EURO 2020 qualifying

WATCH: Liverpool’s Wijnaldum scores rocket on Netherlands duty

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Georginio Wijnaldum is given a bit more freedom from his club than his country, and loves every minute it.

Netherlands beat Belarus 2-1 on Sunday at the Dinamo National Olympic Stadium in Minsk, and the Liverpool midfielder supplied both goals including a smashing effort from distance.

[ MORE: Neymar injured again ]

Wijnaldum, who turns 29 next month, gets a short pass and takes a touch to the middle of the park before unleashing this shot about 25 yards from goal.

He’s now scored in three of his last four EURO qualifiers, and has seven goals and three assists in his last 10 caps.

Wijnaldum now has 15 goals in 60 career caps.

The Dutch are three points ahead of Germany and Northern Ireland with 15 points, though the Germans can join them on 15 with a defeat of Estonia this afternoon.

Chelsea’s Kante pulled from France lineup after injury in warm-ups

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Just as N’Golo Kante’s health allowed a return to form, his frustrating season has carried over to his national team.

The dominant French midfielder was pulled from the starting lineup on Friday after suffering a muscle injury in warm-ups.

[ MORE: EURO qualifying wrap ]

Few details have been released, and Chelsea did not mention the player or his injury in their Friday recap of international action.

Kante, 28, missed four matches with a sprained ankle earlier this season with Chelsea, but has two goals in his last three matches. Both came in the Premier League against Liverpool and Southampton.

He has 38 caps and a goal for Les Bleus, as well as a World Cup title.

France faces Turkey in EURO qualifying on Monday. Chelsea has Newcastle United on Oct. 19 at Stamford Bridge before visiting Ajax in the UEFA Champions League.

EURO qualifying wrap: FC Dallas striker sinks England

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Well, well, well, England can lose a EURO qualifier.

[ MORE: Ranieri finds new job ]

For the first time in a decade, the Three Lions came up short in a qualifier, while France needed a bit of tomfoolery to win its match and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo moved closer to 700 career goals in an easy win.

No one joined Belgium as officially in the tournament, but Ukraine is very close.

Czech Republic 2-1 England

Maybe it was a bit too young, or maybe the club form was a bit too off from some his stars, but England’s long unbeaten EURO qualifying run is over at 43 matches.

Mason Mount, Declan Rice, and Jadon Sancho started for the Three Lions, who went ahead after five minutes when Harry Kane converted a Raheem Sterling-won penalty.

But the Czechs drew level within four minutes and the hosts dominated the rest of the first half. It felt like a winner was coming for Jaroslav Silhavy’s men, and it came in the somewhat unlikely form of a 30-year-old debutant from FC Dallas.

Zdenek “The Cobra” Ondrasek scored off a Lukas Masopust cut back to give the Czechs a 84th minute lead and the hosts on to go level on points with group-leading England, who has played one fewer match.

Gareth Southgate was not pleased:

“We conceded too many poor chances and we gave the ball away too many times. We knew we’d have to be at full tilt to deal with the Czech Republic but we should have been strong enough to deal with them.”

Also not pleased? A certain prince.

Portugal 3-0 Luxembourg

Cristiano Ronaldo is one goal away from 700 in his career for club and country after bagging a second half goal in Portugal’s easy-enough win over visiting Luxembourg.

Bernardo Silva and Goncalo Guedes also scored for the reigning EURO champions.

Iceland 0-1 France

You would’ve though Antoine Griezmann was dead as he limped out of the box after drawing a penalty, and you’d be fair to imagine he had a severe pain-delay problem considering how long it took him to hit the turf, but don’t worry he was fine and back in the fray moments after Olivier Giroud‘s penalty sealed a win for Les Bleus.

Elsewhere

Andorra 1-0 Moldova
Montenegro 0-0 Bulgaria
Turkey 1-0 Albania
Ukraine 2-0 Lithuania

Germany’s young players indicate bright future ahead

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BERLIN (AP) Germany’s young players did enough in one hour against Argentina to indicate its post-World Cup shakeup is working and that a bright future awaits.

