The World Cup Qualifiers started in Europe over the weekend as the road to Russia 2018 began.
In Europe, 54 teams are engaged for 13 spots: each 9 group winner will advance automatically to Russia and the best 8 group runners-up will contest for the 4 remaining spots. More than ever the qualifications are wide opened and we should see some stunning upsets until November 2017 [end of qualifications].
The Euro 2016 winners – Portugal
Portugal struggled mightily in Switzerland and suffered an opening 2-0 defeat. The Portuguese sans-Cristiano [injured during Euro 2016 Final] were not able to surf on their recent success and already against the wall before day 2 of the qualifiers. It is the third consecutive loss in Basel (SUI) for Portugal after two defeats in UEFA Euro 2008. Prior to the match coach Santos was confident: “We’re the European champions. We’ll be the European champions until 2020. The pressure is over until then. We have no extra weight on our shoulders and want to try and qualify for the World Cup as quickly as possible.” Well, it did not start quite the way he thought!
Euro 2016 runners-up – France
The French were not able to secure a win and could not beak the deadlock in Belarus who played very well defensively but also creating the few chances that could have upset Les Bleus. Coach Deschamps said “We lacked efficiency” to summarize the game. Here are his comments post-game: “ We can always do better. We could have done better in the first half. We lacked the technical quality and percussion. In the second half we did everything but we lacked efficiency. That’s also football. We tried everything having percussion and speed. We did what it took to create mismatches but to win, you have to score. There will be other complicated matches. It is a complicated and homogeneous group. It’s a long road, tonight, we left two points. We will not be under pressure for the next game, but we will need a victory against Bulgaria.”
Both results were very hard to predict as the French and Portuguese were ready to launch their campaign for Russia. After beating Italy in an exhibition game few days before, the online casino UK had them favorites in Belarus and a better performance from Portugal was also expected even without Cristiano Ronaldo. A team that were a major embarrassment in France last July also took on the pitch with a new coach: England.
Following an early exit in the round of 16 against Iceland [2-1], the Three Lions were back in action in Slovakia, a team they played in the Euro group stage for a 0-0 result. A late goal from Lallana guaranteed the first win for Allardyce in his coaching debut.
The World Champions Germany debut their campaign in Norway with a convincing 3-0 win. Muller scored a brace and his 7th-game scoreless streak came to an end. Germany are now undefeated in their past 24 World Cup qualifiers with 19 wins, for a pretty impressive record.
The road to Russia 2018 campaign continued in Israel where Italy came back victorious 3-1. Despite seeing red with Chiellini at the 55th minute (the score was 2-1 for the Azzuri), the Italian scored a late goal and secure group first place.
Belgium opened the Qualifiers with an easy win in Cyprus 3-0. The Red Devils are now unbeaten in 14 opening matches on the road to major international tournaments. Their last defeat was in 1960!
Netherlands, a team that failed to qualify to the Euro 2016 France, started on the road in Sweden and brought point back with a 1-1 result. Spain rout Liechtenstein 8-0 despite only being up 1-0 at the break. Wales is on a good start with a 4-0 victory over Moldova, and a brace from Gareth Bales who is only four goals away from the national record.
Finally Poland dropped 2 points in Kazakhstan with a 2-2 draw. Lewandowski was on target for a confortable 2-0 lead at the break. But a brace from Khizhnichenko in just 7 minutes sealed a disappointing effort from the last Euro Quarterfinalists.
History was also made during the first day of the World Cup qualifiers when Kosovo played their first-ever international game sanctioned by FIFA. Kosovo not only scored a goal from Berisha, but also brought a point in on their debut competitive international at any level.
Gibraltar also made some noise on their debut when Walker netted country’s first-ever goal in a competitive FIFA match but finally lost 4-1 to Euro 2004 winner Greece.
The European World Cup Qualifiers will resume early October for more action!