The Courier’s sports sub-editors report on a mixed international break for the Home Nations, as England and Wales secured qualification to Euro 2020 whilst Northern Ireland, the republic of Ireland and Scotland had to settle for a play-off place.
Wales- Tom Moorcroft
After a string of successful results against teams such as Slovakia, Hungary and Azerbaijan, the Welsh national team have confirmed their qualification for Euro 2020, after a valiant 2-0 win against Hungary.
The Dragons confirmed their place in Euro 2020 after finishing second in Group E, runner-up to 2018 World-Cup Finalist’s Croatia. England fans will be aware of the prowess of this Croatian side, and Wales followed in their footsteps, recording a 1-1 draw and 2-1 loss against them.
A familiar lack of form seemed to follow Wales at times during the competition, facing a couple difficult draws and defeats. Their 1-0 loss against Hungary, which saw an 80’ winner from midfielder Máté Pátkai, was a shock to fans across Europe.
Many fans also questioned the confidence of their team, most evident in their performance against Azerbaijan. The fixture saw Welsh superstar Gareth Bale nab a goal in the 84’ minute, adding another goal to his 33 for Wales. However, in a game against such supposedly weak opposition, one would expect Wales to have had a better performance, with the game ending 2-1.
However, later in the competition, Wales managed to gain some momentum, and achieved payback in the return fixture. They recorded a much more confident 2-0 win against Azerbaijan, and then last week’s 2-0 win against Hungary, which saw Aaron Ramsey bag a brace to confirm their place at Euro 2020.
Speaking about the win, manager Ryan Giggs was elated, stating “It doesn’t get any better. It’s amazing. All credit to the lads. They’ve shown great determination and quality. It’s one of the best days of my life!”
It’s a significant day for the ex-United legend, but Wales fans will be hoping he can continue this momentum, as Wales look forward to their 2020 campaign.
England- Stanley Gilyead
England enjoyed a successful international break, coasting to a 7-0 win over Montenegro at Wembley before winning 4-0 in Kosovo. Rashford, Sterling, Sancho and Hudson-Odoi impressed out wide whilst Kane scored four goals over the two games, moving to sixth in the standings of England’s all-time top scorers.
England’s attackers impressing during qualification is nothing new, the three lions have scored 37 goals in their eight qualification games, but questions remain about their defence.
Whilst England kept clean sheets in both games, Kosovo and Montenegro found gaps in England’s defence when they had a rare chance to go forward, and it is suspected that if England come up against a quality attack their defensive limitations might be exposed.
Stones and Mings didn’t make any obvious errors partnering Harry Maguire in defence, but neither looked completely comfortable. Going into next year’s Euros Gareth Southgate will be looking to find a consistent centre half pairing as a base for England’s plethora of attacking talent.
The low-pressure games allowed Southgate to have a look at a few fringe players. Harry Winks and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain probably did the most to strengthen their claims to a position in the starting lineup, with both turning in strong performances and getting on the scoresheet. Alexander-Arnold, Chilwell, Mount and Abraham were also impressive, especially given their inexperience at international level.
With just over seven months to go until the Euros England’s squad is progressing nicely and if they can sort out their defence Southgate’s men will be a force to be reckoned with at the tournament.
Republic of Ireland- Toby Bryant
Despite recording a win and a draw from last week’s two international games, Mick McCarthy’s Irish side couldn’t clinch automatic qualification for next year’s Euros, as Switzerland and Denmark sailed through from Group D.
Opening with a 3-1 win in a friendly against New Zealand, goals from Derrick Williams, Sean Maguire and Sheffield United’s in-form winger Callum Robinson eased The Green Army to victory after going one down.
A clash with Denmark, first placed in the group, was up next. The Danes took the lead through a Martin Braithwaite goal, but an 85th minute equaliser from Matt Doherty clinched a point for Ireland.
Nonetheless, valiant performances from a hard working side whose point against Denmark came a decade after Thierry Henry’s handball for France robbed them of a place at the 2010 World Cup, meant all is not lost.
The Euro play-offs are up next, McCarthy claiming that if the side “play as well as against other teams, we can beat anyone in the play-offs.”
They’re not down and out, but Ireland have some tricky matches between them and a place in next year’s Euros.
Scotland– Rory Ewart
Scotland’s poor Euro Qualifying campaign came to an end, for now, with a 3-1 victory over Kazakhstan at Hampden Park.
Having lost against the same opposition by a goal to nil in the opening qualifying game, manager Steve Clarke will definitely see the improvements this time around, which comes off the back of a solid 2-1 away win against Cyprus on the road.
The result itself could’ve looked very different after 34 minutes, when Baktiyar Zainutdinov’s excellent finish on the edge of Scotland’s penalty area brought a shock lead for the visitors, causing silence across the ground.
A scant Hampden did see a Scottish revival in the second half, with a John McGinn brace, a player in fine form, and a Steven Naismith finish saw Scotland take the three points to finish third in the group.
Scotland will now return to action in the playoffs, due to finishing top of their Nations League group, in March. They will face one of Bulgaria, Hungary, Israel or Romania in their semi-final game, which will be played at Hampden.
If they manage to defeat that opponent, then Norway or Serbia will be awaiting them in the playoff final, a one-off game that could lead Scotland to their first Euros since 1996.
Northern Ireland- Rory Ewart
Despite a shock lead from Northern Ireland, a 6-1 loss to Germany has ended any hopes of them reaching the Euros next year automatically. They will now have to beat Bosnia and Herzegovina away in their play-off semi.
If they were then to beat the Bosnians, they would face one of either Slovakia or the Republic of Ireland in the final. Manager Michael O’Neill, who recently took over as Stoke City, has agreed to oversee their play-off matches.
Michael Smith’s exquisite strike gave the visitors a surprise early lead, however Serge Gnabry and Leon Goretzka were both able to give the 2014 world champions a 2-1 lead going into half time.
Goretzka was then able to add another along with Julian Brandt scoring too. But it was Gnabry was the real star of the show, scoring twice more to complete a well-deserved hat trick.
Last modified: 28th November 2019