The top football leagues around Europe may only be a few games old but already followers were forced into a break last weekend as divisions made way for the return of Euro 2020 qualifiers. For many supporters, it was not a welcome change either.
Matches were played over the course of Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday with many shown live on TV thanks to Sky Sports and ITV. It gave lovers of the beautiful game an opportunity to cheer on their home nations favourites – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – as well as an update on some of the continent’s big boys, such as Portugal, Spain and Italy.
Norn Iron Scrape a Win, Sorry Scots Lose
Northern Ireland beat Luxembourg at home on Thursday evening, as was expected of them, but they made hard work of what should have been a simple three points. A Malget own goal with 37 minutes on the clock proved to be the difference that evening at Windsor Park but everyone in attendance and watching the television coverage knew much better was expected when Germany came calling a few days later.
Scotland faced a must-win match at Hampden against a determined Russian side who were favourites to finish second in the group behind high-flying Belgium, but the Tartan Army were forced to sit through another horror show. The home side took the lead early in the evening when McGinn scored a surprise opener on 10 minutes and that had the crowd believing.
Dzyuba knocked in an equaliser just before half-time and an O’Donnell own goal on the hour settled things, handing all three points to the away dressing room. It was a deserved victory and the future really does look bleak for Scotland with experts at a loss as to what Steve Clarke should do next, put his faith in youth, make the dark blues more defensive? Something needs to be done, and fast.
Northern Ireland 0-2 Germany
Northern Ireland rolled out the red carpet for one of the Euro 2020 favourites on Monday night as Germany arrived at Windsor Park looking to put on a show and drive themselves towards qualification. The odds were stacked against the home team wearing green, but they started brightly enough, exploding out of the traps and having a few chances to score in the first half. The bulk of those camped in the stands allowed themselves to dream of a famous win over a giant of world football, but it wasn’t to be.
Germany took the lead soon after the re-start when Halstenberg scored an opener after 48 minutes to return the favour. Northern Ireland started the first half strongly but wasn’t able to convert the chances that came their way. Germany began the second half on the front foot, and it took them less than three minutes to find the net.
That’s the difference between a plucky underdog and a nation with experience of winning major football matches and trophies. At 1-0 the match was always hanging in the balance but when Gnabry tied things up in stoppage time it was over as a contest. A case of close, but no cigar for the home side who proved their fighting spirit but came out of the evening with no points to show for their efforts on Monday.
Missed Opportunities Prove Costly
The match stats suggest we arrived at the correct result as Northern Ireland finished with only 26% of the overall possession, against the 74% of Germany. The home nation had five attempts at goal but put only two of them on target, forcing a respectable four corners. Germany had a stunning 21 shots, but only seven of those were on target and that’s something they will want to look at going forward. It must be improved if they are to live up to the hype and go close to winning Euro 2020.
Speaking to the press following the full-time whistle and Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill blamed missed opportunities for his side passing up the chance to score a memorable win over Germany at the start of the week. Despite the defeat, he took pride in the way his men performed, especially in the first half, when limited Germany’s chances and having opportunities of their own to find the net. With a bit more composure in the final third, who knows what could have happened? The midfield and defence certainly did their bit.
Scotland 0-4 Belgium
Another night to forget for the long-suffering members of the Tartan Army. Scotland fans are famous for their commitment and loyalty to the national team but only a handful of supporters turned out to watch their side crumble against the number one ranked side in the world, according to FIFA. The Hampden stands lay bare on what was an embarrassing night for the SFA, both on and off the field of play. It’s a bold call but it would appear there has never been a more worrying time to be a follower of the national team, and that takes some doing.
Steve Clarke barely has his coat off and already he finds himself out of the running to qualify for Euro 2020 through the groups. The dark blues have failed to impress at each and every turn, even threatening to throw away three points when beating Cyprus back in the summer and toiling against the minnows of San Marino. There’s talent in the squad but confidence is low, things need freshening up and someone at the SFA has to make the move and heal a scar that has ripped through the support. Getting Scotland back somewhere near their best won’t be easy and there are some who believe it isn’t even worth trying.
Lukaku loves playing against Scotland and he hit another goal inside nine minutes to give his men the lead. That was added to by strikes from Vermaelen, Alderweireld and De Bruyne, the latter coming with 82 minutes on the clock. A sorry night for fans, even worse for the small amount that braved the wind and rain attend.