Led by 24-year-old Serge Gnabry, with 20-year-old Kai Havertz driving from midfield, Germany initially overwhelmed the visitors on Wednesday before inexperience showed and substitutes Lucas Alario and Lucas Ocampos salvaged a 2-2 draw for Argentina in a friendly.

“We let our heads drop after they scored the first goal,” Germany coach Joachim Low said. “But I’m taking many positives from the game and have to pay the team a compliment for playing with such courage and heart. They were very, very promising signs. I like that a lot.”

It was the first time Germany started without a World Cup winner since it claimed the trophy in 2014. Low had already signaled a shakeup after the disastrous World Cup in 2018 and forced the likes of Sami Khedira, Jerome Boateng, Thomas Muller and Mats Hummels into early retirement.

Low had to improvise against Argentina because of a slew of injuries. Marco Reus and Ilkay Gundogan remained on the bench with knocks. Defenders Jonathan Tah and Niklas Stark dropped out before the match, joining Toni Kroos, Timo Werner, Jonas Hector, Antonio Rudiger, Leon Goretzka, Kevin Trapp, Nico Schulz, Leroy Sane, Julian Draxler and Thilo Kehrer on Low’s list of absentees. Low has been resisting calls to bring Hummels back.

Captained by 24-year-old Joshua Kimmich for the first time, Germany controlled the first half, combining quickly with short passes and constant movement, forcing the bewildered visitors to lose possession and chase the game. Paulo Dybala, who plays for Juventus, was inconspicuous before making way for Alario in the 62nd minute.

“The first half was really good, it was eye-catching. Some players who were there for the first time did really well,” said Low, who handed debuts to Freiburg teammates Luca Waldschmidt and Robin Koch.

“Koch was very stable, confident, he gave a good impression and didn’t show any nervousness,” said Low, who also praised Waldschmidt. “Some took their opportunity very well. I’m happy about that, it gives me more options.”

Gnabry, who scored four goals for Bayern Munich in a 7-2 rout of Tottenham recently, was a constant threat before his substitution in the second half. Gnabry beat three defenders to scorein the 15th, then set up Havertz for the second in the 22nd.

“He’s so fast and he made so many unbelievable runs. He was everywhere and always a danger. He put off the whole Argentine defense,” Low said of the Bayern forward, who now has 10 goals in 11 games for Germany.

Low also handed debuts to Nadiem Amiri and Suat Serdar, though the team was backpedaling by then and neither was able to shine.

“We had to work a lot in defense, but their strengths are going forward,” Low said. “But we can be satisfied. They’re players with promise that we can look forward to.”

Marc-Andre ter Stegen played in goal in place of regular No. 1 Manuel Neuer, but the Bayern goalkeeper will return for the European Championship qualifier against Estonia in Tallinn on Sunday.

“Estonia is a whole other type of opponent,” Low said. “They hold back more and principally focus on defending their goal. So we’ll need another offensive player on the field. I could imagine Marco Reus. And if Ilkay is fit, he’ll play, too.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Ciaran Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP

Major powers close to EURO 2020 spots though France in fight

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Most of the continent’s major soccer powers are in cruise control as they close in on qualification for next year’s European Championship.

Some are likely to secure their place in the finals this week, with two or three group games to spare.

[ MORE: Latest EURO 2020 news

Belgium, the world’s top-ranked nation, will become the first team to qualify if it beats last-place San Marino in Group I on Thursday. With the top two qualifying from each group, there’s a chance Russia, which is eight points clear in second place, could also advance by beating Scotland on the same night.

Italy holds a six-point lead in Group J after winning all six of its matches, and is guaranteed to qualify with victories over Greece and Liechtenstein over the next week.

Spain enjoys the biggest lead in European qualifying – by seven points in Group F after also winning six straight games – and might just need one victory in its matches at Norway and Sweden to advance.

