LONDON: Another hat-trick for Cristiano Ronaldo, another win and qualification for the World Cup for Denmark.
And yet more crowd trouble in a game between England and Hungary.
There was a sense of familiarity to the World Cup qualifiers in Europe on Tuesday, not least in Faro where Ronaldo extended his men’s record tally of international goals to 115 by scoring the 58th hat-trick of his career for club and country in Portugal’s 5-0 win over Luxembourg.
Denmark became the second European nation to qualify for next year’s tournament in Qatar, after Germany on Monday, by securing an eighth straight win in group play by beating Austria 1-0.
“You can only dream about things like this,” said Denmark midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. “It’s crazy. This is huge for me, it’s huge for the team, for Danish football and for Denmark. With the age and quality we have, we will only keep growing.”
The decisive win, sealed by Joakim Maehle’s second-half goal, came at the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen where star playmaker Christian Eriksen collapsed in June during a European Championship game. It is still unclear if Eriksen can resume his career to play at the World Cup in 13 months time.
England are likely to be there, but were made to wait before booking their place after being held to a 1-1 draw by Hungary at Wembley Stadium. Events on the field were overshadowed by clashes between police officers and Hungary supporters at the start of the match, sparked according to police by a visiting fan making “racially aggravated” comments toward a steward.
Disorder by Hungary fans, including racism, during the first group match between the teams in Budapest last month led to the Hungarians having to play a game in an empty stadium.
Sweden climbed above Spain into first place in Group ‘B’ with a 2-0 win over Greece, and Switzerland moved level on points with Italy in Group ‘C’ with a 4-0 victory over Lithuania.
In Group ‘A’, Portugal are a point behind Serbia, who beat Azerbaijan 3-1, but have a game in hand.
Only the top team from each group qualifies automatically for the World Cup. The second-place finishers go into the playoffs.
A pair of penalties, in the eighth and 13th minutes, set Ronaldo on his way to a record 10th international hat trick for Portugal that was completed in the 87th minute.
The 36-year-old Manchester United striker was playing his 182nd international game.
Bruno Fernandes and Joao Palhinha also scored for Portugal in their fourth straight win in qualifying, which left a straight shootout with Serbia for first place.
Dusan Vlahovic, the 21-year-old Fiorentina player who is starting to attract the interest of Europe’s biggest clubs, scored twice and Dusan Tadic hit Serbia’s third goal in their win over Azerbaijan at home.
Serbia’s last game is at Portugal, who will first play their game in hand away to Ireland.
Denmark are continuing their good form from the European Championship, where the team surged to the semi-finals despite losing Eriksen in distressing circumstances in the opening game.
The clean sheet against Austria meant the Danes have yet to concede in Group ‘F’, while they are the only team with a 100% record in qualifying.
Maehle scored with a sweeping shot that was teed up by Thomas Delaney’s direct run, taking Denmark to 27 goals second only to the Netherlands.
Denmark hold an unassailable seven-point lead over Scotland, who are still on track to finish runners-up and secure a playoff spot after a 1-0 win at the Faeroe Islands as they seek to reach a World Cup finals for the first time since 1998.
Lyndon Dykes scored for the Scots for the fourth game running, as he connected untidily with a Nathan Patterson cross to finally break the resistance of the minnows.
Scotland are four points clear of third-placed Israel, who beat visiting Moldova 2-1.
England sputtered as a combative Hungarian side held them to a draw in a Group ‘I’ match marred by ugly scenes at Wembley.
“The unrest unfolded after officers entered the away stand to arrest a spectator for a racially aggravated comment toward a steward,” the Metropolitan Police said in a statement.
Police were seen wielding batons to hold back the visiting fans but the rest of the game passed off largely peacefully.
The English Football Association said it was reporting the incident to FIFA, which has previously put Hungary on probation with the threat of another game being played without fans if there was further disorder at games.
England defender Tyrone Mings called for harsher punishments for racism in football.
“Every time we speak on racial abuse the punishments that follow never seem in line with what has happened,” Mings said. “I sincerely hope that if that is the case, the punishments fall in line with what happened this time.”
Gareth Southgate’s side fell behind to Roland Sallai’s disputed first-half penalty before John Stones stuck out a boot to score the equaliser in the 37th minute from Phil Foden’s cross.
Harry Kane failed to score in a qualifier for the first time in 16 games and was substituted as Hungary’s resolute defence kept a disjointed England side at bay.
“We did not play at the level we need to, simple as that,” said Southgate.
England will be sure of reaching next year’s finals if they take four points from their final qualifiers against Albania and San Marino in November.
Poland are second behind England in Group ‘I’ after a stormy win in Albania.
Play was halted and the teams left the pitch as fans threw bottles after Karol Swiderski scored the winning goal in the 77th minute. The teams later returned to complete the game.
The wins for Sweden and Switzerland set up thrilling finales to their groups.
Sweden lead Spain by two points with two games left for each. One of those is a meeting between the countries in Spain.
Italy, the European champions, are only above Switzerland on goal difference ahead of the teams’ match in Rome on Nov 12.
The Italians travel to Northern Ireland for their final qualifier, while Switzerland completes their programme at home to Bulgaria.
Ukraine were held to a goalless draw by Bosnia-Herzegovina and lie second in World Cup holders France’s Group ‘D’, just a point ahead of Finland.
Teemu Pukki scored twice as the Finns beat Kazakhstan 2-0 to become his country’s all-time leading international goalscorer with 33 goals, overtaking Jari Litmanen.
France, who won the Nations League on Sunday by beating Spain, will not be in action again until November.
Published in Dawn, October 14th, 2021