Euro­pean games to watch in WC qual­i­fy­ing

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

Eng­land turn their back on the brief Sam Al­lardyce era as care­taker man­ager Gareth South­gate leads the team in a dou­ble-header of Group F matches against min­nows Malta at Wembley and away to Slove­nia.

South­gate, the Eng­land Un­der-21s coach, has re­called Manch­ester United duo Mar­cus Rash­ford and Jesse Lin­gard and con­firmed that Wayne Rooney will con­tinue as cap­tain, de­scrib­ing him as “the out­stand­ing leader in the group.”

Burn­ley de­fender Michael Keane has also been called up to re­place Stoke City’s Glen John­son, who was ruled out through in­jury. A slip-up against Malta, ranked 176th in the world, is un­think­able, but Slove­nia could prove sticky op­po­nents with a squad no­tably con­tain­ing Atletico Madrid goal­keeper Jan Oblak.

Di­dier Deschamps’ France re­turn to the Stade de France when they play Bul­garia to­mor­row, their first match there since los­ing in ex­tra time to Por­tu­gal in the Euro 2016 fi­nal.

Since that ag­o­nis­ing de­feat, Les Bleus got off to some­thing of a false start in their World Cup qual­i­fy­ing cam­paign, draw­ing 0-0 away to Be­larus. They could re­ally do with a win against Bul­garia be­fore fac­ing their main Group A ri­vals, the Nether­lands, in Am­s­ter­dam next Mon­day.

Bul­garia have a new coach in Pe­tar Hubchev, who played when they last came to France in 1993. That night, a 2-1 Bul­gar­ian win fa­mously de­nied their hosts a place at the fol­low­ing year’s World Cup in the USA.

There are two new faces in the French squad in de­fence in the shape of Ath­letic Bil­bao stopper Aymeric La­porte and Pres­nel Kim­pembe of Paris Saint-Ger­main.

Kosovo’s com­pet­i­tive de­but last month ended in a cred­itable 1-1 draw away to Fin­land, with Valon Ber­isha scor­ing their maiden World Cup goal in the Group I en­counter.

It was a re­mark­able re­sult given that FIFA only gave their ap­proval for a host of play­ers to rep­re­sent the Balkan out­fit on the day of the game.

Now Al­bert Bun­jaki’s side play their first “home” game, al­though they will face Croa­tia in the Al­ba­nian city of Shkoder be­cause the fa­cil­i­ties in Pristina, the Koso­van cap­i­tal, are not yet deemed up to the stan­dards of FIFA.

In an ex­tremely tough group, they fol­low to­day’s match by play­ing Ukraine on Sun­day.

Ice­land’s re­mark­able jour­ney to the quar­ter-fi­nals of Euro 2016 started with a 3-0 home win against a stunned Turkey in Reyk­javik in their open­ing qual­i­fier in Septem­ber 2014. Now with Heimir Hall­grims­son in sole charge af­ter Lars Lager­back de­parted fol­low­ing the Eu­ros, Ice­land host Turkey again in World Cup qual­i­fy­ing Group I. Both teams drew 1-1 in their open­ing matches, Ice­land in Ukraine and Turkey in Croa­tia.

Kosovo play first ‘home’ Rash­ford – AFP

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