Soccer

Seven THINGS WE LEARNED from the World Cup qualifiers

Gareth Southgate still has game management problems, Timo Werner and Eden Hazard look back to their best and Scotland have a real chance of reaching Qatar… seven THINGS WE LEARNED from World Cup qualifiers

  • The September World Cup qualifiers for European teams have come to an end 
  • England, Portugal and Germany were some of the impressive teams this month 
  • France and Italy struggled in their first few matches of the international break
  • Sportsmail looks at seven things we learned from the World Cup qualifiers…

That’s that for the September international break for the European teams. But before we can rejoice about club football returning, there’s a debriefing of the World Cup qualifiers to do. 

Excitement about the World Cup is growing with the likes of England, Portugal and Germany showing their free-scoring abilities, with France and Italy enduring a difficult week or so. Hey, even Scotland managed to win. 

And with just a handful of games left in the European qualifying section, and the Qatar World Cup just 14 months away now, Sportsmail analyses the things we learned from this international break… 

September’s World Cup qualifiers are over with England one of the in-form European sides

Sportsmail looks at seven things we learned from the European qualifying section this month

Southgate still lacking in game management skills

England’s 1-1 draw with Poland is not the end of the world for the unbeaten Three Lions, who still look on course to qualify comfortably for the Qatar World Cup. 

But the stalemate did revive more critics about England boss Gareth Southgate’s in-game tactics. 

England were pegged back by Damian Szymanski’s 92nd-minute equaliser after Harry Kane had put the visitors in front at a raucous Warsaw arena, but Southgate was slammed by fans for failing to make a single substitution on Thursday night. 

Gareth Southgate did not make any substitutions during England’s 1-1 draw in Poland this week

This is not the first time Southgate’s game management skills have been questioned, with the national team boss accused of freezing during their World Cup and Nations League semi-finals in 2018 and 2019 – which ended in defeat. 

His substitutions in the Euro 2020 final were also questioned, especially the extra-time introductions of Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford who were brought on to take penalties – only for them both to miss.  

On Thursday in Poland, Southgate kept the same 11 on the pitch, claiming that his side were in ‘complete control’ – despite the score only being 1-0 towards the end of the game with his side starting to tire.  

The Three Lions players looked tired as they conceded a 92-minute equaliser to their hosts

England have a track history of being sloppy late on in matches, particularly under Southgate. The World Cup last-16 equaliser for Colombia in 2018, the late defeat to Czech Republic in Euros qualifying, the Nations League penalty drama in Iceland last year and Thomas Muller’s late miss for Germany earlier this summer. The list could go on…

Southgate has to do more to try and eliminate those errors, and making tactical substitutions to slow down the game can certainly help that. 

It is not a massive criticism given England’s strong position in their qualifying group, but getting into this habit could help Southgate and the Three Lions when the big games do come along.

France and Italy show how difficult these qualifiers can actually be 

One positive for Southgate is that England have seven points from a possible nine in qualifying, which is particularly impressive given how the other European heavyweights have fared this month. 

Didier Deschamps’ France had far from the perfect international break, with Les Bleus being held by Bosnia & Herzegovina and Ukraine in their first two September matches. 

France suffered a tricky start to their September games with draws to Bosnia and Ukraine

France fell behind in both games and accumulated a total of just seven shots on target across the two matches – which is not what one expects from a strike force containing Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Karim Benzema. 

Deschamps’ men managed to pick up a 2-0 victory over Finland to round off this month’s action, but European champions Italy joined France in enduring a difficult week or so. 

Roberto Mancini’s side were also held twice this month, at home to Bulgaria and away to Switzerland – who they thrashed 3-0 in the Euro 2020 group stage earlier this summer. 

Italy also drew twice to Bulgaria and Switzerland as their Euro 2020 hangover begins 

The Azzurri team for both those matches was more or less the same side that won them the European Championships, which hints that teams are slowly working out how to limit Italy’s attacking options.

Credit must therefore go to Southgate for keeping England winning while other minnows claim scalps over Europe’s best. 

Scotland can actually make the World Cup

At the start of this international break, the picture looked rather bleak and familiar for Steve Clarke’s Scotland. Fourth in the table, just five points to their name and behind in the spot for a World Cup play-off spot.

But how the tables have turned. Two 1-0 victories over Moldova and Austria, both coming courtesy of Lyndon Dykes strikes, has put the Scots in control of their destiny again. 

Scotland beat Moldova and Austria 1-0 this month to move up to second in their group

Clarke’s men now sit second in their group, which will be enough to reach the play-offs should they pick up enough points in their final four group games. 

Their next match sees them take on Israel at Hampden Park, who sit a point behind them in the table. Victory in that clash would boost their chances, given matches against the Faroe Islands and Moldova follow that important clash. 

Should they reach the play-offs, then it would really come down to the luck of the draw to reaching the World Cup. Teams they could face include Sweden, Switzerland and Ukraine – but Scotland could also be paired with the likes of Albania, Wales or Serbia – who they beat in the play-offs for the European Championships. 

