Football Features

Euro 2020 qualifiers: Stories & stats you might have missed as Wijnaldum continues purple patch

By CJ Smith

Published: 9:36, 14 October 2019

Sunday was another busy day for Euro 2020 qualifying with a number of nations facing off across the continent.

For some, it’s a case of dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s after cruising through their group games so far, while for others, it is a desperate scramble to restore pride and hope in their nation – we’re looking at you, Scotland.

So, what are key talking points you might have missed from Sunday games?

1. McGinn continues fine start with career first

Scotland have once again had a nightmare qualification campaign, while Aston Villa have peaked and troughed in equal measure during their Premier League return. However, one man who has stood up and been excellent for both is John McGinn.

The 22-year-old midfielder opened his senior international account during Scotland’s 2-1 defeat to Russia last month and got Steve Clarke’s men up and running against San Marino on Sunday after just 12 minutes.

By half-time, he had completed his first-ever career hat-trick to leave Scotland 3-0 up, setting them on their way to a much-needed 5-0 win.

That’s seven goals for club and country so far to start the season for McGinn, with one fan even suggesting he’s on course to be a future Man Utd captain.

We’re sure Aston Villa fans will have something to say about that.

2. Wijnaldum continues purple patch

Georginio Wijnaldum has spent so long quietly going about his business and being an unsung hero for Liverpool, that he is in fact no longer quiet or unsung at all.

The midfielder has proven himself to be just as effective for the Netherlands, too, and bagged a brace as Ronald Koeman’s men overcome a resolute Belarus side on Sunday to hold the lead in Group C, just.

His second goal, in particular, was one of immense quality, taking the ball inside onto his right foot and firing a piledriver into Aleksandr Gutor’s far left corner.

That’s four goals and an assist for Wijnaldum in his last four Dutch caps, playing a huge part in Die Oranje’s resurgence. The midfielder’s ongoing purple patch in front of goal may well come in handy for Jurgen Klopp.

3. Shankland introduces himself

Of course, Scotland’s win over San Marino wasn’t all about McGinn.

Leading the line for Clarke, in the absence of the likes of Oliver McBurnie, was Dundee United forward, Lawrence Shankland.

The 24-year-old has already scored 13 goals in eight games so far this season in the Scottish Championship and has been in red-hot form, although the rigours of international football are a whole different ballgame.

But Shankland opened his senior account for Scotland in the 65th minute on Sunday and even against minnows San Marino, getting that first goal will do his confidence the world of good.

Fellow full debutant Stuart Findley added a goal of his own just two minutes afterwards to complete a great pair of auditions for Clarke’s newcomers.

4. Russia keep pace

Earlier in the day, Belgium continued their excellent form with a routine 2-0 win away at Kazakhstan, making it eight wins from eight so far, with 30 goals scored and just one conceded.

But although the Red Devils have already qualified, Russia are making sure they don’t let their guard down in the remaining fixtures, winning 5-0 away against Cyprus to also seal qualification, with goals from 2018 World Cup hero Denis Cheryshev (x2), Magomed Ozdoyev, Artem Dzyuba and Aleksandr Golovin.

The Russians are still just three points behind Belgium and face Roberto Martinez’s men in their next match-winning that game and topping Group I would be a remarkable achievement and yet another reminder of just how dangerous Stanislav Cherchesov‘s side has become.

5. 10-man Germany get it done

OK, so Estonia aren’t the most challenging opponent in Group C – they have just one point so far – but going down to 10 men after 14 minutes, away from home is always going to make things tough.

That’s what Germany were up against on Sunday after Emre Can was dismissed early doors, but Die Mannschaft still got the job done, with three second-half goals from Ilkay Gundogan (x2) and Timo Werner – whose goal was also assisted by Gundogan – sending Joachim Low’s side back level with the Netherlands at the top of the group.

Just three points now separate Germany, the Netherlands and Northern Ireland in the race for qualification from Group C and the latter is set to play the former two in their final fixtures in what promise to be real crunch matches.

6. Bale to the rescue… again

Where would Wales be without Gareth Bale?

The Real Madrid forward has stood up and made the difference for his country time and time again, just as he did once more on Sunday night.

Wales went 1-0 down to Croatia early on in Cardiff thanks to a goal from former Everton playmaker Nikola Vlasic, but kept to their task and were rewarded when Bale kept his cool in the box just before half-time, having been fed by the excellent Ben Davies.

The roof nearly came off the Cardiff City Stadium and we looked all set for a blockbuster second half but, in the end, neither side could find the breakthrough.

Wales remain fourth in the group but their final two games come against Azerbaijan and second-placed Hungary – whom they have a game in hand over – meaning they could still qualify, pending a favour from Croatia against Slovakia.