Football Features

Eight things you might have missed from Thursday’s Euro 2020 qualifying action

By Harry Edwards

Published: 21:50, 21 March 2019

Thursday brought the first set of qualifiers for Euro 2020 with some of the continent’s biggest teams in action.

World Cup runners up Croatia took on Azerbaijan, world no.1s Belgium faced Russia and the Netherlands looked to continue their improvements under Ronald Koeman against Belarus.

There were also games between Austria and Poland, Israel and Slovenia, Macedonia and Latvia, Northern Ireland and Estonia, and Slovakia and Hungary.

With so much action on and only two eyes, it can be hard for even the most ardent of football fans to have followed everything.

So we’ve put together eight things you might just have missed on the busy night.

1. Memphis Depay joins Dutch legends

This time last year, the Netherlands were getting set for life under Ronald Koeman who was tasked with turning their fortunes around after failing to qualify for the World Cup.

And the former Everton and Southampton boss did exactly that in leading the Oranje to the Uefa Nations League finals, finishing top of their group above France and Germany.

The Netherlands also got their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign off to the perfect start with Memphis Depay putting them ahead against Belarus after just 50 seconds.

It was the fastest goal by a player for Holland since Phillip Cocu took just 38 seconds to score against Romania in March 2005, and also made Depay the youngest player to reach 14 goals for the Dutch national team since Patrick Kluivert.

Not content on joining Cocu and Kluivert in the record books, Depay also became the first Dutch national team player to be directly involved in at least four goals in a competitive game since Robin van Persie and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar did so against San Marino in 2011.

Depay later added a second goal, converting a penalty after Georginio Wijnaldum was fouled by Mikhail Sivakov – having set up the Liverpool man for Netherlands’ second.

The Lyon man then had another assist in him before the game was up, supplying Virgil van Dijk for Netherlands’ fourth.

2. Youri Tielemans finds his goalscoring boots again

When Leonardo Jardim returned to Monaco in January, there were fears for Youri Tielemans’ season as the Belgian had struggled to impress his former manager. But the 21-year-old was sent on loan to Leicester City and has not looked back since.

The midfielder has been growing in confidence with every passing game for the Foxes and recently opened his account for the club. And it appears he has carried that confidence over to Belgium.

Starting at the heart of a young Belgian midfield, Tielemans was once again impressive and opened the scoring with his first international goal capping off a good counter attack with a low driven finish.

3. Courtois’ club form carries over to Belgium

Thibaut Courtois’ move to Real Madrid last summer was meant to push the Belgian’s career on as he sought to become the best goalkeeper in the world. But instead, Courtois appears to have been regressing for both club and country – something which continued on Thursday evening.

With Belgium having just taken the lead through Tielemans, the Red Devils were confident, a feeling which appeared to run from their forwards all the way down to Courtois. But it would be his downfall.

Courtois received the ball inside his own area and looked to slow things down, but he was unaware of Artem Dzyuba closing him down. The pressure from the Russian forward caused Courtois to panic, kicking the ball directly to Denis Cheryshev who finished from close range.

And, naturally, Chelsea fans could not have been happier.

4. Paddy McNair’s miss

In a group with Netherlands and Germany, Northern Ireland need to take all the opportunities they can to get points if they are to harbour any hopes of qualifying for Euro 2020.

Kicking off Group C against Estonia, Martin O’Neill’s men may have fancied their chances of starting well and they should have taken a lead into half-time.

Jordan Jones did well to get a looping cross into the box despite being put under pressure, with Paddy McNair waiting for an easy finish.

But the 23-year-old somehow managed to head the box down into the ground, watching it bounce over the bar from inside the six-yard box.

Fortunately it would not prove costly as Niall McGinn and Steven Davies scored in the second-half to secure the win, but it was certainly a moment McNair will want to forget.

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5. Ezgjan Alioski continues North Macedonia’s rise

The former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia may officially have a new name, but it has had no impact on their national team.

Now called North Macedonia for political reasons – ending a decades-long dispute with Greece and opening the potential of a place in the European Union – Igor Angelovski’s men confirmed their place in the Euro 2020 play-offs in winning their Uefa Nations League group ahead of Armenia.

But it appears they have no intention of resting on their laurels, kicking off the official qualifying campaign with a 2-1 win over Latvia. Leeds United man Ezgjan Alioski opened the scoring, being assisted by Macedonian legend Goran Pandev before Elif Elmas doubled the lead before half-time.

Latvia did manage to pull one goal back three minutes from time but it was not enough to stop the North Macedonian train, who went on to score a third through Elmas.

6. World Cup runners-up come from behind to scrape win

Croatia’s World Cup run seems so long ago. After Luka Modric and co. almost went all the way in Russia, things haven’t been going to plan for the Blazers.

First they were relegated from Nations League A4 after finishing below England and Spain, and then they had to come from behind at home to earn a win against lowly Azerbaijan in their quest to reach Euro 2020.

Ramil Sheydaev gave the visitors the lead after 19 minutes and Azerbaijan looked to be taking that advantage into half-time until Borna Barisic equalised moments before the break.

Then, Andrej Kramaric spared Zlatko Dalic’s blushes, scoring the winner 11 minutes from time to see Croatia top of Group E after one game.

7. Poland break the mould

The results of Thursday’s Euro 2020 qualifying fixtures were grim reading for the travelling sides, with the exception of Poland.

Jerzy Brzeczek’s men were the only away side to win on Thursday as they beat Austria 1-0 thanks to a goal from AC Milan’s form man Krzysztof Piatek.

Slovenia were the only other away team to avoid defeat on Thursday as they were head 1-1 by Israel despite taking the lead.

8. Cyprus equal biggest win to top Group I

Barring a minor footballing miracle, Cyprus will not be playing at Euro 2020 with the likes of Belgium, Russia, Kazakhstan and Scotland in their group.

So the island nation should make the most of their team currently sitting ahead of anybody else in Group I after one game.

Cyprus faced San Marino in a slightly earlier kick-off and put five past the minnows without conceding. It brought just their 17th win in 105 European Championship qualifying campaigns and equalled the nation’s record for biggest win.

Goals from Pieros Sotiriou, Ioannis Kousoulos, Georgios Efrem and Konstantinos Laifis brought a 5-0 win over San Marino, the third time Cyprus have won by that margin in the nation’s footballing history.