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International Round-up: Euro 2016 Qualifiers Underway

The Boot Room

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The first steps on the road to France and Euro 2016 have been taken, and there was no shortage of surprises across the three days of qualifier action. Some of the European teams who featured at the World Cup this summer returned to competitive action in the worst possible manner, while others may just dare to believe that the scalps they took could be the springboard for an unlikely charge on the increased number of qualification places available. Who were the big winners and losers from matchday(s) one of European qualification?

Group A: Turkey stuffed and Dutch downed

Two of the three games in Group A fitted the description of ‘coupon buster’, with many people’s tips for first and second crashing to surprise defeats. The most eye-catching result was Turkey’s 3-0 hammering away to Iceland, who appear to have continued their impressive form from the World Cup qualifiers into this campaign. Perhaps we should not be hugely surprised by an Icelandic victory after their run to the play-offs for Brazil 2014, but the  three-goal margin will have raised a few eyebrows. Swansea‘s Gylfi Sigurdsson was on target in Reykjavik, as was the impressive Kolbeinn Sigthorsson, who will be well marshaled by opposition defenders in future games.

World Cup bronze medalists Netherlands made a disastrous start, losing 2-1 in the Czech Republic after Vaclav Pilar’s stoppage time winner. Newcastle’s Daryl Janmaat erred when his weak header was pounced upon by the Czech forward for the winning goal, while the hosts’ midfielder Borek Dockal stood out with a performance that also brought a first half goal. Plenty to ponder for Dutch coach Guus Hiddink, but the Czechs are off to a flier and their cause may also be helped by Turkey’s defeat.

The other encounter in the Euro 2016 qualifying group was a dismal 0-0 draw between Kazakhstan and Latvia, neither of whom will even threaten for a play-off position and could ship a heavy beating or two as the group goes on.

Star men: Kolbeinn Sigthorsson (Iceland), Borek Dockal (Czech Republic)

Group B: Wales Baled out and Bosnia beaten

It just had to be him, didn’t it? Staring a humiliating night against a team comprised almost entirely of amateurs on an artificial surface that your local five-a-side players would be ashamed of, the world’s most expensive footballer was bound to have a telling impact on proceedings. In the end, Wales really needed Gareth Bale to dig them out of a hole against Andorra, ranked by FIFA among the 10 worst teams in international football. The Real Madrid maestro was given special treatment by the home side’s combative/thuggish defenders, but ultimately he made his class tell and spared Chris Coleman’s team from embarrassment.

The Welsh did enough to stave off a poor result, something that could not be said for Bosnia-Herzegovina. Fresh from their first ever appearance at a major tournament, the Bosnians crashed to an unexpected 2-1 home defeat by Cyprus, even after taking an early lead through Vedad Ibisevic. Cypriot striker Dimitris Christofi took the plaudits in Sarajevo with his two-goal salvo and the home side also managed to squander the perfect chance for late salvation as Miralem Pjanic missed a penalty.

It is the first time that Bosnia go into a qualification campaign with expectations to get through, something that they haven’t dealt with thus far, while Wales will realise that substantial improvement is needed. The fixture between Israel and Belgium was scheduled to take place on Tuesday but was postponed and will instead be played in March.

Star men: Gareth Bale (Wales), Dimitris Christofi (Cyprus)

Group C: Holders get back in business after Brazilian fiasco

After the meek surrender of their world title in June, it is easy to forget that Spain are going for a third consecutive European crown, which would be an unprecedented feat in the tournament’s 54-year history. A Spanish side bearing quite a few changes from the team that imploded in Brazil had little trouble in sweeping past Macedonia by five goals to one, even if the visitors did cause a scare when scoring at 2-0. The experienced Sergio Ramos and David Silva were on target for Spain, as was the emerging Paco Alcacer.

Ukraine’s footballers missed their chance to bring some much-needed good news to the troubled nation as they went down 0-1 at home to Slovakia, Robert Mak with a first half winner. The hosts thought they had equalised in spectacular fashion in stoppage time when goalkeeper Olexander Pyatov bundled the ball into Slovakia’s net, only for the goal to be disallowed.

Luxembourg were one of several teams across Europe to spring a surprise after holding a promising Belarus team to a 1-1 draw. The underdogs even took the lead through Lars Gerson and had the upper hand until 12 minutes from time, Stanislav Dragun denying the home side a famous victory.

While Spain seem to be getting back on track after their woeful World Cup and Slovakia laid down a marker of their intent, things just don’t seem to be getting any better for beleaguered Ukraine.

Star men: Paco Alcacer (Spain), Robert Mak (Slovakia)

Group D: Irish eyes smiling but brave Scots unrewarded

The extent of Scotland’s improvement under Gordon Strachan would be laid bare by how they coped with the challenge of travelling to newly-crowned world champions Germany. Despite the home side missing key players through injury in Dortmund, the Scots proved to be a far bigger thorn in their side than many would have expected. They certainly didn’t have an inferiority complex, boldly taking the game to Germany and getting their reward through Ikeichi Anya’s second half goal. Ultimately, though, they didn’t have an answer to the prolific Thomas Muller, but the Tartan Army can take huge confidence going into the rest of the qualifiers.

However, they will have been disappointed that Georgia couldn’t quite hold out for a draw against Republic of Ireland in Tbilisi. All the more galling was that Ireland’s hero on the night was Aiden McGeady, a Glaswegian by birth. The Everton winger has been dogged by criticism over his lack of end product in a green shirt, but he put those accusations to bed with an exquisite 90th-minute winner. It wasn’t the only spectacular goal either; Tornike Okriashvili left David Forde stranded with a sumptuous first half strike.

