level, finding the net in the 22nd minute of England’s comfortable 2-0 win over Lithuania. The Three Lions, who are still to concede a goal in Group F, thereby preserved their significant lead at the top, ahead of Slovakia, who came away from Malta *with three points, and *Slovenia, who were beaten late on by a resurgent Scotland.
Player of the day
*If recent events are anything to go by, playing in Turin can do wonders for a goalkeeping career. After Juventus No1 Gianluigi Buffon celebrated his 1,000th professional match, his Torino counterpart *Joe Hart had his own moment in the sun. Hart’s clean sheet against Lithuania enabled England to become the only team in World Cup qualifying, all confederations combined, not to have let in a single goal. Remarkably, the English goal has not been breached for a total of 450 minutes.*
4 – Against Northern Ireland, Norway fell to their fourth defeat in five qualifying matches, and are now highly likely to miss out on Russia 2018. Having finished top of their qualifying groups for USA 1994 and France 1998, the Scandinavians subsequently missed out on the four World Cups that followed, and will probably have to wait another four years to gain another chance of returning to the global stage.* *
Did you know?
*If England are now the only team not to have conceded a goal thus far, it is down to Germany having to pick the ball out of their own net for the first time during this qualifying campaign. It was the sprightly *Dimitrij Nazarov who managed to pick the lock of the German defence, a feat he is likely to boast about when his returns to his club, 2. Bundesliga outfit Erzgebirge Aue. In fact, the Azerbaijani front man has played his football in Germany since 2009.
What they said
*“We allowed them into the match a lot more than we should have. We were a little bit arrogant – I don't think that's a good thing. That made the game much more difficult than it needed to be,” *Germany defender Mats Hummels.