Euro 2020 qualification

Photo by MARKKU ULANDER/Lehtikuva/AFP via Getty Images

Going to EURO: Finland qualifies for first major tournament

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Norwich City’s Teemu Pukki scored two goals to help Finland clinch its first major tournament berth on Friday, earning a place in EURO 2020.

The Sonera Stadium crowd saw the Huuhkajat beat Liechtenstein 3-0 on Pukki’s brace after Jasse Tuomoinen set the table with a 21st minute opener.

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Finland dominated the proceedings, as expected, out-attempting the visitos 21-2 and holding 73 percent possession.

Italy has already won Group J with 24 points entering Friday’s action, while Finland’s win eliminates Greece. Bosnia and Herzegovina can now only qualify by winning the league.

Finland had qualified thrice for the Olympics (1936, 1952, 1980).

Elsewhere

Norway 4-0 Faroe Islands
Armenia 0-1 Greece

Euro 2020 Roundup: Ronaldo scores hat-trick, France, Turkey qualify

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The final two rounds of Euro 2020 qualification got underway on Thursday with plenty of great goals on display. Four nations qualified directly into the tournament as well, as we get closer to the final list of 24 teams.


Portugal rout Lithuania

While the result wasn’t a surprise, it was still an impressive performance from the defending European champions.

Portugal, behind a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick, thrashed Lithuania, 6-0, at the Estadio Algarve. That included this terrific strike into the corner from outside the box, bringing the crowd to their feet.

It was Ronaldo’s ninth hat-trick for Portugal, which takes him to 98 goals overall along with 12 goals for Portugal in this calendar year, an incredible strike rate. Pizzi, Goncalo Paciencia and Bernardo Silva all scored as well. With a win at Luxembourg in three days, Portugal can assure qualification back to the European Championships, where it can defend its crown.


France comes back to beat Moldova

It’s safe to say that Les Bleus fans would gladly have taken a 2-1 result over Moldova in Euro 2020 qualifying, but the journey to get there was definitely out of the ordinary.

Moldova’s Vadim Rata put the visitors up 1-0 in the 9th minute with a goal-mouth scramble after a failed clearance from by Clement Lenglet, putting France under even more pressure. France brought wave and wave of attack towards the Moldova goal, but it was a controversial goal, credited to Raphael Varane, which brought France level.

In the 41st minute, as Olivier Giroud went for a ball, it appeared Giroud motioned to control the ball with his arm, only to move it out of his way at the last second, enabling Varane to head home. Giroud made amends for missing many chances throughout the match with a penalty kick goal in the 79th minute, earned by left back Lucas Digne.

With the win, France qualified for the 2020 Euros. Also qualifying on Thursday was Turkey, England, and the Czech Republic.

Here’s a look at the rest of Thursday’s Euro 2020 qualification results.

Qualification Group A

England 7-0 Montenegro
Czech Republic 2-1 Kosovo

Qualification Group B

Portugal 6-0 Lithuania
Serbia 3-2 Luxembourg

Qualification Group H

Turkey 0-0 Iceland
Albania 2-2 Andorra
France 2-1 Moldova

Kosovo prepares warm welcome for England fans and players

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PRISTINA, Kosovo — The mayor of Pristina is promising England fans and players a warm welcome for their European Championship qualifier against Kosovo, but there’s no free beer.

England plays Sunday in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, after its Euro 2020 matches against Bulgaria and Montenegro were marred by racist abuse directed at its players.

Pristina Mayor Shpend Ahmeti told the Associated Press on Thursday that big celebrations have been prepared to show there is no racism in Kosovo and also (as) a form of gratitude for London’s role in Kosovo’s war.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Belgrade refuses to recognize it. A bloody Serb crackdown ended after NATO intervention in 1999.

Kosovo, which was accepted as a member of UEFA and FIFA in 2016, is third in Group A and plays at second-place Czech Republic on Thursday.

Big posters showing England players have been put up around downtown Pristina and other cities, with slogans like Miresevjen broo (Welcome brother).

Ahmeti said waiters at coffee bars will wear T-shirts with words of welcome for visiting fans, and an organized celebration will be held at the stadium ahead of the match.

But one idea to hold an event offering free beer to England fans was turned down, said Ahmeti, with advice coming from the British embassy in Pristina.

Hundreds of England fans – possibly more – are expected to watch the game at the 13,000-seat Fadil Vokrri stadium in Pristina.

Halftime: England races out to 5-0 lead

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Coming off a 6-0 rout of Bulgaria last March, England picked up right where it left off as it ran away with a 5-0 lead at halftime.

Captain and striker Harry Kane bagged himself a first half hat-trick, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Marcus Rashford found themselves on the scoresheet as well. It’s the latest data point that predicts England to be one of the contenders for next summer’s European Championships, set to take place across Europe but with Wembley Stadium hosting the semifinals and final.

Oxlade-Chamberlain started the fun in the 11th minute, in his first England start for 19 months, since suffering a torn ACL in April, 2018 which ended his season and most of the next one. Left back Ben Chilwell floated a cross from left to the right wing where Oxlade-Chamberlain controlled it perfectly and fired a strike into the bottom corner.