Steve Clarke appears to have fixed the tactical question marks that faced him post-Euro 2020

More importantly for Scotland is they appear to have fixed some tactical issues that damaged them since the Euros.

The Kieran Tierney-Andy Robertson dilemma appears to have been sorted out, Dykes has started the season in phenomenal form for QPR and for country, while Billy Gilmour and Nathan Patterson are promising youngsters who are getting more and more minutes. 

There is a lot to do, but the Tartan Army can finally start dreaming of a trip to Qatar.  

Louis Van Gaal undergoing revival at Holland

The last few years have been quite difficult for the Dutch. 

Ronald Koeman quit the national team role for Barcelona, Virgil van Dijk has spent a great deal of time on the sidelines and Frank de Boer’s tenure as boss came to a dramatic and crashing halt at Euro 2020. 

There’s no surprise, however, to see them turn to a familiar face. Louis van Gaal is back at the helm to make it three spells as Holland national team boss in three different decades. 

Louis van Gaal is the man tasked with undergoing Holland’s revival after a difficult few years

The former Manchester United boss will not solve anything long-term at 70 years of age but there appears to be a lift in the Holland camp which could lead to short-term success.  

After struggling in the first part of this qualifying phase, the Oranje look back to their very best – winning two and drawing one this month and scoring 11 goals in the process. 

New Barcelona striker Memphis Depay looks on fire at the moment with five goals in his last two international matches, including a hat-trick in the 6-1 thrashing of Turkey this week. 

Van Gaal’s Holland beat Montenegro 4-0 before thrashing Turkey 6-1 in their September ties

More goals are coming from midfield as well, with Georginio Wijnaldum and Davy Klaasen becoming regular goalscorers under van Gaal, which is easing the pressure on young stars such as Donyell Malen who felt the pressure at Euro 2020. 

Van Gaal took Holland to a World Cup semi-final back in 2014. If he keeps this up then that should be the minimum requirement in Qatar next year.

Timo Werner showing he can deliver on the biggest stage

Timo Werner’s international break with Germany may be remembered for a shocking miss against Iceland on Wednesday night, but it has been a positive September stint for the Chelsea man this month. 

The 25-year-old scored in all three of Die Mannschaft’s matches in the most consistent run of goalscoring form we have seen from the forward since he made his £47.5m move to Chelsea last summer. 

It has been a tricky start to the season for Werner, who has started the season with Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea as a back-up option, especially now Romelu Lukaku is back at Stamford Bridge following his £98m return from Inter Milan. 

Timo Werner scored in all three of Germany’s matches to show he can still do it at the top

But the German forward has reminded Tuchel that he is a top-class option at Stamford Bridge, who is capable of delivering regularly at the highest level.

All of his goals this month showed his clinical edge from inside the penalty area, while the fact Kai Havertz left Werner’s shot to trickle over the line rather than tap it over himself shows a true understanding between the Chelsea pair. 

Werner’s return to form will not just help Chelsea but Germany are showing some signs of good attacking intent under Hansi Flick. Serge Gnabry has been in excellent goalscoring form for his country while Leroy Sane, Marco Reus and Havertz are showing up too.

Eden Hazard a completely different player for Belgium 

Life is not quite working out for Eden Hazard at Real Madrid. The Belgian is being outshone by Vinicius Junior in the left-wing role, while even Gareth Bale is getting more game time than him in the Spanish capital.

For Belgium, however, the 30-year-old looks like a completely different player. Hazard ended this month’s fixtures with a goal and an assist to his name in his three matches and the national team captain looks like he is heading back to his best. 

Real Madrid winger Eden Hazard looks like a completely different player for Belgium

Euro 2020 was a difficult time for Hazard, who was at times outshone by his brother Thorgan during the Red Devils’ summer before getting injured ahead of their quarter-final defeat to Italy. 

But Hazard has still possessed that panache at international level that we have not seen at Real. It just goes to show that the right environment can bring the best out of a player and the wrong one the worst. 

Could there be one more career swansong for Hazard as he enters his thirties? 

Kane shows that he’s more than a penalty expert as record closes in 

If there were any lingering doubts that Harry Kane will not break Wayne Rooney’s England goalscoring record before he retires, those question marks were put to bed during this past week.

Kane scored in all three of England’s matches to move him to 41 Three Lions goals and is now just a dozen behind Rooney’s record. 

Harry Kane scored a rare long-range goal to move closer to Wayne Rooney’s England record

The England captain’s latest strike for his country was an unusual one in terms of style. His 35-yard shot against Poland in Warsaw was just the second international goal he has netted from outside the penalty area.

Wednesday night’s goal epitomises Kane’s role for England – the man of the moment who can come up with the spectacular in the blink of an eye. 

The 27-year-old is slowly moving away from the tagline of a striker who scores a great deal of penalties and tap-ins, who rarely affects matters from open play in an England shirt.  




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