European Qualifying roundup: England triumphs, Romania wins big, Ronaldo bags hat trick

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With just three matches left in Europe’s World Cup 2014 qualification, there are many matches around the continent that have massive implications going forward.  Teams can make or break their road to Brazil with each point gained or dropped.

If you are new to the European qualification procedures, each group has six teams.  The group winners automatically qualify, and eight of the nine runners-up play a knockout match for four spots. (Group I is the exception, with only five teams).

Here’s a roundup of who grabbed the bull by the horns and who suffered major setbacks:

GROUP A:

Macedonia 2-1 Wales:

Gareth Bale, still gaining fitness after recently completing his world-record transfer to Real Madrid, watched from the bench as Wales fell on the road.  It’s a relatively meaningless game as Group A is already all but locked up by Belgium and Croatia, but Bale remains a storyline as he clearly isn’t fit enough to play for his country, so it may be a while still until he makes his Madrid debut.

Macedonian goalscorers were Aleksandar Trajkovski and Jovan Kostovski, while Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey bagged a goal for Wales on a penalty.

Scotland 0-2 Belgium:

Everton’s Kevin Mirallas scored and so did Steven Defour to put the Belgians all the way up to 19 points atop Group A.  This one’s pretty much over, but it remains to be seen whether Croatia can catch the Belgians for the automatic qualifying spot.

Serbia 1-1 Croatia:

Serbia needed a win to give themselves any hope of making Brazil 2014, but they couldn’t get it done and are all but eliminated from contention.  Mathematically they could still make it, but they’d need to win out, hope Croatia falls in all three, and they’d need to make up 6 goals in goal difference as well.

Bayern Munich’s Mario Mandzukic put the Croatians up early after the halftime break, and Aleksandar Metrovic leveled things soon after.  Each side had a player sent off as well.

GROUP B:

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Italy’s Alberto Gilardino put his country in firm position atop Group B

Czech Republic 1-2 Armenia:

A more comprehensive match recap can be found here.  The Armenians made Group B incredibly interesting, with the possibility of a three-way tie for third place after play completes tonight.

Italy 1-0 Bulgaria:

Alberto Gilardino scored for Italy to establish a foothold at the top with a four-point lead on the group. The Italians and Bulgarians both hold a game in hand, so it’s not disaster for Bulgaria, who remain in second place with 10 points.  The three teams below them will need a bit of help to make it into the top two, all sitting on nine.

Malta 1-2 Denmark:

The Danes pulled into a three-way tie for third with the win, as a Malta own goal by Ryan Camilleri proved the difference.

This group warrants keeping an eye on, not only to see who gets into second place, but also to see if that second-place finisher has enough points to move on.  Only eight of the nine group runners-up can make the knockout stage, with the deciding factor being points not including those against the 6th place finishers.

GROUP C:

This group – with Austria, Sweden, and Ireland all tied for second behind Germany coming into today – is possibly the most interesting group in European qualifying at the moment, so you can check out the Group C action in its own post here.

GROUP D:

Romania 3-0 Hungary:

The Romanians are without question one of the biggest winners on the day, having come into their match with Hungary a point behind their opponents for second place.  There’s still a lot of work to be done, but the win puts them now two points up and into a qualifying position.

Striker Ciprian Marica wasted no time getting the Romanians on top, scoring in just the second minute.  Marica, who last played with Bundesliga side Schalke, will do himself well with the goal, as he is currently a free agent looking for a team.  Mihahi Pintilii (pictured, top) put his team 2-0 before halftime, and Cristian Tanase iced it at the death for the 3-0 scoreline.

Estonia 2-2 Netherlands:

The Netherlands were almost shocked by fifth place Estonia, but they pulled out a draw to earn a point and remain in firm control of Group D.  With three matches remaining, including two against Turkey and Andorra, the Netherlands would need a massive choke to lose their leading spot.

Bayern Munich’s Arjen Robben put the Dutch 1-0 up in just the second minute, and a questionable penalty was slotted home by Robin van Persie in the fourth minute of stoppage time to cancel out a brace from Estonia’s Konstantin Vassiljev.

Turkey 5-0 Andorra:

Poor Andorra remains on zero points after their thrashing in Turkey.  The Turks with the win are in a decent position to challenge for the group’s second spot, although plenty of work remains to be done.  They now sit in fourth with 10 points, just one behind Hungary and three back of Romania.  They play Romania next, and have Estonia and the Dutch left.

Galatasaray striker Umut Bulut picked up a hat-trick for Turkey, and his club teammate Burak Yilmaz also scored.

