EURO 2016 qualifying roundup: Iceland beat Netherlands (again), are all but qualified

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A recap of Thursday’s action in 2016 European Championship qualifying:

Netherlands 0-1 Iceland

Tiny, tiny Iceland (population: roughly 320,000) are all but qualified for next summer’s European Championship in France after their second defeat of the Netherlands during Group A play. After beating the Dutch at home in October, Strakarnir Okkar (Our Boys) snatched the return leg on Thursday, thanks to Gylfi Sigurdsson’s 51st-minute penalty kick.

With seven of 10 games played, Iceland (18 points) lead Group A, two points ahead of the Czech Republic in second and eight clear of the third-place Netherlands. One point from their final three games guarantees at least a playoff place, while two points guarantees automatic qualification. If you’re looking for a fun, under-the-radar bandwagon to hop on ahead of EURO 2016, the time is now because Iceland’s is filling up quickly.

Belgium 3-1 Bosnia-Herzegovina

Belgium’s Premier League contingent showed up in a big way for the Red Devils on Thursday, as Manchester United’s Marouane Fellaini, Manchester City’s Kevin de Bruyne and Chelsea’s Eden Hazard all scored en route to a 3-1 victory that keeps them second in Group B.

Edin Dzeko gave the visitors an early lead (15th minute), before Belgium hit back twice before halftime (23rd and 44th minutes). Hazard applied the finishing touches from the penalty spot in the 78th minute, and suddenly Bosnia-Herzegovina’s EURO 2016 prospects are beginning to look extremely dire. With just three games still to play, they find themselves four points off the pace of third-place Israel, in the race for Group B’s playoff place.

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Cyprus 0-1 Wales

Speaking of sides that are all but qualified for this summer’s tournament, next up is the Welsh national team, led by Real Madrid superstar Gareth Bale, scorer of the game’s only goal and the man set to lead Wales into their first major international tournament since 1958 (Wales have never qualified for the EUROs). Bale skied to head home Ashley Richards’ cross in the 82nd minute, and Wales now need just two points to secure at least a playoff place for EURO 2016 qualification. Five points from their final three games and they qualify automatically, regardless what anyone else in the group does.

Italy 1-0 Malta

Graziano Pelle scored the game’s only goal, as the Southampton striker bundled the ball over the line from very close range to finish Antonio Candreva’s curling cross the right wing. With 15 points from seven games, Italy are now level with Croatia as co-leaders in Group H, but behind on goal differential, +13 to +5.

Elsewhere in EURO 2016 qualifying action

Group A

Czech Republic 2-1 Kazakhstan
Turkey 1-1 Latvia

Group B

Israel 4-0 Andorra

Group H

Azerbaijan 0-0 Croatia
Bulgaria 0-1 Norway

Ronaldo scores 700th goal for club and country

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Cristiano Ronaldo achieved yet another personal milestone in his star-studded career on Monday evening with a simple penalty kick goal.

With his 72nd minute strike, Ronaldo tallied his 700th goal for club and country in his career. It’s an incredible achievement, and one indicative of his incredible goal-scoring exploits and his long career.

Ronaldo was already leading all active players globally in terms of goals scored, so his 700th is only adding to the list. His former club nemesis, Lionel Messi, still sits a reported 28 goals behind him, according to Soccerway. After them, LA Galaxy striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the closest, and he has “only” 542 goals.

The Portuguese icon becomes the sixth male player to score 700 goals in his career. The others include Pele, Romaro, Josef Bican, Ferenc Puskás, and Gerd Muller.

Ronaldo made his debut for Sporting Lisbon in the 2002-2003 season as a 17-year-old and quickly was snapped up by Man United and Sir Alex Ferguson, where he transitioned from a tricky winger to a clinical striker who couldn’t stop scoring.

The 34-year-old has scored 40-or-more goals on three occasions in his career and he scored 25-or-more goals in all nine years he was at Real Madrid. For Portugal, he’s now scored an incredible 95 goals in all competitions. He had 15 goals in World Cup qualifying alone for the 2018 campaign.

Watch the video of Ronaldo’s breaking goal below. Unfortunately for him, Portugal fell, 2-1 to Ukraine.