Group A leader England will qualify with a win at the Czech Republic on Friday.

Two teams who are still in a fight to qualify are Portugal and France – the finalists in Euro 2016.

France, the world champion, is second in Group H on goal difference behind Turkey but would be joined on points by third-place Iceland with a loss in Reykjavik on Friday. France then hosts Turkey on Monday.

Portugal, the defending European champion, is in second place in Group B and five points behind Ukraine, which it visits on Monday. A loss for Portugal in Kiev would leave third-place Serbia in with a chance of reeling in the titleholder.

Here’s a look at some talking points ahead of the upcoming two rounds of qualifiers:

NO LLORIS

France coach Didier Deschamps will have to change his goalkeeper after Hugo Lloris was ruled out until next year because of a broken left elbow. Steve Mandanda looks to be an able deputy.

The 34-year-old Mandanda was recalled to the squad after some excellent performances for Marseille since the start of this season. Having recovered from a torn muscle, he has produced several decisive and spectacular saves to compensate for his team’s defensive shortcomings.

Mandanda was initially recalled to be No. 2 behind Lloris but is now in line to win his 29th cap – and first since last year’s World Cup, when he kept a clean sheet against Denmark.

If Deschamps prefers youth to experience, Paris Saint-Germain’s Alphonse Areola and Lille’s Mike Maignan are the other two goalkeepers in the squad.

ENGLAND’S MIDFIELD

There is much to like about the new-look England under Gareth Southgate, particularly the potency of a frontline containing three of Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford, and also the raft of dynamic full-back options available.

One area where Southgate has yet to strike the right balance is in midfield – the department where England was exposed in the loss to Croatia in the World Cup semifinals last year.

The current first-choice midfield appears to be Declan Rice, Jordan Henderson and Ross Barkley, but the emergence of playmakers Mason Mount and James Maddison – of Chelsea and Leicester, respectively – leaves Barkley, in particular, vulnerable for his place.

GERMANY SLUMPING

Before Germany resumes its Euro 2020 qualifiers at Estonia on Sunday, there is a friendly against Argentina in Dortmund on Wednesday.

The 2014 World Cup final rematch is now a meeting of the No. 10 and No. 16 ranked teams – and it’s four-time world champion Germany which is lower and falling.

Now ranked outside the top 10 teams in Europe, Germany risks not being among the top seeds when the 2022 World Cup qualification groups are drawn, likely at the end of next year.

A successful Euro 2020 campaign would lift Germany up, and Joachim Low’s team is on course to qualify from Group C where it is in first place, tied on points with Northern Ireland and three above the Netherlands, which has a game in hand.

Low called his goalkeeper rivalry “the smallest problem at the moment,” though will give Barcelona’s Marc-Andre ter Stegen a start against Argentina and restore captain Manuel Neuer against Estonia, which lost 8-0 to Germany in June.

ITALY INCENTIVE

There’s a nice bonus awaiting the Italians if they qualify.

They would then be sure of playing in the opening game at Euro 2020 in Rome on June 12 in Group A, which is paired with Baku in the first Europe-wide edition of the competition.

RAMOS RECORD

Spain captain Sergio Ramos is set to break Iker Casillas’ record of most appearances for the country on Saturday.

The central defender will play his 168th game with “La Roja” when Spain visits Norway.

With 125 victories, the 33-year-old Ramos has already surpassed the goalkeeper’s record for most wins with the Spanish national team.

HOW QUALIFYING WORKS

The top two in each of the 10 groups qualify for the 24-team Euro 2020, which is being played in 12 countries with no automatic places for hosts.

The other four qualifiers will come through four tiers of playoffs in March. Lineups for the four-team knockout brackets in each tier are shaped by Nations League standings from one year ago.

The Euro 2020 tournament draw is made Nov. 30 in Bucharest, Romania. UEFA could have to modify the draw next April, if host nations qualify via the playoffs.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed to this report.