Football Features

Nine things you might have missed from the international break so far

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 18:45, 14 November 2021

The race to reach Qatar 2022 continues unabated, with qualifiers taking place across several continents.

There were several marquee games this week as well as plenty of intriguing stories, debuts and historic milestones. For instance, Scotland, who last reached the World Cup finals in 1998, secured a play-off berth through their 0-2 win in Moldova.

With all this and more happening, it’s only natural if you miss an important or memorable event. But don’t worry – Squawka is here, with six things you might have missed from this latest round of international games.

 

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1. ‘Dos a Cero’ redux

There are certain rivalries which transcend football, Mexico v United States being among them. The major powers of Concacaf resumed hostilities in Cincinnati on Friday evening with El Tri currently leading the Octagonal standings. Gerardo Martino’s side were three points ahead of Gregg Berhalter’s men and knew the nation’s last WCQ win on American soil was in November 2016, when they claimed a 1-2 success which subsequently ended a run of four consecutive 2-0 losses. Those victories — that began in February 2001 — were part of a lore known as Dos a Cero (literally translated from Spanish as ‘two to zero’). During this stretch a Bruce Arena-led team eliminated Mexico from the 2002 World Cup finals, at round of 16 stage, by that scoreline.

Having recently met in this summer’s Concacaf Gold Cup final, which the USMNT won after extra time (1-0), many observers felt this would be a closely fought affair. After making a five-minute cameo in Chelsea’s draw with Burnley last weekend, Christian Pulisic came off the bench with 21 minutes remaining and the game heading towards a goalless stalemate. However, just five minutes after coming on the Hershey-born forward broke the deadlock, and victory was secured in the 85th minute by Juventus midfielder Weston McKennie.

Beyond claiming all three points towards reaching Qatar 2022, it was the first time since 1937 the United States had beaten Mexico three times in a row during a single calendar year. Also, this was the 10th occasion they had beaten their North American rivals “Dos a Cero” and unsurprisingly it’s the most common scoreline in series history.

2. We’re Almost There

1970 was the last time Argentina were absent from FIFA’s showpiece event. Since then La Albiceleste have participated in 12 successive tournaments winning two (1978 and 1986) while finishing runners-up on two further occasions (1990 and 2014). Even so, qualification for the World Cup finals in years past has not been smooth sailing, but chances of the newly-crowned Copa América winners missing out were slim to none. Participation in Qatar 2022 is now within reach after Lionel Scaloni’s side narrowly defeated Uruguay in the latest Clásico del Río de la Plata meeting. Ángel Di María scored the game’s only goal. “Sometimes you just have to win and we managed that,” Scaloni said afterwards. “Not playing well, certainly, but it still counts.”

It sure does. Argentina (who are unbeaten in 26 matches) will qualify if they beat Brazil on Tuesday and any one of Colombia, Chile or Uruguay fail to win. Both teams are unbeaten, with Argentina winning eight of their 12 matches heading into this latest must-watch showdown.

Lionel Messi, who played the 15 minutes as he made his comeback from knee and hamstring issues that saw him miss Paris Saint-Germain’s last two matches, remains two shy of Bolivian marksman Marcelo Moreno (eight goals) in the Golden Shoe race. He’s expected to feature more significantly when facing their greatest rivals at Estadio San Juan del Bicentenario.

3. Gone in 20 Seconds

The beauty of sport is that anything can happen. Just when you thought you’ve seen it all, something incredible occurs to reaffirm the aforementioned statement. Andorra, who are currently ranked 153rd by Fifa, were never expected to cause Poland any problems. The Eagles boast football’s most deadliest marksman in Robert Lewandwoski, who started at the Estadi Nacional and even he couldn’t have predicted how the game started. Twenty seconds after John Beaton blew for kick-off Ricard Fernandez, also known as Cucu, was shown a straight red card following his challenge on Kamil Glik ten seconds into the match. Replays showed as he went up, he threw out an elbow and caught the Poland defender in the face. More damning was Cucu took a long look at where Glik was shortly before making his challenge.

With a man down, Lewandwoski scored the opener in the fifth minute and Kamil Jozwiak doubled their lead before the quarter-hour mark. Arkadiusz Milik made it three on the stroke of half-time and Bayern’s main man completed the scoring with 17 minutes remaining. Aside from Paulo Sousa’s men filling their boots another notable moment came after the hour when Aston Villa defender Matty Cash made his long-awaited debut. The 24-year-old, who came through Nottingham Forest’s academy, is of Polish descent through his mother and recently acquired citizenship. Cash replaced Przemysław Frankowski and he will be hoping to start against Hungary next time out. The win means Poland are certain to finish behind Group I leaders England, who require just a point against San Marino to book their place at Qatar 2022.

4. Still ever-present

It was Pelé who described football as “the beautiful game”. No man is more synonymous with the World Cup finals than Brazil’s all-time leading scorer. O Rei has won a record three championships (1958, 1962 and 1970) and his beloved Seleção have never missed a tournament. They were there in 1930 for the inaugural competition and since then it’s five titles (more than any nation) but that last success came in 2002 and since Ronaldo’s heroics, they’ve never reached the final. Neymar and company will have a chance of putting that right after securing their berth at Qatar 2022, becoming the fourth side after the hosts, Germany and Denmark to book their place.