GROUP E:

Switzerland 4-4 Iceland:

A wild match ended with Switzerland choking away a 4-1 lead, as Iceland stormed back and denied Switzerland a vital three points.  The Swiss are still at the top of the group, sitting on 15 points, but other results mean their lead is much much less comfortable.

Johann Berg Gudmundsson, a former teammate of Jozy Altidore at AZ Alkmaar, opened the scoring for Iceland in just the second minute, but a first-half brace from Stephan Lichsteiner meant Switzerland had a 3-1 lead going into halftime.  They added one more on a penalty after halftime.  However Gudmundsson collected two more after that, including the equalizer in stoppage time, to complete both his hat-trick and the comeback.

Norway 2-0 Cyprus:

A comfortable win for the Norwegians means they now sit just one point back of Switzerland in second place.  The two teams remain the clear favorites to come out of the group, with the third and fourth spots clustered a bit back, but now it remains a battle to find out who will get the automatic qualifying spot and who will be left to the wolves in a knockout game.

Slovenia 1-0 Albania:

The Albanians come out of today’s qualifying rounds as one of the biggest losers.  With Switzerland’s choke job, Albania had an opportunity to follow Norway in their climb to just below the Swiss.  Instead, a goal by young midfielder Kevin Kampl means the Albanians continue to wallow back in third place with 10 points, with Norway now four points ahead in second.

GROUP F:

source: Getty Images
Cristiano Ronaldo secured his first hat-trick for Portugal in just 16 minutes as his side completed a monstrous comeback.

Northern Ireland 2-4 Portugal:

Insanity. That’s the only way to describe this one.  With Northern Ireland winning 2-1 and Portugal a man down thanks to a straight red to Helder Postiga, it seemed the Portugese were in serious trouble.  Then Cristiano Ronaldo took over.  The Real Madrid star grabbed his first-ever hat-trick for Portugal, and did it in a 16-minute span to lead Portugal to all three points.  He was helped when Chris Brunt found himself his second yellow, and substitute Kyle Lafferty also received marching orders from referee Danny Makkelie.

The win puts the Portugese into first place by two points, although the problem for Portugal is Russia and Israel lurk below with a game (or two for Israel) in hand.  The Portugese take on the Israelis next in a crucial match.

Russia 4-1 Luxembourg:

Alexander Kokorin collected a brace – including a goal in just 20 seconds – as Fabio Capello’s side remained on pace, two back of Portugal with a game in hand.  They do not play Portugal again, although do have to play Israel early next week.  The Israelis have a tough road, but if they are to qualify they will have earned it against the top two teams in the group.

GROUP G:

Bosnia-Herzegovina 0-1 Slovakia:

The Bosnians picked a terrible time to see their three-match winning streak come to an end, as their Group G lead evaporated thanks to a 77th minute goal from Viktor Pecovsky.

The win puts the Slovakians four back of the top spot, but the bigger implications fall on Bosnia.  With a three-point lead heading into today, the Greeks have caught them.  Both teams get to play basement dwellers Liechtenstein once, but the Greeks and Bosnians don’t play again so it will be a shootout to the finish.

Liechtenstein 0-1 Greece

Olympiacos striker Kostas Mitroglou gave Greece a huge win with his 77th minute goal after each side had been reduced to 10 men.  Greek defender Jose Hoelbas and Liechtenstein midfielder David Hasler each received a second yellow within six minutes of each other before Mitroglou’s goal.

Greece are now level with Bosnia at the top of the group, with Slovakia four points back.

Latvia 2-1 Lithuania

Neither team have a prayer of qualifying, but the Lithuanians were officially eliminated with the Latvian victory.

GROUP H:

England 4-0 Moldova:

source: AP
Rickie Lambert got his second goal in as many games for England to continue the storybook start to his international play.

Rickie Lambert’s England dream continued as England dispatched Moldova to put them atop Group H by a point.  The Southampton striker put England 2-up with a tap-in header after Steven Gerrard put the hosts ahead early.

The win is important as the English are now a point above Montenegro, with a crucial matchup against the Ukraine coming up next.  England will be without Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck for that tie, as he received his second yellow card – a mindboggling one – after firing a shot over the bar a fraction of a second after the whistle had gone.  Welbeck did atone a bit by scoring just a minute later, but his absence will be huge against the third-place Ukrainians, with Rooney, Carroll, and Sturridge all out.

Ukraine 9-0 San Marino:

Yeah, San Marino aren’t very good. The newly FIFA-sanctioned country still are without a point as they got slaughtered by a Ukranian team looking for a goal-difference advantage.  San Marino haven’t even scored a goal in this round of World Cup qualifying, now sitting on a goal difference of -38.

