Ronaldo has been forced to play Portugal’s first World Cup playoff game against Switzerland after his suspension was upheld. Leroy Sane scored twice for Germany in their 3-1 win over Saudi Arabia, while Spain booked their place at Russia 2018 with a 2-0 victory over Macedonia. The final day of FIFA World Cup qualifying had its share of ups and downs as well as a few surprises.,
Portugal, Ronaldo forced to World Cup playoff, Leroy Sane dazzles for Germany, Spain book ticket, more. The Portugal national football team has lost its automatic qualification to the 2022 FIFA World Cup after a 1-0 loss at home against Israel in the second leg of their qualifying play-off match on Tuesday night.
Whoever claims the international break isn’t worth it hasn’t been paying attention to the last four days of activity. The United States dominated Mexico in CONCACAF, but there was a much to take in in Europe. Consider Portugal’s incredible challenges, or the web of probable qualifiers in Group G, where one of Norway, the Netherlands, or Turkey will be eliminated. There was also good news for Germany and Spain, although if Harry Maguire scores for England again, he may want to rethink his goal celebrations.
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Gab Marcotti responds to the greatest happenings in the world of football on Monday.
Jump to: Portugal’s Ronaldo is on the verge of a breakthrough | Norway, Turkey, and the Dutch are in chaos | Sane stands out | Tone-deaf Maguire | Spain’s stars align
Portugal on the verge of collapse… it didn’t have to be this way.
Serbia defeated Portugal 2-1 in a thrilling injury-time goal, forcing Fernando Santos’ team to the World Cup playoffs if they are to qualify for the 2022 tournament. The game played out like one of those nightmares when you know it’s all a dream and you just want to wake up, but Freddie Krueger or his doppelganger continues coming for you. Then you realize it’s not a nightmare; everything is real.
Portugal simply needed a draw to guarantee their spot in Qatar, and they couldn’t have started any better. Bernardo Silva snatched the ball from Nemanja Gudelj two minutes into the game, allowing Renato Sanches to score the game’s first goal. Dragan Stojkovic, Serbia’s coach, was enraged, believing Gudelj had been fouled and was accordingly booked.
As a neutral, you had a feeling it was going to be one of those evenings when Portugal retained possession of the ball, stroked it about, and an already nervous Serbia lost their calm. Portugal might also score a handful of goals on the break. Instead, Serbia became steely-eyed and laid siege to Rui Patricio’s goal with spooky efficiency. They struck the crossbar, pushed Portugal farther back, and were the first to every ball.
Dusan Tadic equalized immediately after the half-hour mark, but Portugal remained unresponsive. The Serbs’ creators in the center of the park, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Tadic, discovered they had time and space, but the Portuguese counter was seldom successful. And then, towards the very end, we had a moment that will go down in Serb football history. Mitrovic, who had come in at halftime, met Tadic’s far-post cross from distance and headed the winner past Rui Patricio.
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You might concentrate on that moment and argue that Portugal could have done better, and you would be correct. Mitrovic was practically unnoticed, and Sasa Lukic was right behind him. But the truth is that the goal had been approaching for some time. Mitrovic had came close to scoring only moments before. And, of course, when these sides met in Belgrade in March, Serbia came back from a two-goal deficit to tie 2-2, so there were lessons to be learnt.
Group G comes to a thrilling conclusion with a slew of gaffes.
New-look Germany thrashes Armenia, but it’s a familiar face on the field. Sane is someone who sticks out.
With Germany already qualified for the World Cup and five players having tested positive for COVID-19 or been placed in self-isolation, Hansi Flick took advantage of the trip to Armenia to test some new(ish) remedies.
In the 4-1 victory, Jonas Hofmann, David Raum, Florian Neuhaus, Thilo Kehrer, and Jonathan Tah all started, but arguably the most encouraging evidence for Germany supporters was confirmation that Leroy Sane is playing some of his greatest football.
The Bayern winger is an unusual case. He was a bright spark at Schalke and was dominating in Manchester City’s first two seasons before being hindered by uneven play and injuries. That trend persisted in his first season at Bayern. He’s at the peak of his game now, both on and off the ball (he’s unplayable at times) (where his pressing movement and work rate have improved tremendously). He won’t be 26 until January, and despite his “lost seasons,” he might be on his way to being acknowledged as one of the top wingers in the world, as many of us predicted.
With his score celebration, Maguire fails to read the atmosphere.
Gabriele Marcotti, a senior writer for ESPN FC, has compiled all of the latest news and reactions.
A fellow United captain, Roy Keane, described it as “embarrassing.” Maguire is tone-deaf, even if he is a little over-the-top. That kind of gathering has significance. It’s what you do after a poor game when you’ve been booed and then score. Maguire has been booed by United supporters, and the great majority of them don’t seem to mind that he just scored the game’s first goal in a de facto meaningless qualifier against Albania. They will most likely do so if he and his side play well against Watford next weekend.
It’s sometimes better to simply look around and recall who you are.
Luis Enrique and Spain have the stars aligned in their favor.
It’s easy to forget how bleak things appeared for Spain and Luis Enrique only a week ago on paper. While Spain’s march to the Euro 2020 semifinals, he was already regarded with suspicion by the public for some of his selection selections and his team’s outdated tiki-taka tendencies (plenty of possession, few goals) despite missing a number of regulars (Marcos Llorente, Pedri, Ansu Fati, Mikel Oyarzabal).
With two games remaining before the international break, Spain was two points behind Sweden. The two would meet in Seville on Sunday night. Prior to that, La Roja had to go to Greece, a team that may not be much to write home about right now but had held him to a 1-1 draw in Spain at the start of qualifying, while Sweden, bolstered by the return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, flew to Georgia, a gimme on paper.
Spain won 1-0 in Athens on Thursday night, while Sweden was defeated 2-0 in Tbilisi. If the Swedes had won, the Seville encounter would have been a very different story, as they would have advanced with a tie. They needed a victory instead, and they made Spain suffer for lengthy spells, with Emil Forsberg and Alexander Isak coming close. Meanwhile, the home team dominated possession, generating opportunities but failing to register a single shot on goal until late in the game.
Luis Enrique’s decision to bring on Alvaro Morata (aka “Mister Much Maligned”) at the hour mark, rather than attempt to force a draw, paid off. He provided the sprinting in behind the defense that threw Sweden off guard, and with four minutes left, he scored the game-winning goal that took Spain to the World Cup.
Morata isn’t exactly a picture of consistency, and he often seems to be less than the sum of his parts for both club and country. (They’re also high-quality parts: strength, speed, technical prowess, and mobility.) Luis Enrique, on the other hand, may be the striker Spain needs to win the World Cup if he can make it work.
The “world cup playoff schedule” is a list of all the matches that will take place during the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The first match takes place on June 18th, with Portugal and Ronaldo forced to a playoff against Sweden. Leroy Sane dazzles for Germany as they defeat Mexico 3-0. Spain book their ticket to Russia after beating Morocco 2-1.
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