No Eden Hazard, no problem (for the time being at least). Tougher assignments await in the summer but Belgium were impressive in the 3-1 win against Wales on Wednesday despite falling behind to a sumptuous Harry Wilson goal after 10 minutes. Kevin De Bruyne was magnificent, and equalised with a dipping long-range shot, and the Belgium coach, Roberto Martínez, praised the “personality and bravery” of the team on a poor pitch.
The Jogi Löw farewell tour could not have started in a better way, Leon Goretzka and Kai Havertz scoring to put Germany 2-0 up against Iceland within seven minutes. Ilkay Gündogan added a third after 56 minutes in a wholly satisfying 3-0 win. It was their first game since the 6-0 defeat in Spain and Löw admitted he had used that game as motivation. “The difference was that this time there was passion on the pitch,” admitted Goretzka. Jamal Musiala made his debut as a 78th-minute substitute, becoming Germany’s fourth youngest player in the process.
“Today we respected the game and went about it in the right way,” Gareth Southgate said after the 5-0 win against San Marino, and the England manager had a point. San Marino are the worst team in the world – ranked 210 out of 210 – so it was a question of how many England would score, but there were a few positives to take, chiefly James Ward-Prowse’s performance in midfield and a debut goal from Ollie Watkins with his first shot.
In an instantly forgettable game, Portugal did enough to beat Azerbaijan 1-0 with an own goal from Maksim Medvedev. Fernando Santos gave debuts to Nuno Mendes and João Palhinha (both Sporting) but this was a tepid performance with Portugal creating only three proper chances against defensive opponents, adding fuel to the argument that they perform better without Cristiano Ronaldo. Diogo Jota spent the game on the bench but expect him to get time on the pitch against Serbia on Saturday.
“This is not PlayStation,” said the France coach, Didier Deschamps, after his experiment with 4-4-2 backfired in the lacklustre 1-1 draw against Ukraine. “You need balance, substitutes,” he added. Antoine Griezmann scored a wonderful goal but then questioned the tactics. “We maybe needed some more offensive players who are able to go one-against-one down the sides,” he said.
After the deluge against Germany in November it was a return to familiar failings against Greece. Spain dominated possession (78%) but were unable to take their chances and were punished when Iñigo Martínez gave away a second-half penalty. Tasos Bakasetas made no mistake and the game finished 1-1. Two debutants, Pedri and Bryan Gil, brought fresh impetus as substitutes but it was not enough. “We lacked that little bit of inspiration,” Enrique said.
Senol Gunes’s side produced one of the most impressive performances of the first round of games, deservedly beating the Netherlands 4-2 after a Burak Yilmaz hat-trick. The final goal was the pick, a wonderful free-kick into the top corner, but there were positives all over the pitch for the coach, including the 24-year-old goalkeeper Ugurcan Cakir, who played well and saved a penalty (though he might have done better for the Netherlands’ second goal).
“The first half was almost perfect,” said Roberto Mancini after the 2-0 victory against Northern Ireland, “but I must discuss the second half with my players.” The performances of Domenico Berardi and Ciro Immobile up front were the main positives for Italy but it was also clear they missed Jorginho.
On a highly satisfying day for Danish football, Kasper Hjulmand’s side beat Israel away 2-0 without much trouble, after the Under-21s defeated France and it emerged that 12,000 fans will be allowed in for Euro 2020 games in Copenhagen should they go ahead. The most impressive thing against Israel was perhaps that Christian Eriksen was poor but that it did not matter. Simon Kjær and Jonas Wind stood out, the latter scoring and assisting.
What a start for Vladimir Petkovic’s side against Bulgaria. They overwhelmed their opponents and were 3-0 up after 13 minutes. That has never happened in the national team’s 116-year history, according to Blick. Petkovic called up 10 new players and that appears to have rejuvenated the setup. Xherdan Shaqiri stood out.
11) Czech Republic
A satisfying few days for the coach, Jaroslav Silhavy, who saw his team overwhelm Estonia, winning 6-2 despite going a goal down. West Ham’s Tomas Soucek scored a perfect hat-trick – header, right foot and left foot – but goal of the night came from Antonin Barak, who somehow managed to, in three touches, backheel the ball to himself and flick it behind his back before finishing. Vladimir Darida had a good game too but tougher opponents, in Belgium and Wales, await.
This was all about Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s return but apart from a terrific assist for the only goal in the 1-0 win over Georgia, the Milan forward and Sweden never really got going. Janne Andersson had selected an unusually attacking lineup with the 39-year-old returnee, Alexander Isak, Dejan Kulusevski and Victor Claesson but chances were few and far between and Georgia could have equalised towards the end.