Poland 1-1 Montenegro:

Robert Lewandowski equalized for Poland in the 16th minute and that was all she wrote on the scoresheet as Montenegro pulled level with England at the top of the group, albeit England have a game in hand.  Poland sit back in fourth place with 10 points, but certainly aren’t out of things with away matches against England and Ukraine still to come.

GROUP I:

Georgia 0-0 France

France are the other massive losers out of today, as they failed to grab a goal against lowly Georgia.  In the only group with just one qualifying spot, they failed to keep pace with Spain and are now three points back of the leaders without a chance to play them again.  French striker Karim Benzema was a ghost most of the match, and was replaced in the 62nd minute by Andre-Pierre Gignac.

Finland 0-2 Spain

The Spaniards capitalized on the French failure by firmly beating Finland.  Goals from Jordi Alba and Alvaro Negredo mean Spain move to 14 points while France sit on 11.  Both teams have matchups with Belarus remaining, and Spain get Georgia while France play Finland.  The French will need a Spanish slip-up to directly qualify for the World Cup, or else they will look to make the knockout round on points.

Schalke wins 2-0 at Leverkusen to move 3rd in Bundesliga

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BERLIN (AP) Nabil Bentaleb‘s late penalty sealed a 2-0 win for Schalke at 10-man Bayer Leverkusen, lifting his team to third in the Bundesliga on Sunday.

Leverkusen was left to rue Dominik Kohr’s sending off in the first half as the home side missed the chance to go second and instead dropped to fifth, outside the Champions League qualification places.

[ MORE: Man City 3-1 Arsenal | 3 things ]

Guido Burgstaller fired the visitors into an early lead after a long ball over the top from Daniel Caligiuri. The Schalke forward did well to lift the ball over Leverkusen defender Panagiotis Retsos before dispatching past goalkeeper Bernd Leon inside the left post.

Leon Bailey came very close to equalizing with Leverkusen’s best chance of the half, but the hosts took a hit shortly before the break when Kohr was sent off with his second yellow card for a late tackle, minutes after earning his first for the same.

Leverkusen coach Heiko Herrlich brought on Argentine forward Lucas Alario after the break, and then went all out with two more forwards, Stefan Kiessling and Karim Bellarabi, for the closing stages.

However, the best chance fell to Schalke’s Breel Embolo, denied by a brilliant reflex save from Leno.

Retsos brought down Embolo in the penalty area, allowing Bentaleb to seal the win from the spot in the 89th minute.

Leipzig had the chance to go second later Sunday with a win over last-place Cologne.

Kompany felt he’d score, relishes League Cup win after injury troubles

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Vincent Kompany turned in a Man of the Match performance as Manchester City dominated Arsenal to win the League Cup Final by a 3-0 margin on Sunday at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]

Kompany redirected a goal for City’s second of the day, and had a number of key interventions as he bottled up Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

The 31-year-old center back has been through the ringer in recent years, with injuries haunting his seasons. Kompany now has three League Cups, an FA Cup, and two Premier League crowns. From the BBC:

“It was a difficult game, but as much space there was for us and Arsenal, we did well and controlled the space and I am proud of the team. Winning 3-0 at Wembley is a massive result against any opponent.

“Before the game, I thought I was going to score. I came close during the game so there was some luck on the day, but also self-belief.

“I have been in the game for 15 years and I have been training well and supporting the lads when I don’t play. When I get the call I want to do the job.”

Three things learned: City win League Cup

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LONDON — Manchester City breezed past Arsenal 3-0 in the League Cup final at Wembley Stadium on Sunday, as Pep Guardiola won the first piece of silverware in England.

A first half goal from Sergio Aguero put City ahead and then they stepped on the accelerator in the second half with goals from Vincent Kompany and David Silva doing the damage to clinch a fifth League Cup for Man City.

Here’s what we learned from a one-sided final as the runaway Premier League leaders showed their class and won their first trophy for two years, since they won the League Cup in 2016.


KOMPANY DOMINATES AUBAMEYANG

In four of Man City’s last five domestic cup finals at Wembley, Vincent Kompany has been instrumental in their success. Many believed Kompany would be the Achilles heel for City in this final as he came up against the languid and elusive figure of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Kompany probably hasn’t let Aubameyang out of his back pocket just yet…

The Belgian skipper has now led City to success in three League Cup finals, while winning one FA Cup in 2011 and losing the final in 2013 to Wigan. Across those five finals who has played the full 90 minutes on each occasion and has led by example with City conceding just three goals across the five games and he was named Man of the Match in the penalty shootout victory over Liverpool in 2016.

Kompany, 31, put in a dominant defensive display on Sunday with one moment in the first half summing up his renewed fitness and showed a glimpse of his past dominance. Aubameyang raced clear on goal, taking a decent first touch to move into the penalty box but Kompany came across and cleanly gained possession as a roar of approval reined down from Man City’s supporters from behind the goal.

