World Cup qualifying resumed this past Thursday, and as always, there were some shocking results in Europe and South America.
In Europe, Italy secured a 1-1 draw at home with Spain on Thursday after Sergio Ramos gifted the Azzurri with a late penalty. The Italians were nearly upset by Macedonia the following Sunday, but Ciro Immobile struck twice in the final 15 minutes to give them the victory.
Elsewhere, Cristiano Ronaldo scored four goals in his Portugal return as the European champions crushed Andorra 6-0, while England won 2-0 against Malta on Gareth Southgate’s debut as manager.
Down in South America, a Lionel Messi-less Argentina settled for a 2-2 draw with Peru on Thursday night. Uruguay cruised past Venezuela 3-0 to stay on top of the table. Brazil moved to within a point of La Celeste after demolishing Bolivia 5-0 at home, while Chile is in deep trouble after falling 3-0 to Ecuador.
Here’s a closer look at UEFA and CONMEBOL European qualifying heading into the next round of games.
Italy salvages draw with Spain, then edges Macedonia
Thursday’s 1-1 draw against Spain appeared to be a wake-up call for Italy, but what followed was the real surprise.
Spain dominated possession and outshot Italy throughout the game, but luckily for the hosts, La Roja‘s only goal was created off a Gianluigi Buffon howler. The Azzurri had another close call against Macedonia on Sunday, but thanks to substitute Ciro Immobile’s brace, they won 3-2 and moved up to second place in Group G and are level on seven points with the Spanish.
Ronaldo scores four goals in Portugal return
Cristiano Ronaldo took little time to return to form with Portugal on Friday.
The Portuguese superstar opened the scoring for the European champions against Andorra after two minutes. He completed his brace shortly thereafter and added two more in a 6-0 rout for Portugal. Ronaldo has now scored an astonishing 65 goals in 134 caps as the Selecao lie in third place in Group B, three points adrift of Switzerland for the top spot.
Gareth Southgate wins first game as England manager
England’s new manager Gareth Southgate began his caretaker stint on a high as the Three Lions shut out Malta 2-0 on Saturday.
Daniel Sturridge and Dele Alli were on the scoresheet as the English earned their 14th straight qualifying win. England holds the top spot in Group E, but its next opponent, Slovenia, is two points adrift. The two teams face each other on Tuesday to close out the international break.
Here are all of the European results from Thursday to Saturday (group leaders in bold, second-placed teams italicized).
Luxembourg 0-1 Sweden
Latvia 0-2Faroe Islands
Portugal 6-0 Andorra
Germany3-0 Czech Republic
N.Ireland 4-0 San Marino
Austria 2-2 Wales
Ireland 1-0 Georgia
Moldova 0-3 Serbia
Wales 1-1 Georgia
Moldova 1-3 Ireland
Serbia 3-2 Austria
Armenia 0-5 Romania
Montenegro 5-0 Kazakhstan
Poland 3-2 Denmark
England 2-0 Malta
Scotland 1-1 Lithuania
Slovenia 1-0 Slovakia
Macedonia 1-2 Israel
Italy 1-1 Spain
Israel 2-1 Liechtenstein
Albania 0-2 Spain
Macedonia 2-3 Italy
Belgium 4-0 Bosnia & Herzegovina
Estonia 4-0 Gibraltar
Greece 2-0 Cyprus
Iceland 3-2 Finland
Kosovo 0-6 Croatia
Turkey 2-2 Ukraine
Finland 0-1 Croatia
Ukraine 3-0 Kosovo
Iceland 2-0 Turkey
Ecuador pummels hapless Chile
Ecuador returned to winning ways on Thursday, but Chile is now in serious trouble.
The Ecuadorians crushed the Copa America winners 3-0 and now Chile is five points adrift of the top-five spots in the table. The South American champions have earned just one win in their last seven qualifiers and is in danger of missing out on the 2018 World Cup entirely.
Uruguay stays top with win over Venezuela
Uruguay is leading the way in South America through the first half of qualifying.
The 2011 Copa America champions won 3-0 against Venezuela to stay on top of the table with 19 points. Seattle Sounders playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro opened the scoring, while Edinson Cavani completed a brace as the Uruguayans earned their sixth victory of the campaign.
Colombia edges Paraguay for third straight win
A late winner from Edwin Cardona clinched Colombia’s third straight victory after it defeated Paraguay 1-0.
The Cafeteros are now level with Argentina and Ecuador on 16 points, but have a stern test on Tuesday at home against leaders Uruguay.
Brazil crushes Bolivia, stay perfect under Tite
Things could not be going any better for Brazil manager Tite.
The former Corinthians boss has won his first three qualifiers as Brazil’s coach, the latest being a convincing 5-0 victory over Bolivia. Five different players scored for the five-time world champions. Neymar, Coutinho, Filipe Luis, Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino all had goals on Thursday evening.
Argentina falters without Lionel Messi, draws Peru
Argentina is lucky that Lionel Messi did not retire from international soccer.
The Argentineans drew 2-2 with Peru and have now won just one of six games without Messi, but have a perfect record when he plays. Peru was admittedly impressive after conceding the opening goal to Ramiro Funes Mori, but Argentina still had Gonzalo Higuain, Angel Di Maria, Sergio Aguero and Paulo Dybala on the pitch. There is enough attacking talent to pick up maximum points without the Barcelona superstar.
Here is a closer look at the table in CONMEBOL after nine rounds.
1. Uruguay (19 points | 6-2-1 | 19 Goals For | 5 Goals Against)
2. Brazil (18 points | 5-1-3 | 21 Goals For | 9 Goals Against)
3. Ecuador (16 points | 5-3-1 | 16 Goals For | 12 Goals Against)
4. Colombia (16 points | 5-3-1 | 13 Goals For | 10 Goals Against)
5. Argentina (16 points | 5-3-1 | 11 Goals For | 8 Goals Against)
6. Paraguay (12 points | 3-3-3 | 9 Goals For | 12 Goals Against)
7. Chile (11 points | 3-4-2 | 13 Goals For | 15 Goals Against)
8. Peru (8 points | 2-5-2 | 10 Goals For | 17 Goals Against)
9. Bolivia (7 points | 2-6-1 | 9 Goals For | 18 Goals Against)
10. Venezuela (2 points | 0-7-2 | 9 Goals For | 24 Goals Against)