Paulo Sousa’s first game did not go according to plan, his team falling 2-0 behind against Hungary before his substitutions led to a comeback and a 3-3 draw. The Portuguese had only had four training sessions and his initial 4-4-2 did not work out but it did get better with the introduction of Piotr Zielinski after 59 minutes and a switch to 3-4-3.
It had been a difficult buildup to the game against Scotland for Franco Foda with uncertainty over whether the sizeable contingent from Germany could play. After a relaxation in quarantine rules they were available but Foda, already without Martin Hinteregger, Julian Baumgartlinger, Konrad Laimer and Marko Arnautovic, then lost Marcel Sabitzer to an injury on match day. Unsurprisingly, Austria looked somewhat disjointed but dominated large parts of the 2-2 draw and the 23-year-old striker Sasa Kalajdzic continued his upward trajectory with his first two international goals on his third cap.
“There were murmurs of Brazil in the celebration,” Connor Roberts said in trying to sum up the feeling after Wilson and Gareth Bale combined to score one of Wales’s finest goals for years against Belgium. They lost 3-1 but could be pleased with the performance. Energy levels did not drop despite going behind – and losing Joe Allen to injury early on – and the front trio of Wilson, Bale and Daniel James looked effervescent.
Andriy Shevchenko’s team produced an almost perfect tactical display in the 1-1 draw with the World Cup holders, France. True, Ukraine’s goal was an own goal by Presnel Kimpembe, but they did not allow France many chances. “In the first 30 minutes we had problems but we corrected them,” Shevchenko said.
The 2018 World Cup finalists are on a worrying sequence of one win in 10 away competitive fixtures since that glorious summer in Russia, and looked somewhat bereft of ideas as they lost 1-0 to Slovenia. Zlatko Dalic set the team up in a 4-4-2 but it became more of a 4-3-3 with Nikola Vlasic up front and Andrej Kramaric and Ivan Perisic on the wings. Dalic tried to change things when chasing an equaliser but apart from Vlasic hitting the woodwork this was a pretty toothless display.
A chastening evening for Frank de Boer’s side, going 3-0 down before finally losing 4-2 against Turkey. De Boer’s ability as a coach was questioned when he was chosen to replace Ronald Koeman last September, and that feeling has intensified. There is a lot of “I told you so” in the Netherlands. The performance lacked coherence or energy and, although there was a late rally, and a missed penalty, defeat was deserved.
Russia did what they had to do against Malta, winning 3-1, but the game was in the balance until the third goal in the 89th minute, scored by Spartak’s Aleksandr Sobolev. Artem Dzyuba scored to move second in the all-time goalscoring chart for Russia, three behind Aleksandr Kerzhakov. The coach, Stanislav Cherchesov, had warned of Malta’s quality and was satisfied.
Normally two points dropped at home in a qualifier would result in disappointment but Steve Clarke chose to highlight as a positive his team’s refusal to give up against Austria. Twice Scotland had to come behind and twice they did. The goalkeeping position for Sunday’s game in Israel raises questions given David Marshall’s lack of action at Derby and role in Austria’s first goal but there were good performances from Kieran Tierney and Scott McTominay and Che Adams made his debut.
Hungary would have taken a draw against Poland before the game but considering they were 2-0 up and in control the 3-3 felt a bit like a defeat. The coach, Marco Rossi, continued with his 3-5-2 and for a large part an organised defence cut the supply lines to Robert Lewandowski. The one time the Bayern striker was afforded room, he scored. Roland Sallai looked threatening up front and Adam Szalai grew in confidence after his first international goal since November 2019.
The Finns had hoped to win their home game against Bosnia-Herzegovina but it ended in a disappointing 2-2 draw. Teemu Pukki scored both Finland’s goals, underlining his importance, but lapses in defence did for Markku Kanerva’s team. Kanerva played a 3-5-2 but the team struggled with Bosnia’s high press. “We have to analyse carefully how our defensive setup worked,” the coach said. “On the other hand it was good that we created so many chances against a tough team.”
A bad night at the office for Slovakia, who started their qualifying campaign with a disjointed 0-0 draw against Cyprus. The coach, Stefan Tarkovic, was without the injured Marek Hamsik but this was still a very negative approach against opponents who should have been beaten. The deployment of three defensive-minded midfielders – Patrik Hrosovsky, Matus Bero and Juraj Kucka – meant there was not enough support for the attack. Cyprus might have won but for several saves by Martin Dubravka.
24) North Macedonia
The tournament outsiders thought they had rescued a point away against Romania, having fought from 2-0 down to level with two late goals, but then allowed Ianis Hagi to score the winner with four minutes remaining. The coach, Igor Angelovski, will rue a missed opportunity but you cannot defend like North Macedonia did on Thursday and expect to get something against a country ranked in the world’s top 40.