Tite’s men left it close as they picked up a 1-0 home win over Colombia; with 18 minutes remaining on the clock Lyon midfielder Lucas Paqueta finally breached Reinaldo Rueda’s defence. The result not only guaranteed passage into the next phase but strengthened Brazil’s impressive WCQ record: no team in the South American section has won more games (11), scored more goals (27) and conceded fewer (4). Next up, as touched upon, is a date with Argentina and even though the job has already been done there’s nothing Brazil enjoys more than beating their eternal rivals and vice versa.

5. Down to the wire

In The Third Man, Harry Lime (played by Orson Welles) says, “In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” These nations and Group C rivals met at the Stadio Olimpico on Friday evening, a game that saw Switzerland extend their poor record on Italian soil to one win in 26. More accurately, however, you could say Murat Yakin’s men snatched a draw from the jaws of victory. Silvan Widmer had given the visitors an early lead but that was cancelled out by Giovanni Di Lorenzo.

Having put their loss to Spain behind them, which ended an impressive 37-match unbeaten run that culminated in winning Euro 2020, the four-time world champions sought back-to-back wins after beating Belgium for the Uefa Nations League bronze medal. A win here would have all but secured the Azzurri a place at Qatar 2022 but instead both teams — who drew the reverse fixture in Basel (0-0), although Italy could have won if not for a missed Jorginho penalty — are locked on 15 points heading into the final matchday. Italy have the upper-hand due to a super goal-difference. Switzerland host Bulgaria on November 15 while the European champions visit Belfast on that same evening.

6. The first of (hopefully) many

Michail Antonio had made it clear to Jamaica’s FA that he desired to represent England at international level. The 31-year-old West Ham marksman, who grew up in London before embarking on a journeyman career, was called up by Sam Allardyce and then Gareth Southgate but for various reasons never earned a cap. Still never one to give up, Jamaica re-approached Antonio and in March 2021 he confirmed his allegiance to the Caribbean nation. To say he’s been in sensational form this season is an understatement. Antonio has so far made 10 league appearances for the Hammers, subsequently netting six goals.

In their quest to reach a first World Cup finals appearance since 1998 the Reggae Boyz are banking on Antonio to fire them into Qatar 2022. He unfortunately debuted in a 0-3 home loss against Panama before missing four consecutive fixtures, which saw Theodore Whitmore’s side pick up five points from 12 available. Antonio returned to action in their game at El Salvador, coming off the bench with 16 minutes left. He would score the game’s first goal moments later, a stunning effort, before Álex Roldán equalised in stoppage time. The result leaves Jamaica five points behind Panama, who occupy fourth place in the Octagonal which ensures advancement into an inter-confederation play-off game.

7. Snatching a draw from the jaws of victory

With just over ten minutes remaining in their penultimate Group G fixture the Netherlands were seemingly cruising towards collecting all three points against Montenegro thus securing Oranje safe passage into next year’s World Cup finals. Memphis Depay, their most important player, had registered a brace for Louis van Gaal’s men but the Dutch sensationally capitulated in Podgorica as Ilija Vukotić halved their deficit in the 82nd minute before Nikola Vujnović equalised four minutes from time. The result was a kick in the teeth especially following automatic qualification rivals Norway had dropped points (0-0 v Latvia) and Turkey running out 6-0 winners against Gibraltar. Oranje’s lead coming into the final round is two points from Turkey and Norway whom they entertain at De Kuip in Rotterdam.

8. Following in Fontaine’s footsteps

You can’t have a World Cup without the defending champions. France secured their place in Qatar 2022 following a 8-0 win over Kazakhstan on matchday seven. Before running riot in Paris their nearest challengers Finland picked up a 1-3 win at Bosnia and Herzegovina meaning Markku Kanerva’s men booked a spot in the play-offs. As for Les Bleus this was a historic evening.

Didier Deschamps’ side were two shy of equalling the nation’s largest victory; half of those strikes were scored by Kylian Mbappé, who became the French national team player since October 1985 to register a hat-trick in a competitive game. On top of that Mbappé was the first player to score at least four goals with France since the legendary Just Fontaine in June 1958 when he bagged four against West Germany.

9. 2018 stars join the party

As touched upon the hosts Qatar, Germany and Denmark had reached next year’s World Cup finals before this current international break. Brazil made it four before France joined their 1998 final opponents. On the day Les Bleus booked their place, so did 2018 bronze medalist Belgium, whose golden generation are starting to run out of time. Roberto Martínez were narrowly defeated by France in Russia before suffering another semi-final loss to their neighbours in this summer’s UEFA Nations League tournament.

Belgium claimed top spot of Group E following a 3-1 win over Estonia. After getting past De Rode Duivels standing in France’s way of winning a second championship was Croatia who prevented England from ending 52 years of hurt. Luke Modric and company were unable to overcome the French but in the process enhanced their international reputation. Although it’s a somewhat different team from back then Croatia, winners of Group H by one point from Russia, will be hoping to go deep in Qatar next year.

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