Football Features

“De Bruyne is the Red Devil fulcrum” – Six things missed from tonight’s Euro 2020 qualifiers

By Ben Green

Published: 21:55, 9 September 2019

It was another fiercely competitive night of Euro 2020 qualifiers across the continent with 10 fixtures taking place this evening.

The Netherlands and Germany picked up wins in Group C to keep their aspirations of qualification well-and-truly alive, with Northern Ireland losing out to Die Mannschaft and Estonia being ruthlessly exposed 4-0 by Oranje.

Elsewhere, Scotland were humbled 4-0 by Belgium on home turf, Poland were held to a goalless draw against Austria, while Croatia could only muster a point against Azerbaijan.

There were five other fixtures to get stuck into tonight, so what might you have missed from this latest batch of Euro 2020 qualifiers?

1. Lukaku inches ever closer to half century milestone

Prior to Belgium’s bout against Scotland, Red Devils boss Roberto Martinez spoke about how Romelu Lukaku is about to embark on “the biggest footballing chapter in his career” as a result of his Inter Milan move, and well, he’s started the new season like a house on fire, netting twice for the Nerazzurri and once at international level for his homeland.

The lethal finisher is already the nation’s record goalscorer on 49, with Eden Hazard the joint-second on 30 – some 19 goals behind his former Chelsea colleague – so when he inevitably does reach half a century, it will prove a watershed moment in Belgian football, but at the rate he’s going, his numbers will be closer to 100 by the time he hangs up his boots.

Such has been Lukaku’s profound impact in the final third for Belgium that his four goals which helped Martinez’s side finish third in the 2018 World Cup have now been followed up by a further eight in five competitive appearances since the flagship competition in Russia.

The 26-year-old may have come in for his fair share of flak whilst at Old Trafford, but when he’s firing on all cylinders and part of a harmonious system, there are few who rival the towering centre forward in terms of goalscoring ability and No. 9 execution.

2. Kevin the catalyst

In 2017/18 Kevin De Bruyne clinched the inaugural Playmaker of the Season accolade for his quite ridiculous 16 assists in Manchester City’s domestic double-winning season, and already this term – having missed large parts of 2018/19 through injury – the insatiable creator has put it on a plate for his teammates six times.

This evening, the 28-year-old traumatised Hampden Park, providing a hat-trick of assists with just 32 minutes on the clock as his delectable deliveries, concise curlers and precise passes baffled the Scottish defence.

His first was a timely run and lay-off to Lukaku, who duly slotted past David Marshall, while his second and third were two crosses of the highest order, with his whipped drive to Thomas Vermaelen the ball of the night – his corner to Toby Alderweireld wasn’t too shabby either, oh, and he also managed to help himself to a goal as well.

To think Pep Guardiola’s side managed a treble last season without their fulcrum in his pomp is staggering really, but equally as frightening when you consider the impact he could have on the Citizens this season – that impact has already been devastating, but  it now looks set to go into overdrive with De Bruyne seemingly on a mission to make up for lost time.

3. Persistent Pandev

Despite being well into his twilight years Goran Pandev is still playing, captaining and scoring at international level, bringing up his 34th this evening against Latvia in North Macedonia’s 2-0 win over the 11 Wolves.

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Many still remember the 36-year-old for his involvement in Inter Milan’s famous 2009/10 treble-winning season under Jose Mourinho, but for Macedonians, his contributions in football far transcend anything he has ever produced at club level.

The Red Lynxes stalwart is currently the nation’s record appearance maker – recently eclipsing Goce Sedloski – having received 105 caps, while his 34-goal haul makes him North Macedonia’s record goalscorer as well, with his closest rival on 16 goals (Gjorgji Hristov).

4. Marcel’s missile

Marcel Halstenberg was making his fourth appearance for Germany this evening in a heavily intense match against Northern Ireland, and he marked the occasion by, not only breaking the deadlock, but also opening his account in emphatic fashion.

With the match heavily poised at Windsor Park, it was always going to take something special to open the scoring, but that’s exactly what Halstenberg produced, as his left-footed volley rifled the top corner of the net just minutes after the restart.

As RB Leipzig teammate Lukas Klostermann delivered from the right, a deft Julian Brandt flick-on saw the ball bounce up to Halstenberg, who was able to adjust his body exquisitely to execute a bullet of a volley that gave Bailey Peacock-Farrell absolutely no chance.

5. Babel brace

Ryan Babel has endured a nomadic odyssey across football during his career, that stretches from Al Ain in Abu Dhabi to Kasimpasa in Istanbul, but wherever the once promising Liverpool forward has ended up, he’s continued to play for his country, racking up an impressive 58 caps, which isn’t bad when considering the stellar attacking talent the Netherlands have had on the books over the past two decades.

And he took his commendable international record to new heights this evening, bagging a first brace for Oranje in their match against Estonia, with the win keeping Ronald Koeman’s side clinging to the coattails of the top two in Group C.

Incidentally his double tonight brought up 10 goals for the Netherlands, and his first since France in the UEFA Nations League A on this exact day a year ago. He may have suffered relegation from the Premier League last season and doesn’t currently ply his trade in any of Europe’s top five leagues, but he continues to be a valuable cog in Koeman’s plans.

6. Depay marks milestone with a goal

This evening Memphis Depay made his 50th appearance in the famous orange strip of the Netherlands and he stamped his mark on the occasion by getting his name on the scoresheet, firing home the third against Estonia to wrap up the match at A. Le Coq Arena.

Depay had already played his part prior to finding the back of the net, assisting Babel for the second just three minutes after half time, while he would be at it again for his nation’s fourth, setting up Georginio Wijnaldum in the 87th minute.

His three direct contributions made it a 50th cap to remember, bringing up goal number 17 for Oranje, and proving once again just how invaluable he has been for club and country when at one stage his career appeared in limbo and not looking like it would live up to his burgeoning potential.