Friday night was an incredibly dramatic one in terms of qualifying for Euro 2020.
Germany and the Netherlands played out a humdinger in Hamburg, Wales struggled over the line against Azerbaijan and Scotland threw away a lead to lose against Russia with a certain left-back bearing the brunt of fan fury.
So, without further ado, here are six things you might have missed from the action.
1. Belgium labour to win
Belgium’s place at Euro 2020 isn’t really in doubt, with the highest-ranked team in international football right now taking maximum points in Group I so far. However, their trip to minnows San Marino, the lowest-ranked team in the world by Fifa’s standards, proved to be a far tougher task than many would have thought. As usual, San Marino sit bottom of the group having lost four from four before Friday night’s game, conceding 20 goals without reply in the process.
But it took until the 43rd minute for Belgium to finally make the breakthrough and even that only came in the form of a Michy Batshuayi penalty. By that time, San Marino had even managed to get a shot on target. The Red Devils, of course, managed to extend their lead in the second half, eventually running out 4-0 winners, but still, this battle of top vs bottom didn’t quite pan out as many would have expected, or how Roberto Martinez would have liked.
2. Tempers flare in Hamburg
Friday night gave us all a timely reminder that Germany and the Netherlands really, really don’t like each other. A game which swung this way then that saw both sides throw away leads before Holland finally grabbed a dramatic, priceless winner courtesy of debutant Donyell Malen. Gini Wijnaldum made the points safe in stoppage time. But, honestly, the goals, even all six of them, didn’t tell half the story.
Before October 2018, Germany and the Netherlands had not played against each other since a 0-0 draw in 2012… since then:
🇳🇱 3-0 🇩🇪
🇩🇪 2-2 🇳🇱
🇳🇱 2-3 🇩🇪
🇩🇪 2-4 🇳🇱
The last four meetings have all had a 90th-minute goal as well. 🍿 pic.twitter.com/DO0ssUo3of
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 6, 2019
With crunching tackles, an electric atmosphere and far more than just handbags at 10 paces on more than one occasion, this match-up continues to be a club derby disguised as an international fixture – one we can’t get enough of.
In a footballing sense, the win keeps Holland in touch with Germany and Northern Ireland at the top of Group C and quite who will qualify out of that trio is anyone’s guess right now.
The neutrals will not be thinking of those ramifications, however, focusing more on what a ridiculously entertaining game of football they were treated to.
3. Scotland slump after a promising start
Heading into Friday with just six points from four games, Scotland really needed a win at home to Russia to keep in touch with the leading pack in Group I. Steve Clarke’s men got off to a great start, too, with Aston Villa man John McGinn taking advantage of a goalkeeping blunder to poke home and give his side a 1-0 lead.
August 2019: John McGinn scores his first Premier League goal
September 2019: John McGinn scores his first Scotland goal
Brilliant start to the season. pic.twitter.com/qLx297JrIL
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) September 6, 2019
But from there, Scotland weren’t able to press home their advantage, with an Artem Dzyuba strike – his sixth of this qualifying campaign so far – and an own goal from Stephen O’Donnell putting them to the sword.
Scotland face the tough task of hosting Belgium in their next game before travelling to Russia for a rematch of Friday’s clash. The fact that they let their control of this one slip will leave Clarke scratching his head, while their qualification hopes now hang precariously in the balance.
4. Robertson faces the wrath of Scotland fans
He might be an unstoppable engine for Liverpool but, my word, Scotland fans are not happy with Andy Robertson. The left-back didn’t cover himself in glory at Hampden on Friday, with his poor positioning and errors costing Scotland dear, leaving us all wondering if it was really him out there on the pitch.
And never ones to mince their words, the Scottish fans came alive on Twitter in condemnation for a Jurgen Klopp favourite.
Andy Robertson gets away with murder at Scotland, miles off it tonight
— cammy cairney (@cammycairney96) September 6, 2019
Andy Robertson is so overrated should never be a Scotland captain, runs about lit a stolen motor
— Craig Coleman (@CraigColeman97) September 6, 2019
Andy Robertson is PISH
— christopher barrie (@chrissssssy1875) September 6, 2019
Andy Robertson should have been stuck on a scotrail train for all the good he done
— Boster#1 (@1boster1) September 6, 2019
I’m right up for Andy Robertson packing in Scotland duty 👍
— Glencorse (@Glencorse) September 6, 2019
5. Bale gives Giggs breathing space
Wales weren’t vintage against Azerbaijan. In fact, they’ve been anything but vintage throughout Ryan Giggs’ tenure so far. It seemed about right, then, that their 2-1 win on Friday would be sealed by a Gareth Bale goal that was, well, not vintage.
Giggs’ side had toiled in Cardiff and only took the lead via a Pablo Pashayev own goal, before surrendering that lead in the second half. But, eventually, they found a late winner when a penalty area scramble saw Bale head the ball over the line by mere fractions, keeping Wales in with a sniff of qualification for next summer’s showpiece.
Bale has now been involved in 19 goals in his last 19 home caps for Wales, scoring 14 and assisting five. Regardless of his ups and downs with Real Madrid, he continues to be the bannerman for his country.
6. A long time coming
We have to go back to that Germany v Netherlands game one more time, it’d be rude not to, right?
Holland’s remarkable 4-2 win inflicted just a second competitive home defeat for Germany with four or more goals scored. The first? Yep, we all remember it: Germany 1-5 England, 2001.
It’s tough for us to really put our finger on what has happened to Germany during the time between now and them winning the 2014 World Cup but they look so far away from their usual, reliable selves. Whether Joachim Lowe trusts the old guard or rips it up and goes for youth, he’s really struggling to find a consistent, winning formula right now and for Dutch and Northern Irish fans, in particular, that’s just great.