At the start of the second half Kompany smashed a shot towards goal which deflected just wide as he sunk to his knees and looked to the heavens. Later on he raced clear down the right wing after a free kick, dribbled past two defenders and then won a corner as he was serenaded by their fans. From that corner he tapped home Ilkay Gundogan‘s shot as he jumped in with the fans to celebrate in style.

So many stars have come and gone since Kompany signed for City in 2008 just ahead of Sheikh Mansour’s purchase of the club, but the sight of the Belgium skipper lifting a sixth trophy as City skipper will warm the hearts of City’s fans everywhere.


OLD-GUARD DELIVERS FOR GUARDIOLA

Pep Guardiola’s 13th trophy as a manager will possibly be one of his easiest.

The Spaniard failed to deliver silverware in his first season in charge of Man City and following their shocking FA Cup exit earlier this week at third-tier Wigan, the naysayers were having a field day.

13 points clear atop the table with a game in hand, Guardiola will win at least two trophies this season and they’re favorites to win the UEFA Champions League.

Sergio Aguero loves playing against Arsenal as he scored his fifth goal in as many games against the North London club. The Argentine notched his 30th goal of the season with a delicious lob early on, making the most of a mistake from Shkodran Mustafi, before Kompany popped up with the second and Silva delivered a killer third.

With Guardiola spending big in the past two years since he arrived in Manchester, three of the old guard delivered the goals which gave him his first piece of silverware.

Kompany, Silva and Aguero may not be around for much longer but Guardiola has them to thank for creating a smooth, successful transition for his all-conquering regime.


ARSENAL FINALLY CRUMBLE AT WEMBLEY

Wembley has been a happy hunting ground for Arsenal in recent years, winning three FA Cups in the last four seasons.

That caught up with Arsene Wenger‘s men on Sunday.

In truth Arsenal were outclassed by Man City in the second half as they hung with them in the first 45 minutes but had no answer when City came out flying in the second half.

The Gunners were lackluster in attack as Aubameyang was marshaled expertly, plus Mesut Ozil, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey were all sloppy in possession. Defensively they looked shaky as Mustafi made a huge mistake, plus David Ospina hardly inspired confidence.

Overall, it was a woeful display from the Gunners who face Man City on Thursday in the Premier League.

There are 27 points between City and Arsenal in the Premier League table and another heavy defeat in four days could increase the pressure on Wenger further.

Man City cruises to League Cup title

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  • City wins fifth League Cup
  • Arsenal 2-6 in League Cup Finals
  • Kompany stars at both ends

Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany, and David Silva scored as Manchester City made itself a Wembley home with a 3-0 win over Arsenal in the League Cup Final on Sunday.

Pep Guardiola has his first major trophy as Manchester City boss, and Man City has now won the last three even-year League Cups (2014, 2016, 2018), while Arsene Wenger has yet to win a League Cup.

The two sides meet in the Premier League on Thursday at the Emirates Stadium.

[ MORE: Box score, lineups, play-by-play ]

Man City had a lot of the ball, but it was Arsenal who first properly challenged a keeper. Mesut Ozil’s cross was met before it got to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang by a sliding Kyle Walker, and Bravo had to act quickly to stop an own goal.

The Sky Blue side went direct to go ahead with Aguero’s 30th goal of the campaign. Aguero was behind his mark Shkrodan Mustafi but just onside by Nacho Monreal on the left as he ran onto Claudio Bravo‘s long kick and chipped David Ospina before the match was 19 minutes old.

Sead Kolasinac entered the match for injured Monreal in the 26th minute.

Aaron Ramsey was fortunate not to be sent off after catching David Silva with a high boot, and was only shown a yellow card.

Man City made a terrific physical tackle on Aubameyang in the 36th minute to win back a ball in the 18.

Fernandinho was given a yellow moments later, and Jack Wilshere nearly drew a second off Brazilian before halftime.

Magic-healing Leroy Sane curled a ball into Ospina’s hands before half, and Kevin De Bruyne won a free kick with plenty of potential in the 45th.

Could the below stat give Arsenal hope?

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Kompany got a cutback from Sane and saw his shot deflected out for a corner as Man City started the second half well.

Bravo came out to meet a long ball before Aubameyang and mishit it, but the Arsenal striker couldn’t capitalize on the error and fouled the Man City goalkeeper.

Kompany continued his fine match with a redirection of Aguero’s shot off a training ground corner kick started by De Bruyne.

Silva then bodied off Calum Chambers to meet a Danilo through ball and make it 3-0.