By MICHAEL PENG
Matchday six of the 2016 European Championship qualifiers took place over the weekend and the jam-packed action saw several top-ranked countries earn optimal results to begin the second half of the qualifying group stage.
England survived a strong showing from the Slovenians on Sunday thanks to two splendid strikes from Jack Wilshere and a late goal from captain Wayne Rooney to come away with a 3-2 victory.
Rooney, who had missed a number of scoring opportunities earlier in the match, received a well-placed pass from Theo Walcott and sent Inter’s Samir Handanovič the wrong way with a strike from the edge of the box. The game-winning-goal came in the 86th minute and two minutes after Nejc Pečnik scored what was an equalizer for Slovenia.
Prior to Pečnik’s tally, Wilshere had put on a show with his left foot in the match. His first goal came in the 57th minute when he one-timed a ball that spilled out to him just outside of the box. The shot rocketed past Handanovič’s out-stretching fingertips and into the top left to cancel out Milivoje Novakovič’s goal that opened the scoring in the 37th minute.
Wilshere added another stunner 16 minutes later when he rifled a shot from a few yards farther than his previous strike and sent it into the upper left corner, freezing Handanovič along the way.
The win kept England’s 100 percent record in the qualifiers along with just one other country, Slovakia. England currently sits atop Group E and are six points ahead of second-place Switzerland.
Here are the rest of the results from the weekend;
RONALDO’S HAT TRICK LIFTS PORTUGAL PAST ARMENIA
Portugal conceded an early goal to Armenia on Marcos Pizzelli’s free-kick strike in the 14th minute, but Cristiano Ronaldo made sure that lead would not last long.
Ronaldo notched the first of his three goals on Saturday night with a penalty conversion in the 29th minute. Ten minutes into the second half, he won a race to the ball against Armenian defender Robert Arzumanyan and chipped it into the net to give Portugal a 2-1 lead.
Three minutes after that, Ronaldo unleashed a shot from about 25 yards out that beat a leaping Roman Berezovski to complete the hat trick and extend his record of UEFA European Championship goals to 26.
Ronaldo’s third goal proved to be vital as Portugal gave up a score in the 72nd minute, 10 minutes after Tiago had been sent off on a red card, but the visitors held on the rest of the way to take home the three points and remain atop Group I.
BALE CAPITALIZES ON BELGIUM’S ERROR TO PROPEL WALES
In what was perhaps the marquee match of the weekend, Wales came away with a 1-0 win on Friday over the No. 2 country in the FIFA World Ranking in Belgium on Gareth Bale’s goal in the 25th minute.
Belgium defender Radja Nainggolan headed a ball backward during a sequence near the box and Bale was on the fortunate receiving end of that before he calmly beat Thibaut Courtois to give Wales the lead.
Belgium came close to getting the equalizer on a couple of opportunities in the early goings on the second half, but Christian Benteke’s header from point-blank range off a corner sailed high and Kevin De Bruyne’s shot from about 20 yards out rolled just wide right of the post.
The win gave Wales a three-point lead over Belgium in Group B and set itself in prime position to earn its first major finals appearance since 1958.
SCHURRLE LEADS GERMANY’S THRASHING OF GIBRALTAR
André Schürrle recorded a hat-trick and led the world champions Germany to an easy 7-0 win over Gibraltar Saturday in Faro, Portugal.
Gibraltar had held on for 27 minutes — including a save on a Bastian Schweinsteiger penalty attempt in the 10th minute — before Schürrle opened the scoring with the lone goal in the first half.
After the restart, however, Germany began to show its strength and opened up its offense, scoring six goals, including two from Max Kruse, two more more Schürrle and a score each from İlkay Gündoğan and Karim Bellarabi.
Germany moves to just one point behind Poland in Group D with the win and the two sides will square off on Sept. 4.
Here are the rest of the scores from the actions over the weekend:
Turkey 1, Kazakhstan 0
Iceland 2, Czech Republic 1
Netherlands 2, Latvia 0
Bosnia and Herzegovina 3, Israel 1
Cyprus 3, Andorra 1
Ukraine 3, Luxembourg 0
Spain 1, Belarus 0
Slovakia 2, FYR Macedonia 1
Poland 4, Georgia 0
Republic of Ireland 1, Scotland 1
Estonia 2, San Marino 0
Switzerland 2, Lithuania 1
Hungary 1, Finland 0
Northern Ireland 0, Romania 0
Faroe Islands 2, Greece 1
Liechtenstein 1, Moldova 1
Austria 1, Russia 0
Sweden 3, Montenegro 1
Italy 1, Croatia 1
Bulgaria 1, Malta 0
Norway 0, Azerbaijan 0
Denmark 2, Serbia 0
What do you think of these results? Did you expect England to pull that win out late? What did you think of Ronaldo’s heroics?
Share your thoughts below.