Spain earns on Sweden’s slip, Portugal pulls in Ireland
Spain, Portugal and Croatia all sat down one match from securing the World Cup qualifier, while Sweden’s hopes took a heavy blow with a surprising loss.
Spain beat Greece 1-0 thanks to Pablo Sarabia’s penalty for overtaking Sweden, which slipped to a 2-0 loss in already knocked out Georgia. Spain host Sweden on Sunday in one of three winner-takes-all matches to decide World Cup places.
Another decisive match is Portugal against Serbia after a frustrating 0-0 away for Cristiano Ronaldo’s team against Ireland. Croatia and Russia are also facing a place in Qatar after both had a big win on Thursday.
Only group winners qualify automatically, and second-place teams advance to the playoffs along with two teams selected on their Nations League record. The 12 teams in the playoffs will fight for three places at next year’s World Cup in Qatar in parentheses of four teams. GROUP A Portugal’s goalless draw in Dublin was less than impressive, but it was enough. The point Portugal earned against Ireland saw it easier before group rival Serbia in the position on goal difference. This means that a draw for Portugal is enough to qualify automatically when they host Serbia in Lisbon on Sunday. They drew 2-2 in their previous match in the qualifying cycle. It was a bittersweet match for veteran defender Pepe, who became the oldest player to start a match for Portugal at the age of 38, but was sent off for two warnings and will be suspended for the decisive match against Serbia. Next year’s World Cup host Qatar was beaten 4-0 by Serbia in a friendly match for its seventh win-free match in a row and the third match in a row without scoring a goal. Qatar play friendly matches at home and away against teams from Group A alongside the qualifying tournament, without much success. If Qatar’s results were included in the group table, it would be ranked fifth of the six teams, above only Azerbaijan, with the group’s worst defensive record with 20 goals conceded.
GROUP B Sweden had fate in their own hands in the qualifiers, and let it slide.
The twenty-year-old winger Khvicha Kvaratskhelia in Rubin Kazan is perhaps a little known outside the Russian league where he usually plays, but he had a big impact with two goals in the second half to surprise Sweden.
It gave Spain the chance to go around Sweden and take advantage of before the decisive match against the Swedes on Sunday.
Spain had to work hard in their 1-0 victory over Greece, sealed with a penalty, but moved one point ahead of Sweden. Spain only needs to avoid defeat against Sweden in Seville. They drew 0-0 in the same city this year at the European Championships.
The defeat against Spain ensured that Greece could not qualify. GROUP H Russia and Croatia won big against over-matched opponents in matches that were only a warm-up for their qualifying decision. Croatia will host Russia on Sunday and the winner will automatically qualify for the World Cup, and Russia will advance if there is a draw.
Russia put down a mark with a 6-0 demolition of Cyprus and Croatia responded with a 7-1 hammering of Malta with two goals from Lovro Majer. Malta’s goal also came from a Croatian player, when Marcelo Brozovic made it 2-1 in his own goal in the first half.
If the 2018 World Cup runner-up Croatia is to automatically qualify for next year’s tournament in Qatar, it must be the first team to beat Russia under new coach Valery Karpin. His team has only conceded once in six games under Karpin.
GROUP J Germany have already qualified for the World Cup and won 9-0 against Liechtenstein after early concerns for midfielder Leon Goretzka when he was hit in the head and neck by an opponent’s boot. Goretzka was good, and the incident led to an early red card for Liechtenstein and a penalty for starting the shooter. Leroy Sané and Thomas Müller finished with two goals each and there were two own goals. Northern Macedonia leads the race for a playoff spot after defeating Armenia 5-0 and securing second place with a victory over Iceland on Sunday. Romania’s qualifiers got a bang with a 0-0 draw against Iceland.
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