Saturday’s slate of 2016 European Championship qualifying featured plenty of the typical “powerhouse destroys minnow” results, but also presented significant challenges for a pair of traditional powers who struggled to underwhelming draws against less than equal opposition.
[ PREVIEW: EURO 2016 qualifying, this weekend ]
Netherlands 1-1 Turkey
While a 1-1 draw with Turkey doesn’t sound like the worst result in the world, anytime a stoppage-time equalizer is required to draw, at home, for a side with aspirations of winning next summer’s tournament in France, it’s big letdown.
Turkey led for nearly an hour after Burak Yilmaz put the Turks ahead after 37 minutes, and if not for Wesley Sniejder’s severely deflected effort off Klaas-Jan Huntelaar finding the back of the net in the 93rd minute, they’d have moved ahead of the Dutch in Group A. As it stands, Guus Hiddink’s Oranje occupy third place, seven and six points behind Czech Republic and Iceland, which means they’re almost certainly headed for the qualification playoff.
Bulgaria 2-2 Italy
Remember how it was embarrassing for the Dutch to need a late equalizer to rescue a point just a second ago? Well, they weren’t the only ones scrambling for a draw on Saturday, as Italy found themselves a goal down for nearly 70 minutes away to Bulgaria.
Yordan Minev put the ball in his own net for Italy’s first, before Ivelin Popov and Ilian Micanski’s quick double (11th and 17th minutes) gave the hosts a lead that would last until the 84th minute. That’s when Sampdoria striker Eder scored a stunning, curling effort from outside the penalty area. With the draw, Italy now sit two points behind Group H leaders Croatia with five games to play.
Israel 0-3 Wales
Gareth Bale is a really good soccer player, am I right? The Wales and Real Madrid star bagged a brace of his own and assisted on the other Wales goal, as the Dragons leapfrogged Israel (9 points) into first place (11) in Group B.
Bale’s first, a curling free kick, was such an unstoppable effort that the goalkeeper didn’t even bother to move as it bulged the back of the net. The $130-million man completed the scoring with a powerful finish from near the penalty spot, and just like that, Wales are on the verge of qualifying for their first major tournament since 1976.
Belgium 5-0 Cyprus
Elsewhere in Group B, Belgium rode goals from Marouane Fellaini (21st and 66th minutes), Christian Benteke (35th), Eden Hazard (67th) and Michy Batshuayi (80th) to a comfortable home victory over Cyprus. The Red Devils are now just a point behind second-placed Israel, their next opponents on Tuesday.
Elsewhere in EURO 2016 qualifying
Kazakhstan 0-3 Iceland
Czech Republic 1-1 Latvia
Andorra 0-3 Bosnia Herzegovina
Croatia 5-1 Norway
Azerbaijan 2-0 Malta