Ireland halt Portugal


Portugal failed to take advantage of their game in hand over Serbia in Group A of 2022 World Cup qualifying as Cristiano Ronaldo was shut out by an inspired Ireland side in a 0-0 draw at the Aviva Stadium on Thursday night.

Despite all the criticism of Stephen Kenny and his team during this qualification campaign, Ireland drew energy from an electric crowd in Dublin in order to keep a much more talented Portugal team at bay.

Portugal’s point put them back to the top of the group, ahead of Serbia, albeit the two teams are level on points heading into the final stages of qualifying.

Many expected Ronaldo and Portugal to run riot against Ireland, but that was not to be the case with the visitors only having one shot on goal, compared to the two had by the Irish team.

Gavin Bazunu was forced to make an outstanding save to thwart Andre Silva in the 14th minute, with the RB Leipzig forward aiming for the far-left corner, but merely firing the ball into the hands of the Irish stopper.

Portugal failed to make the most of their early possession, although they had a penalty claim turned down on the half-hour, which the referee simply ignored.

Ireland grew into the game, taking confidence from all of Portugal’s wasted possession, and it wasn’t long before they had chances of their own through Callum Robinson and John Egan.

Robinson fired a cross into the penalty area, finding a dangerous area, only for a Portuguese defender to scramble the effort clear.

Whereas Egan had a glaring chance fall to him just yards away from goal, however, the defender could only mistime his jump and head the ball clean over the crossbar.

The 67th minute saw the first moment of Ronaldo brilliance as the Manchester United talisman rose high above all Ireland’s defenders inside the penalty area, although his header was surprisingly wayward.

Portugal appeared to have run empty on ideas as the match entered the final 10 minutes, and their task was made harder when Pepe was sent off after being shown a second yellow card, even though the defender hadn’t remembered he was walking the disciplinary tightrope.

Five minutes of added time were a chance for Ireland to make the most of their man-advantage and claim a famous home victory, yet in what was a match of even chances, the hosts couldn’t find the magic pass to unlock the rear-guard defensive action of Fernando Santos’ charges.

The ball did go in the net via Matt Doherty, but it was immediately ruled out for a foul by Will Keane in the build-up.

Whilst qualification was already off the table for Ireland, performances like this will give Stephen Kenny a strong platform to make his case to stay in charge of the team ahead of the Euro 2024 program.

For Portugal, they will need positive results in their final three matches to ensure they don’t have to qualify for the World Cup via the dangerous play-off route.

Spain beat Greece

pain are on the verge of clinching a berth to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar after beating Greece 1-0 with a first-half Pablo Sarabia penalty on Thursday night at the Olympic Stadium in Athens.

By virtue of the result in Athens and Georgia’s surprising 2-0 win over Sweden earlier in the day, Spain only need a draw on Sunday in their qualifying finale against Sweden in Seville to punch their ticket to Qatar.

There were many novelties to the starting XI from head coach Luis Enrique, notably with debutant Raul de Tomas up top at forward with Alvaro Morata, while Dani Carvajal and Jose Luis Gaya manned the full-back positions, Inigo Martinez was slotted in at centre-back and Rodri came in for Sergio Busquets in midfield.

The aforementioned De Tomas was presented with the first chance of the night when played in all alone in front of the Greek goal, but the Espanyol man took too long to get control and lost the chance to even get off a clean shot.

Spain continued to pressure the Greek defence and their efforts were rewarded when Inigo Martinez was fouled in the area during a mad scramble. The referee pointed to the spot without hesitation, and after confirmation from VAR, Sarabia confidently converted the spot-kick for a 0-1 lead.

There was another scoring chance prior to intermission, this time for Morata, who received a pass from Gaya but shot right at Greece goalkeeper Odysseas Vlachodimos.

Shortly before the hour mark, Luis Enrique went to his bench for the first time, as Dani Olmo and Rodrigo Moreno came on for Sarabia and De Tomas respectively. Later it was Sergio Busquets on for Gavi and Pablo Fornals for Morata.

Spain had the upper hand but had not fully put the hosts away, making each break for a nervy moment any time the Greeks lurched forward. The late surge from Greece also fired up their supporters for the first time on the night, but Spain did well to keep their heads and were able to see things out to pocket a very valuable three points.

Germany shot Liechtenstein nine times

Germany may have secured their spot at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar already, but Hansi Flick’s team kept their foot on the gas by securing an easy 9-0 victory over Liechtenstein in Wolfsburg on Thursday night.

