What we learned from the first World Cup qualifiers

The UEFA EURO 2016 finalists looked a little listless, while penalties and late goals set the tone for an exciting flurry of FIFA World Cup qualifiers.

©UEFA.com

What do you think of our choices? What stood out for you? Let us know using #WCQ on @EuroQualifiers

Sunday
Group C: Norway 0-3 Germany, Norway 0-3 Germany, San Marino 0-1 Azerbaijan
Group E: Denmark 1-0 Armenia, Kazakhstan 2-2 Poland, Romania 1-1 Montenegro
Group F: Slovakia 0-1 England, Lithuania 2-2 Slovenia, Malta 1-5 Scotland

Monday
Group D
: Georgia 1-2 Austria, Wales 4-0 Moldova, Serbia 2-2 Republic of Ireland
Group G: Spain 8-0 Liechtenstein, Israel 1-2 Italy, Albania 2-1 FYR Macedonia
Group I: Finland 1-1 Kosovo, Croatia 1-1 Turkey, Ukraine 1-1 Iceland

Tuesday
Group A: Sweden 1-1 Netherlands, Belarus 0-0 France, Bulgaria 4-3 Luxembourg
Group B: Switzerland 2-0 Portugal, Faroe Islands 0-0 Hungary, Andorra 0-1 Latvia
Group H: Bosnia and Herzegovina 5-0 Estonia, Cyprus 0-3 Belgium, Gibraltar 1-4 Greece

Highlights: How Switzerland beat Portugal
Highlights: How Switzerland beat Portugal
  • Going gets tough for UEFA EURO 2016 finalists

Portugal were the victors at UEFA EURO 2016, beating France in the final despite losing Cristiano Ronaldo to injury early on, but they looked less than lively as they came to grief in their opening FIFA World Cup qualifier. Switzerland were good value for their 2-0 win in Basel, with the Real Madrid talisman absent through injury – and not reprising his rabble-rousing performance from the touchline in Paris.

France have still to shake off the disappointment of losing that EURO final on home soil and have more cause for ennui after a goalless start to their qualifying campaign in Belarus. Olivier Giroud hit the bar in the second half while Antoine Griezmann was twice denied by home goalkeeper Andrei Gorbunov.

England's dramatic late winner
England's dramatic late winner
  • Late goals mean a lot early in qualifying

Everyone has nine games to go but sides may yet be very grateful for, or rueful about, points gained or dropped at the end of this week's matches. On Sunday in added time alone, England got their winner in Slovakia and Slovenia equalised in Lithuania, while Romania struck late only to be denied victory by Montenegro.

Then on Monday the Republic of Ireland made it 2-2 in Serbia and Italy, Wales and Spain all scored for an early boost to their goal difference (which, in this competition, counts before head-to-head as a tie-breaker). Tuesday began with Albania's 89th-minute clincher in their weather-delayed game against FYR Macedonia and there were further late goals as Bulgaria conceded an added-time equaliser against Luxembourg only to hit a winner before the final whistle.

Kosovo make history
Kosovo make history
  • Kosovo straight into contention

Several of Kosovo's players were only cleared by FIFA to play in Finland on the day of Monday's game but they were unfortunate not to open up a two-point lead in Group I. With plenty of support in Turku, Kosovo had the better of play yet, perhaps reflecting the team's lack of time together, they fell behind after a defensive mix-up followed an 18th-minute Finland corner.

Their deserved point came from a penalty on the hour by Valon Berisha, who did not score in 18 outings for Norway. Kosovo – with their distinctive kit of blue shirts and yellow shorts – welcome Croatia to Shkoder and visit Ukraine in October and after that we will know if they really can challenge in a group containing four nations that qualified for UEFA EURO 2016.

Kazakhstan comeback
Kazakhstan comeback
  • Who will be the surprise package this time?

In those EURO qualifiers, Albania, Iceland, Northern Ireland and Wales upset the odds to reach France, and they kept on surprising once there. These countries would still be the surprise qualifiers if they succeeded en route to Russia since only 13 rather than 23 sides can make it to the global finals from UEFA – Albania and Iceland having never played at a World Cup, Wales not since 1958 and Northern Ireland since 1986.

Two other nations, both in the very open Group E, could also have a case. Kazakhstan came from 2-0 down against Poland to draw and Montenegro grabbed a point in Romania having fallen behind in the 85th minute. Montenegro and Kazakhstan face off on 8 October.

PLAY DAILY 11s AND WIN

Italy win in Israel
Italy win in Israel
  • Penalties galore

Usually penalties are a talking point once we get to final tournaments and shoot-outs but they certainly made a difference this week. Poland's lead in Kazakhstan came from the spot, so did Scotland's crucial third in Malta, Italy's second in Israel, Serbia's 2-1 goal against Ireland, one of Gareth Bales two for Wales and of course Berisha's historic strike for Kosovo. Meanwhile, Romania and Ukraine were both denied victories by late missed penalties.

Snograss hat-trick
Snograss hat-trick
  • Watch out for Snodgrass's Scotland?

The top scorers in UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying were Robert Lewandowski, Zlatan Ibrahimović and Thomas Müller, all of whom made it to France. So perhaps it is worth keeping an eye on Scotland, whose midfielder Robert Snodgrass got the week's only hat-trick (just the second player to do so in 47 years for his country). 

Considering Snodgrass sat out Scotland's entire EURO campaign through injury, there might be optimism that Gordon Strachan's team can make up for being the only British nation absent from France. Snodgrass said in Malta: "Nights like tonight make it all worthwhile. I missed the entire campaign last time and it was hard watching as a fan. I did some media work too but there's nothing like pulling on that jersey and scoring for your country."

TAKE THE CHALLENGE: EUROPEAN QUALIFIERS MATCH PREDICTOR

What do you think of our choices? What stood out for you? Let us know using #WCQ on @EuroQualifiers.

Bulgaria v Luxembourg: seven-goal thriller
Bulgaria v Luxembourg: seven-goal thriller

Next Week of Football: 6–11 October

Highlights

Thursday 6 October: Italy v Spain, Austria v Wales
Friday 7 October: Hungary v Switzerland, France v Bulgaria
Saturday 8 October: Poland v Denmark, Germany v Czech Republic
Sunday 9 October: Iceland v Turkey, Albania v Spain
Monday 10 October: Netherlands v France, Faroe Islands v Portugal
Tuesday 11 October: Germany v Northern Ireland, Slovenia v England

Top