England see off Ukraine, Ronaldo nets double

Published March 28, 2023
ATTARD (Italy): Matteo Pessina (second L) of Italy scores past Malta goalkeeper Henry Bonello during their Euro 2024 Group ‘C’ qualifier at National Stadium Ta’ Qali.—Reuters
ATTARD (Italy): Matteo Pessina (second L) of Italy scores past Malta goalkeeper Henry Bonello during their Euro 2024 Group ‘C’ qualifier at National Stadium Ta’ Qali.—Reuters

PARIS: England and Portugal made it two wins out of two at the start of European Championship qualifying, helped by their star players continuing their record-breaking streaks.

Harry Kane struck a record-extending 55th goal for his country to help England beat Ukraine 2-0 at Wembley on Sunday, while Cristiano Ronaldo extended his international goals record to 122 with a double in his 198th appearance for Portugal in a 6-0 win over Luxembourg.

Slovenia are the other team with a perfect start to qualifying for Euro 2024 after two matches as they beat San Marino 2-0.

Defending champion Italy got their first win of the qualifying campaign as they beat Malta 2-0.

Captain Kane, who broke Wayne Rooney’s all-time England goalscoring record with his penalty in Thursday’s 2-1 win against Italy in Naples, turned home his 55th international goal from Bukayo Saka’s cross in the 37th minute.

In-form Arsenal winger Saka all but ended Ukraine’s resistance three minutes later, turning from Jordan Henderson’s pass and curling a sublime strike from outside the area into the top corner.

The victory takes England three points clear at the top of the early Group ‘C’ table after winning in Italy for the first time since 1961 in midweek.

“Two wins out of two is all we asked for at the start of the camp,” midfielder Jude Bellingham told Channel 4. “We’ve followed up a really good result in Italy with another one tonight and when you do that, it feels rewarding.”

Gareth Southgate’s men produced an accomplished performance in their first home game since an agonising World Cup quarter-final defeat by France last December.

Kane missed one great early chance before he gave England the lead. Ukraine failed to muster a shot on target and Conor Gallagher, Harry Maguire and Jack Grealish all went close to netting a third for the hosts late on.

England, still waiting for a first major tournament title since 1966, return to qualifying action against Malta and North Macedonia in June.

The top two teams in each group will automatically book a place in next year’s European Championship in Germany.

Italy bounced back from their loss to England with a straightforward victory in Malta, with Mateo Retegui netting again.

The Argentina-born forward, who has Italian citizenship through his maternal grandmother, headed in a corner for the Azzurri’s opener in the 15th minute.

Retegui became the first Italy player to score in his first two competitive international matches in nearly 55 years.

The Azzurri doubled their tally when Monza midfielder Matteo Pessina tapped in a low cross from Emerson before the half-hour mark and Italy comfortably saw out the victory.

Ronaldo marked his record-breaking 197th international appearance in midweek with two goals against Liechtenstein and he repeated the trick as Portugal thumped Luxembourg.

The 38-year-old diverted in Nuno Mendes’ headed pass to give Roberto Martinez’s men a ninth-minute lead.

Goals from Joao Felix and Bernardo Silva put the game to bed inside 18 minutes, before Ronaldo slotted home his second from Bruno Fernandes’ through ball in the 31st minute.

Ronaldo has now scored 11 goals against Luxembourg in his career.

Late strikes from substitutes Otavio and Rafael Leao, who also missed a penalty, rounded off a fine performance from Portugal who are already clear at the top of Group ‘J’.

“It’s important to play as a team, to open up the game with the ball,” said new Portugal coach Roberto Martinez, who has restored Ronaldo to the starting line-up after he was dropped during the 2022 World Cup.

“We work so the players understand what we want and it’s been a good start, but we have to improve and work much more together.”

Also in Group ‘J’, Aron Gunnarsson netted a second-half hat trick as Iceland bounced back from their opening defeat by Bosnia and Herzegovina by thrashing Liechtenstein 7-0.

Slovakia moved into second place behind Portugal with a 2-0 win over the Bosnians.

Elsewhere, Rasmus Højlund continued his impressive start to his international career with another two goals but couldn’t prevent Denmark surprisingly losing 3-2 at Kazakhstan.

The Euro 2020 semi-finalists appeared to be cruising to victory in the Group ‘H’ match as Atalanta youngster Hojlund, who scored a hat-trick against Finland on his international debut on Thursday, netted twice in the first half.

Kazakhstan had started their bid to qualify for a first ever major tournament with a home defeat by Slovenia but Bakhtiyor Zaynutdinov’s 73rd-minute penalty gave the hosts hope of a famous turnaround in Astana.

Midfielder Askhat Tagybergen crashed a long-range drive past a helpless Kasper Schmeichel with four minutes of normal time remaining to equalise.

Substitute Abat Aymbetov provided the golden moment for Kazakhstan — who have already at least secured a Euro 2024 play-off spot through the Nations League — leaping to power a header into the top corner in the 89th minute.

He was later sent off for a second yellow card but by then had already grabbed all three points.

Finland beat Northern Ireland 1-0 to leave them level on points with Denmark and Kazakhstan, three points behind Slovenia.

Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2023



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