Four more games to watch in World Cup qualifying
EUROPEAN qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup in Russia resumes this week with every nation playing twice after starting their campaigns last month. We pick the biggest highlights from the week’s matches:
Southgate leads troubled England England turn their back on the abbreviated Sam Allardyce era as caretaker manager Gareth Southgate leads the team in a double-header of Group F matches against Malta at Wembley and away to Slovenia. Allardyce left his post “by mutual consent” last week after just 67 days after being caught giving advice about how to circumvent transfer rules and mocking his predecessor, Roy Hodgson, in a newspaper sting, as well as helming a 1-0 win in Slovakia. A slip-up against Malta, ranked 176th in the world, is unthinkable, but Slovenia could prove sticky opponents with a squad that contains Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Jan Oblak. England also needed to be lifted by a late Rooney goal to win in Ljubljana in Euro 2016 qualifying. France look for kick-start Didier Deschamps’ France return to the Stade de France to 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 slumped into their World Cup qualifying campaign, drawing 0-0 away to Belarus. A win against Bulgaria would give them some breathing room before facing main Group A rivals the Netherlands in Amsterdam on October 10. Bulgaria have a new coach in Petar Hubchev, who played when they last came to France in 1993 and notched a 2-1 win that famously denied the hosts a place at the following year’s World Cup in the USA.
Kosovo play first ‘home’ game 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. It was a remarkable result given that FIFA only approved some players 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. In an extremely tough group, they follow tomorrow’s match by playing Ukraine on October 9 in Krakow.
Iceland, Turkey meet again Iceland’s remarkable journey to the quarterfinals of Euro 2016 started with a 3-0 home win against a stunned Turkey in Reykjavik in September 2014. Now with Heimir Hallgrimsson in sole charge after Lars Lagerback departed following the Euros, Iceland host Turkey again. Both teams drew 1-1 in their opening matches, Iceland in Ukraine and Turkey in Croatia. –