Across the globe, nations have been fighting tooth and nail in qualifiers to secure their ticket to football’s most lavish competition, with the World Cup now just 14 months away. Indeed, September has provided a more transparent picture as to who we can expect to make next year’s quadrennial tournament.
This international break has seen records broken, debuts marked in style and managers embellishing their legacies with milestones aplenty. If you haven’t been keeping up to date, read on for a round-up of some of the things you might have missed during this international break so far.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo: international football’s greatest male goalscorer
Cristiano Ronaldo now holds the record for:
◉ Most international goals (111)
◉ Most Champions League goals (134)
◉ Most goals scored all-time for Real Madrid (451)
◉ Most European Championship goals (14)
And plenty more.
Record breaker. 🤯 pic.twitter.com/DpWXISLkHA
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 1, 2021
Cristiano Ronaldo has now scored more goals than any other player in men’s international football history after netting a brace against the Republic of Ireland. The Manchester United superstar brought up his 110th and 111th goals in a Portuguese jersey to break Ali Daei’s previous record of 109.
It had long been predicted that Ronaldo would break the record at some point, with the 36-year-old equalling Daei’s achievement during Euro 2020, in which he also became the top scorer in European Championship history. But now he will set his sights on setting an big enough total the likes of Romelu Lukaku (who now has 50 goals in his last 50 games for Belgium and, at 28 years of age, has 67 overall) won’t be able to catch.
2. Immortal Italy
🇮🇹 Italy – 36 matches (2018-Present)
🇪🇸 Spain – 35 matches (2007-2009)
🇧🇷 Brazil – 35 matches (1993-1996)
What a job Roberto Mancini has done. 👏 pic.twitter.com/SOqPlQxrnb
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 5, 2021
European champions Italy have now set the longest unbeaten run in men’s international football after their 0-0 draw with Switzerland. Gli Azzurri have bested the shared feat of Spain between 2007 and 2009, as well as Brazil between 1993 and 1996, with each nation going 35 matches without defeat. Italy didn’t play well in Switzerland, with Jorginho missing a penalty, but the world record belongs to them. Their first match, a 1-1 draw with Bulgaria, saw Roberto Mancini become the Italy manager with the most unbeaten home games under his belt (18), eclipsing the legendary Marcello Lippi (17).
3. Andy Robertson’s half century
It’s a special milestone for @andrewrobertso5 tonight as he takes his place on the Scotland Roll of Honour, winning his 50th cap.
— Scotland National Team (@ScotlandNT) September 4, 2021
Scotland left-back Andy Robertson won his 50th cap in a blue-and-white jersey when his nation beat Moldova 1-0 in a much-needed win. The attacking Liverpool defender has some way to go before he can climb into Scotland’s top 10 for record appearance-makers, with Willie Miller currently occupying the final spot in that illustrious list on 65 caps. But, at just 27, he has more than enough time to break into that glittering catalogue and rub shoulders with the likes of Kenny Dalglish and Darren Fletcher.
4. Van Gaal off the mark
“If I was the KNVB, I would’ve picked Louis van Gaal as well,” were the exact words of Van Gaal after he was reappointed as Oranje manager for the third time, and he has already started this new chapter in Netherlands history with a win. Following a tentative 1-1 draw against an Erling Haaland-inspired Norway, Van Gaal oversaw a comprehensive 4-0 thrashing over Montenegro to really throw down the gauntlet and keep Oranje competitive in a way too close-for-comfort Group G in Europe’s World Cup Qualifiers, with just one point currently separating the top three after five games.
5. Gareth Bale nets first competitive hat-trick for Wales
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Gareth Bale was once again the difference-maker in Wales’ epic encounter with Belarus on Sunday afternoon. After the Dragons raced into a 1-0 lead, courtesy of a Bale spot-kick that subsequently ended his international scoring drought of 14 games and two years, Georgi Kondratiev’s men found themselves 2-1 up before the break. However, Bale would net twice after the restart to complete his first competitive hat-trick for Wales and earn his nation three valuable points. This was also Bale’s second hat-trick for Wales after scoring thrice in a friendly against China in 2018.
Wales vs Estonia odds (via William Hill)
- Wales to win: 1/6
- Draw: 11/2
- Estonia to win: 18/1
6. Declan Rice off the mark away from home
West Ham’s stand-in skipper was inspirational against Hungary as England battered and bruised the Magyars 4-0 in their own backyard. He got off the mark away from home, putting the gloss on England’s emphatic triumph (albeit after some questionable goalkeeping from the usually formidable Peter Gulacsi). But it was arguably his break-up play and the authoritative midfield swagger in which he orbited the centre circle that defined his night. Of course, the long-range finish was the cherry on the top, which also ensured he has become the first West Ham player to score for England in a qualifier for a major tournament since Trevor Brooking.
7. Sensational Soler
Valencia’s Carlos Soler enjoyed an international debut that will live long in the memory. The midfield dynamo has been making headlines at the Mestalla for quite some time now and this first cap for Spain felt long overdue, perhaps even more so after he scored against Sweden four minutes into his international bow. It was also from his first-ever shot in Roja colours, and though Spain went on to lose, Soler’s second goal on his second cap against Georgia will bring better memories as Spain romped to a 4-0 victory.
8. Cody Gakpo joins glittering PSV club
Van Gaal is a coach renowned for his willingness to blood in homegrown talent and offer up-and-comers a chance to showcase their potential, so it certainly came as no surprise to see Cody Gakpo’s inclusion in the Netherlands squad for this month’s qualifiers. The winger vindicated the faith shown in him by Oranje’s fastidious tactician by netting the fourth against Montenegro at his home stadium. In doing so, he became the fifth PSV player to score a goal for the Netherlands in Eindhoven this century, after Ruud van Nistelrooy, Mark van Bommel, Arjen Robben and Georginio Wijnaldum.
9. Jesse Lingard bags first England brace
Jesse Lingard has continued his resurgence this year with another impressive showing in an England shirt. First, he fired himself back into international contention with his exhilarating loan spell at West Ham, only to be unlucky in missing out on a place at Euro 2020, and now he has notched his first international brace (and an assist, to boot). Granted, the opposition came in the form of Andorra, but as the old footballing cliche goes: you can only beat what’s in front of you, and Lingard beat them quite comprehensively.
Poland vs England odds (via William Hill)
- Poland to win: 11/2
- Draw: 5/2
- England to win: 8/13
10. Kane equals Owen
Harry Kane moved into England’s top five for record goalscorers on Sunday night after he netted a well-taken penalty in the 4-0 win over Andorra. Gareth Southgate’s men were in cruise control against the Tricolors but opened the floodgates late on with an 18-minute flurry, which started with Kane’s spot kick. The Tottenham talisman now joins Michael Owen on 40 goals for England, and he is just four shy of Jimmy Greaves, eight of Gary Lineker, nine of Bobby Charlton and 13 goals behind all-time top-scorer Wayne Rooney.