Southgate, England players sound off on racist abuse

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England took care of business in Monday’s 6-0 thrashing of Bulgaria, but the Three Lions had to endure some horrendous racist abuse from the crowd during the game.

The match was paused on two occasions I’m the first half by the match officials after racist chanting could be heard from a section of supporters, and a large group of Bulgarian fans were ejected towards the end of the half. However, racist abuse continued during the match from small pockets of fans in the stadium.

[READ: England v. Bulgaria delayed after racist abuse from stands]

“I have to say that the officials were on to everything very quickly,” England manager Gareth Southgate told ITV after the match. “We reported everything immediately when we heard things, we had constant communication with the fourth official and the referee. I was in contact with the players, all the way through the first half in particular, and then again at halftime.

”We know it’s an unacceptable situation, and I think we’ve managed to make two statements. By winning the game, but also we’re raised the awareness of everybody to the situation. The game was stopped twice, I know for some people that won’t be enough, but we as a group were on board with that process.”

Raheem Sterling, who scored a brace in the win, also sounded off on social media, as did former England and Arsenal star Ian Wright.

Ultimately, UEFA and the match officials followed the protocol, but the sad part about this is that England and the officials had a plan for racist abuse, and it was predictable that it would happen.

In a statement after the game, the FA confirmed they would be asking UEFA to investigate what happened. However, any punishment is too little, too late for the players who endured the abuse.

Kane, Sterling star as England rout Bulgaria

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On a night where racist abuse from the stands in Bulgaria marred the overall spectacle, England’s players produced an incredible result and spectacle for the visiting fans, with all things considered.

Harry Kane scored once and assisted on three others as England rolled over Bulgaria, winning 6-0 on Monday evening in the Vasil Levski Stadium in Sofia, Bulgaria. Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley both scored a brace for the Three Lions and Marcus Rashford’s thunderbolt from a tight angle gave England the opening goal it needed.

[READ: USMNT looks to build from win v. Canada]

The blowout result was the perfect response after England had suffered its first loss in qualifying for a decade, losing on Friday, 2-1 at the Czech Republic. The six goals England put past Bulgaria was also the fourth time out of six games that England had scored at least five goals in a match. The only other time, aside from the defeat, was a 4-0 win last month at Wembley Stadium over Bulgaria.

It took just seven minutes for England to get on the board. Barkley found Rashford down the left wing, and after turning a defender with a cross-fake, Rashford cut back from goal and whipped a strike that flashed past Bulgarian goalkeeper Plaman Iliev and in for a goal.

Kane, who has earned some criticism for not scoring as much recently as in the past, showed he was more than a goal-scoring No. 9. Combining with Raheem Sterling like he did so well at the 2018 World Cup, Kane in the 20th minute played a great pass into Sterling’s feet in the box. The Manchester City winger did the rest, crossing to a wide-open Barkley at the back post for a tap-in.

Kane again played provider in the 32nd minute, floating to the right and delivering an-inch perfect cross right to the penalty spot with his left foot. Barkley was there to meet it with a glancing header to score and put the game to rest.

Despite dealing with horrendous racist abuse from the crowd and two pauses in the game, England continued to attack and were rewarded when Kane set up Sterling for another tap-in moments before the halftime break.

Kane and Sterling connected again for another goal before in the 85th minute, Kane finally got his finish to send Bulgaria packing.

Considering the events in the stadium, it’s a triumphant win for England. However, they still must win at least one more game before automatic qualification to Euro 2020 is assured, as Kosovo beat Montenegro, 2-0 on Monday as well to stay within touching distance of England and the Czech Republic.

Racist abuse delays England v. Bulgaria qualifier

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England raced out to an impressive 4-0 lead at Bulgaria by halftime, but the wonderful attacking display was marred by horrendous incidents from the crowd.

The match in the Vasil Levski Stadium in Sofia, Bulgaria was stopped on two occasions with announcements being made to ask sections of the crowd to stop their abusive language. This comes with the stadium already serving a partial stadium closure due to racist chanting from the crowd in previous qualifiers.

Below is UEFA’s protocol on how to intervene in these situations, and what transpired from lead writer Joe Prince-Wright.