The Netherlands regain control of their World Cup qualifying group but are hardly convincing.
A 1-0 victory over Latvia with a Davy Klaassen volley didn’t look like Turkey’s 6-1 teardown last month. Still, that was enough to forge a two-point lead at the top of European Group G as second-placed Norway striker Erling Haaland drew 1-1 against Turkey.
Other great teams also had to work for their victories. Germany lost a goal before recovering to beat Romania 2-1. 2018 World Cup finalists Croatia were just one goal ahead of Cyprus with 11 minutes remaining before winning 3-0.
Only the group winners qualify directly for the World Cup. The second face an elimination.
GROUP E Belgium are very busy with the four Nations League finals this week, so the focus has been on the Czech Republic and Wales fighting for second place.
The Czechs and Welsh remain tied with eight points each – half of the Belgians’ total – after a tense 2-2 draw on Friday. Aaron Ramsey put Wales ahead in the 36th minute, but Jakub Pesek responded almost immediately by equalizing for the Czechs. The hosts took the lead when Welsh goalkeeper Danny Ward failed to control the ball and scored an own goal, but Daniel James fought back to tie the score for Wales. Estonia beat Belarus 2-0.
GROUP G The Netherlands’ victory over Latvia, sealed by the eighth international goal from midfielder Klassen, strengthened the Dutch lead at the top of the group to move closer to a World Cup return after failing to qualify in 2018.
Kerem Aktürkoğlu put Turkey ahead in the sixth minute of new manager Stefan Kuntz’s opener since joining Germany’s Under-21 squad. Kristian Thorstvedt equalized for Norway just before half-time. The Netherlands are two points ahead of Norway, Turkey two points further. Turkey have won just one of their last seven competitive games, against tiny Gibraltar. Montenegro won in Gibraltar 3-0.
GROUP H Croatia and Russia remained neck and neck at the top of the group in one of the tightest battles in the competition.
Croatia had to wait for stoppages in the first half to gain the advantage thanks to Ivan Perisic’s goal, although the final score of 3-0 suggested a more comfortable result against last-placed Cyprus.
New Russia coach Valery Karpin scored four games unbeaten with a 1-0 win over Slovakia but needed a homeward goal in Kazan from Slovak defender Milan Skriniar. Russia have yet to concede a goal since Karpin took the lead after the European Championship, but that’s only because Slovakia missed a series of good scoring opportunities. Slovenia beat Malta 4-0 to climb to third place in the group.
GROUP J Germany took four wins in four games under new coach Hansi Flick with a 2-1 victory over Romania, but did not do everything they wanted.
Ianis Hagi, son of the great Romanian Gheorghe Hagi, gave Romania the lead before Germany missed a series of chances to equalize. Serge Gnabry finally equalized the Germans with a powerful shot early in the second half – his fifth goal in seven games in the qualifying group – and Thomas Müller scored a second from a corner in the 81st for his 40th international goal.
Flick’s arrival brought Bayern Munich’s large contingent together in the German squad with the coach that led them to win the Champions League in 2020. Both of Friday’s goals and seven of 14 so far under Flick were scored by players he coached at Bayern.
North Macedonia moved from fourth to second with a 4-0 victory over Liechtenstein, and Armenia drew against Iceland 1-1.
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