Scotland resurgence & 3 more things we learned from WCQ action
Strachan’s men enjoying rich vein of form
The World Cup 2018 Qualifiers came thick and fast over the weekend, producing everything from impressive underdog displays to encouraging signs for the Home Nations’ hopefuls.
Here’s the Coral News take on all that and more, as they look back at the major talking points of the weekend’s international action.
It’s all coming together for Strachan’s Scotland
Rewind less than six months and the Tartan Army were growing restless. Successive 3-0 WCQ defeats to England and Slovakia, followed by a dismal 1-1 draw with Canada at Easter Road.
However, Gordon Strachan’s men have restored the faith and optimism to fans with recent displays, with Friday night’s 3-0 rout of Lithuania in Vilnius rounding off an impressive run of results for the Scots.
Stuart Armstrong opened the visitors’ account with a bullet header, before Andy Robertson’s exquisite long-range strike made it 2-0 before the half-hour mark. James McArthur made it 3-0 late on, but in truth they could have won by twice that number.
Red Lions blazing trail for underdogs
Up until Sunday night, the last time France had failed to score in a competitive game on home soil was 26 March 2013, losing 1-0 to then-World Cup holders Spain. However, that record came to an end at the close of the weekend, as they drew 0-0 with Luxembourg.
Luc Holtz’s men secured a second clean sheet in the space of three days with that result, having beaten Belarus 1-0 at Stade Josy Barthel on Thursday night.
While Les Lions Rouges (or ‘Red Lions’) won’t be making it to the World Cup, they’ve proven that Europe’s smallest nations can compete and have a major say in who does reach the tournament. As for the joy the recent success will have given the nation of 575,000, that’s hard to quantify.
Wales sneak up as Ireland falter
The battle for a play-off spot in Group D took a major turn over the weekend. While Republic of Ireland remain in that coveted second spot, Wales were the big winners of Matchday Seven.
The Dragons beat Austria 1-0 in Cardiff, thanks to a thunderous Ben Woodburn strike. That all but ended the World Cup dream for Das Team, but it pushed Chris Coleman’s men to within two points of Republic of Ireland, with three games remaining.
The Boys in Green left Georgia with a single point on Saturday night, following a defensive mishap which allowed Valeri Qazaishvili to bag an equaliser in the sides’ 1-1 draw. With Wales having a fairly easy run-in, and Ireland facing Serbia and a trip to Cardiff City Stadium, this could well be the game that swings the tide.
‘Best team’ in Swiss history heading for perfect record
In a group containing Euro 2016 winners Portugal and a talented Hungary side, few would have expected Switzerland to enjoy quite the success they have. So far they’ve won all eight of their qualifiers, netting 18 goals and conceding just three.
Midfield stalwart Blerim Dzemaili hailed this as “the best team in Switzerland’s history”, and it’s difficult to disagree.
Sunday night’s 3-0 victory in Latvia was recorded with a minimum of fuss, and this talented Schweizer Nati side never needed to get out of second gear. In fact, Latvia were limited to a single shot on target at Skonto Stadium.
Strong in midfield, clinical up front, and having now kept six clean sheets in a row, it’s hard to see past them securing that top spot and an automatic spot in Russia.
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