Prior to kick-off, German fans took the opportunity to pay tribute to the work done by Joachim Low as Germany coach with a motif held aloft behind one of the goals, thanking the former coach for his efforts.

It took just nine minutes for the Liechtenstein train to come off the tracks, with Jens Hofer being shown a straight red card for an overly aggressive challenge inside the penalty area.

The referee, Ivana Martincic, determined that it was preventing a clear goalscoring opportunity, so the double jeopardy of dismissal and penalty came into play.

Ilkay Gundogan had to wait at least two minutes before he was allowed to take the kick, but he comfortable powered an effort into the bottom right corner.

That ended the match as a competitive contest and Germany were in cruise control from that moment on.

A second goal came after 20 minutes with Daniel Kaufmann making a complete mess of an attempted clearance, turning the ball instead into his own net.

Leon Goretzka placed a perfect pass into the path of Leroy Sane inside the penalty area just two minutes later, with the two Bayern Munich players combining to make it 3-0 to the hosts.

A complete collapse from the visitors ensured we had to wait less than a single minute before it was 4-0, as Marco Reus added another goal with a well-taken rebound from close-range.

Die Mannschaft had to wait until the 51st minute to add to their scoring with VAR needed to confirm whether or not Sane’s second goal could stand.

Some fine play on the touchline from Reus saw him cut the ball back for the former Manchester City star, who easily put the ball into the left corner.

VAR determined that there had been no infringement by an offside player in front of the goalkeeper and the goal stood, ensuring that the hosts would have a healthy 5-0 advantage.

Thomas Muller made it 6-0 with 13 minutes left to play as the veteran forward buried a chance into the back of the net, whilst the seventh goal was scored five minutes later by Ridle Baku. Muller added a second in the 86th minute when he was first to a rebound inside the box.

In what was a collapse reminiscent of the one they displayed in the first half, Liechtenstein conceded a ninth goal in the 89th minute, with Max Goppel heading the ball into his own net, ensuring the visitors had conceded three in nine minutes to end the game.

Maximum points were no longer an option for the German side even before this game, and the fact Flick was able to introduce some young players in the form of Lukas Nmecha and Florian Neuhaus was encouraging ahead of the tournament in Qatar next winter.

Croatia steamroll Malta

Croatia didn’t have to get out of second gear as they beat Malta 7-1 in World Cup qualification at the Ta’Qali National Stadium on Thursday night, with Luka Modric being among the players to have got on the scoresheet for Zlatko Dalic’s side.

In fact, Croatia’s victory was in the bag by half-time and they only added the icing on top in the second half.

Ivan Perisic got the party started by scoring in the sixth minute, and that was followed up by Duje Caleta-Car getting his name on the scoresheet 16 minutes later.

An own goal from Marcelo Brozovic in the 31st minute made things interesting, but only for eight minutes, as Mario Pasalic re-established Croatia’s two-goal lead.

Just shy of the half-time break, Modric got forward from midfield and found the back of the net to ensure that Croatia went 4-1 ahead.

Three goals followed in the second half, with Lovro Majer netting in the 47th and 64th minutes, while Andrej Kramaric scored in between in the 53rd minute.

This victory means that Croatia now have 20 points from nine games, two points behind leaders Russia. And you guessed it: on Sunday, Croatia will host Russia in Split on Sunday to determine who finishes top of Group H.

Georgia stun Sweden

A brace from Khvicha Kvaratskhelia earned Georgia a shock win and dented Sweden’s qualification hopes.

Sweden started slowly before gradually asserting themselves, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alexander Isak both missing straightforward chances. But Georgia did not set up simply to survive, looking to counter at every opportunity, and it was they who came closer to scoring, Saba Lobzhanidze smacking a cross-shot that clipped the outside of Robin Olsen’s post.

Then, on 61 minutes, Sweden conceded a free-kick 30 yards out, which Tornike Okriashvili chipped in, and though Olsen saved from Irakli Azarov, Kvaratskhelia was on-hand to ram home the rebound.

That ought to have initiated a Swedish onslaught, but the away side struggled to respond, and it was little surprise when Georgia scored again on 77 minutes, Kvaratskhelia finishing calmly after fighting past Victor Lindelof’s wimpish challenge. The performance came too late to affect their qualification prospects, but the speed and enterprise of their attacking augurs well for the future.

Sweden must now win in Spain, who won 1-0 in Greece to seize the top spot, in their final group game to qualify automatically for Qatar. Anything else and it’s the playoffs.


Courtesy: MARCA

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