Eight minutes later, it was Kane with a header goal through two Montenegro defenders off a Chilwell corner, giving the young left back his second assist of the game. In the 23rd minute, Kane again headed home a Chilwell corner from the edge of the six-yard box, beating his defender to the spot.

Rashford made it 4-0 to the Three Lions in the 30th minute after collecting a rebound off a save from Montenegro goalkeeper Milan Mijatovic. Rashford then curled a strike around the Montenegro defenders and inside the post for another goal. In the 37th minute, Kane finished off his hat-trick with a strike inside the box after a great feed by Trent Alexander-Arnold.

England struck by poor club form in qualifying blip

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What do you do as a national team manager when the best players in your group are struggling at the club level?

That’s the issue currently facing Gareth Southgate, and it’s spilled over into Euro 2020 qualification as England fell to the Czech Republic 2-1 on Friday, its first Euro qualifying defeat in ten years.

While its obvious England has a massive talent imbalance between offense and defense, the poor form plague has also struck, leaving Southgate with a host of difficult choices both up front and at the back. It has become such a pestilence that Southgate was left with no choice but to admit it after the match.

“In terms of the players, I think there are players who are not playing well for their clubs, but that is the situation we are in at the moment, certainly in a couple of positions,” admitted Southgate in the post-match press conference. “We collectively have to accept the result, but of course, as the manager, then I have got to accept that as well, absolutely.”

The England boss has some serious pondering to do up and down the pitch. Marcus Rashford has become a problem for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the suddenly stagnant Manchester United attack, and he gave way in the England starting lineup to young Jadon Sancho, who was unable to lift England on the day. In midfield, a now-broken Dele Alli was a guaranteed starter at the World Cup two years ago but was left out entirely this international break as Tottenham continues to flounder, while fellow Spur Harry Winks was relegated to the bench. Harry Maguire in defense has begun his Red Devils career well, but beside him was Michael Keane who has been downright poor at Everton thus far. Ross Barkley has lost his place at Chelsea and was left among the substitutes in Prague as well in favor of the in-form teammate Mason Mount, but with England misfiring Barkley was unable to change the tide off the bench.

The problem for Southgate is two-fold, and he’s damned no matter what. In the case of players like Alli, Rashford, and Winks, the England boss chose to replace them with less experienced players, which clearly upset the balance and cohesion within the squad. Yet he chose to stick with Keane, who has started every Euro qualifier thus far, in favor of a younger Joe Gomez and that backfired as well, as Keane toiled ineffectively in Prague. Gomez himself has lost his place at Liverpool to Joel Matip, and would have been another questionable option.

Injuries also played their part no doubt. Key players in Aaron Wan-Bissaka, John Stones, and James Maddison were axed due to injuries or illness, while Callum Hudson-Odoi was not selected as he recently returned from a long-term problem himself. Still, Wan-Bissaka’s absence left Southgate with no choice but to select a replacement, choosing Kieran Trippier on the edge of the back line, who has seen an up-and-down start to his Atletico Madrid career. Even Stones had dipped in form at Manchester City, falling completely out of the matchday squad in favor of Aymeric Laporte and Nicolas Otamendi before succumbing to an unspecified muscle injury.

These problems caused issues tactically for a squad that suddenly had to deal with a deviation from the norm. Southgate deployed a 4-2-3-1 with Mount in the central creative role, but according to Yahoo’s Kieran Canning, the national team has not played in such a formation in two years. Southgate mentioned multiple times in his post-match press conference how displeased he was with England’s off-ball structure and movement, a direct product of mixing and matching. “We tried something [in the second half] to make ourselves a bit more solid without the ball, and that didn’t happen,” he said. “We didn’t look any more solid, and we were poor at using the ball in the first half. That said, at 1-1, at half time, we were able to change that. I think we were better in the second half and we created chances to win the game.”

To make matters worse, the few players in good club form didn’t live up to standards on the international stage. Declan Rice, maybe West Ham’s best player so far this season, was miserable in a pivot with Jordan Henderson and hauled off in the second half. The Mirror says between the midfield pair, they made just one successful tackle through the entire match and completed just 11 passes in the opening 20 minutes of the game. Trent Alexander-Arnold, who has been one of many fantastic Liverpool players this season, was bafflingly left on the bench in favor of Trippier.

The issues facing Southgate are a stark reminder how long two years truly is. This England squad felt far more solid and secure with depth as it reached the semifinals of the World Cup just two year ago. Now, there are glaring holes and numerous questions at a host of different positions. With the starters floundering in Prague, Southgate’s choices off the bench have thinned considerably, and Rashford’s injection of quality off the bench two years ago in Russia 2018 is no longer to be found as he came on with 17 minutes to go on Friday. The rock solid World Cup back-three of Stones, Maguire, and Kyle Walker is nowhere to be found despite the presence of all three in the setup.

Little has changed personnel wise for England, and yet two years on after a promising World Cup run with a host of players in their prime, the squad now feels in flux again as key individuals are forced to fight for their places. Gareth Southgate does not sit in an envious position, looking for answers while keeping faith in some key squad members while making necessary changes elsewhere hoping not to upset the squad chemistry. A visit to Bulgaria on Monday represents a quick turnaround between two road matches, an opportunity to right the ship amid the necessary distraction of travel. Anything less than a convincing performance will allow lingering questions to fester for another month, plenty of time for the sudden dysfunction to become even more chronic.