LONDON: Denmark added to the most perfect campaign in World Cup qualifying on Saturday and England also eased towards winning their group.
Wins for Scotland, Serbia, Sweden, Switzerland and Ukraine moved each closer to at least a place in the playoffs next year with the finals tournament in Qatar in sight.
Cristiano Ronaldo did not even play in Saturday’s World Cup programme yet still set one men’s international football record and extended another playing against the 2022 tournament hosts.
In his European record 181st game for Portugal — breaking a tie with his former Real Madrid team-mate Sergio Ramos’ mark for Spain — Ronaldo scored his 112th goal to stretch his men’s world record.
Denmark have put together perhaps the world’s best series of qualifying results as the runaway Group ‘F’ leaders while Scotland and Israel served up the most dramatic game.
The Danes’ 4-0 win at Moldova was a seventh straight win with no goals conceded and a European-best 26 goals scored.
One day after he made the Ballon d’Or nomination list, defender and captain Simon Kjaer’s goal from the penalty spot was one of four in 21 first-half minutes in Chisinau.
Denmark can seal their place in Qatar by beating Austria on Tuesday in Copenhagen.
Scotland beat visiting Israel 3-2 in a tense game with control of second place in the group and a playoffs berth in March at stake.
Scotland trailed twice in the first half at Hampden Park to goals from PSV Eindhoven forward Eran Zahavi and Mu’nas Dabbur.
John McGinn levelled once, but home striker Lyndon Dykes missed a penalty on the stroke of half-time. He made amends before the hour mark with an equaliser, awarded after a VAR review after the referee initially disallowed it for a high boot.
Four minutes into stoppage time, Scott McTominay of Manchester United bundled the ball over the goal-line after a corner to take Scotland four points clear of Israel in second place with three matches remaining as they bid to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1998.
“We’ve got a few games left and we have to just remain focused. We wanted a win tonight and we got it,” Dykes told Sky Sports.
Scotland next play on Tuesday at the Faeroe Islands who lost 2-0 Saturday to visitors Austria. Though Austria stayed in fourth place, they will likely advance to the 12-team playoffs getting one of the two places awarded to teams based on Nations League group standings last year.
England manager Gareth Southgate rested key players including Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling as his second string impressed in a 5-0 thumping of Andorra.
Ben Chilwell opened the scoring in the 17th minute, with the goal awarded by VAR after initially being disallowed for offside against Jadon Sancho.
Bukayo Saka made the points safe before half-time and Roma striker Tammy Abraham made the most of a rare start by scoring in the 59th minute.
Jack Grealish came off the bench and won a penalty which James Ward-Prowse saw saved, before turning in the rebound.
Grealish rounded off the scoring with a fine individual effort for his first international goal after collecting goalkeeper Sam Johnstone’s long kick.
“It has been a long time coming and it’s about time that I scored because everyone has been saying it to me,” Grealish told the BBC. “I think that is 16 games now. It was coming and I’m just delighted that I’ve got off the mark.”
It was a busy night for Kateryna Monzul, the first female official to referee an England match, with five yellow cards as well as the penalty award, one day after a fire damaged one of the stands at the tiny Estadi Nacional.
England remain four points clear at the top of Group ‘I’ after second-placed Albania won 1-0 against Hungary in an empty Puskas Stadium in Budapest. It was a punishment for racist behavior by fans when England visited last month.
Poland are a point further back in third after seeing off San Marino 5-0 and next face Albania in Tirana on Tuesday.
While European champions Italy are hosting the Nations League Finals this week, Switzerland closed the gap to three points in Group ‘C’ after edging out Northern Ireland 2-0.
The Irish came to Geneva with hopes of putting pressure on the Swiss but the game swung against them when defender Jamal Lewis was sent off in the 37th.
The Swiss are three points behind Italy with a game in hand and lead third-placed Northern Ireland by six points. They can draw level with Italy on Tuesday by winning in Lithuania, and need a big win.
The key game is on Nov 12 when Italy host Switzerland. A draw could even suit the Italians whose goal difference is currently six better than the Swiss who missed many scoring chances on Saturday.
Sweden moved within a point of Group ‘B’ leaders Spain, also currently in Nations League action, thanks to a 3-0 win over Kosovo in Solna.
Alexander Isak scored a magnificent goal to cap a brilliant individual display, with Robin Quaison and Emil Forsberg also on the scoresheet.
Sweden also have a game in hand on Spain, who they visit in their final qualifier next month., and can go top Tuesday when Greece visit.
Greece kept their hopes of pushing into the top two themselves alive as two late goals secured a 2-0 win in Georgia.
The Greeks remain unbeaten and are three points behind Sweden and also have a game in hand on Spain.
Serbia edged into top spot in Group ‘A’, winning 1-0 in Luxembourg to go one point clear of Portugal having played a game more.
Ireland won 3-0 at Azerbaijan, and in a five-nation group where the odd team out plays Qatar in a friendly, Portugal took their turn. Ronaldo opened the scoring in the first half of a 3-0 win.
The likely group decider will be Portugal hosting Serbia on Nov 14.
In a Group ‘D’ led by France, Ukraine took control of second place with a first win, 2-1 at Finland, after five straight draws.
The Euro 2020 quarter-finalists are two points ahead of Bosnia and Herzegovina, who beat Kazakhstan 2-0, and four points behind France.
Published in Dawn, October 11th, 2021