The other Group D game ran along expected lines as Gibraltar were taught a harsh lesson by Poland on their competitive international debut. The Poles only had one goal on the board by half-time in Faro-Loule but added six more after the interval, with Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski on target four times in a facile victory.

So Germany got their win in unconvincing fashion, Ireland summoned enough spirit to avoid being tripped up and Scotland will be encouraged by their courageous showing. As for Gibraltar, they’ll do well to keep their eventual goals conceded figure under 70.

Star men: Thomas Muller (Germany), Ikeichi Anya (Scotland), Aiden McGeady (Ireland)

Group E: England overcome stiffest test

England had a score to settle after a familiarly disappointing performance on the world stage in Brazil and their opening qualifier against Switzerland looked fraught with danger. St Jakob Park in Basel has often seen English clubs come unstuck, but Roy Hodgson’s national team wouldn’t suffer the same fate. The much-maligned Danny Welbeck did his confidence plenty of good as he came up with both goals in a slow-burning match, but for the Three Lions, the result is everything.

Even better for England is that it seems hard to envisage where the competition for an automatic qualification place is going to come from. Estonia did cause a minor upset when beating Slovenia, although neither side can realistically expect to finish ahead of the English. Lithuania also got off to a winning start, but they were fully expected to beat San Marino and a final score of 2-0 will not strike fear into their Group E rivals.

It is incredibly early days yet but already England look well on course for a routine passage to the finals. Switzerland away was meant to be their toughest challenge, but the World Cup second round fallers never got going in Basel.

Star men: Danny Welbeck (England), Ats Purje (Estonia), Arvidas Novikovas (Lithuania)

Group F: Kyle has the last Laff for Ulstermen

Kyle Lafferty’s career hasn’t always passed off smoothly, an unconventional stint in Serie B with Palermo part of his life story, but he was the toast of Northern Ireland on Sunday night after his late winner in the 2-1 away win over Hungary, all three goals coming in a frenetic last 15 minutes. It was a hugely encouraging win for Michael O’Neill and his troops, one which may just be the start of a tilt at the play-offs in what promises to be a wide open group.

Greece only exited the World Cup after a last 16 penalty shoot-out defeat to Costa Rica, but they were rocked by Romania on Sunday, losing 1-0 in front of their own fans. Ciprian Marica’s early penalty was enough to secure the points for Romania, although their captain later blotted his copybook by getting himself sent off and leaving his team a man light for most of the second half. Alexandru Chipciu was the standout performer in the Euro 2016 qualifying game in Piraeus.

Finland survived a scare away to the Faroe Islands, coming from behind to win 3-1. Riku Riski showed that he is a safe choice for future games after his double in Torshavn, with Roman Eremenko also on target for the Finns. Captain Niklas Moisander of Ajax will be disappointed with his evening, though, after a rare mistake led to the Faroes’ opener.

Star men: Kyle Lafferty (Northern Ireland), Riku Riski (Finland)

Group G: Russia take early command

The pressure was on for Russia to produce a big performance in front of their disgruntled fans after an awful World Cup, and even though Liechtenstein didn’t exactly provide stiff opposition, Fabio Capello’s men got the job done in comfortable fashion with a 4-0 home win. It would be remiss to suggest that all is sweetness and light again, though – the visitors twice put through their own net and another of the goals was a penalty. It was simply a case of getting a substantial win on board and erasing the cobwebs from Brazil.

Montenegro also got off to a winning start, defeating Moldova 2-0 in Podgorica. Mirko Vucinic and Zarko Tomasevic provided the goals for the home side, for whom midfielder Nemanja Nikolic played a starring role. Meanwhile, Austria and Sweden shared the spoils in Vienna, David Alaba’s early penalty quickly cancelled out by Erkan Zengin. The mercurial Zlatan Ibrahimovic wasn’t on the scoresheet but nonetheless illustrated his importance to the cause, working tirelessly for the team throughout.

On an opening matchday of surprises, Group G bucked the trend by failing to produce any eye-catching results. Montenegro will probably be happiest with proceedings at this early stage.

Star men: Nemanja Nikolic (Montenegro), Denis Glushakov (Russia)

Group H: Azzurri begin with a win

Italy were among several high-profile early casualties at the World Cup and sought to quickly put Brazil out of their system as they traveled to Norway. It was a fixture that had tended to trip up the Azzurri in previous years, but Antonio Conte’s side showed an impressive focus and desire to win 2-0. There were a few unfamiliar names in the Italy line-up, although the performance of Simone Zaza suggested that we may hear plenty more of him in the coming months. He netted the opener in Oslo.

Croatia were also hoping to arise from a World Cup hangover and despite beating Malta 2-0 in Zagreb, the nature of the performance won’t have their Group H opponents trembling with fear. Luka Modric struck the opening goal from distance and young Andrej Kramaric was also on target for Niko Kovac’s men.

Bulgaria faced a tricky opener away to Azerbaijan, coming out the right side of a 2-1 scoreline. Ventsislav Hristov came up with a late winner for the Bulgarians, for whom the celebrations spoke more of relief than jubilation. Still, the value of beginning a qualifying campaign with three points can never be understated, particularly in a fixture like this.

Italy’s young guns impressed and can only improve with the considerable experience of Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo alongside them for guidance. Croatia will need to show more if they are to qualify automatically.

Star men: Simone Zaza (Italy), Andrej Kramaric (Croatia)

Group I: Sidelined Ronaldo witnesses more pain for poor Portuguese

Portugal were horrendous at the World Cup and had to make do without Cristiano Ronaldo for what ought to have been a straightforward opening tie at home to Albania. With Ronaldo’s former Man United team-mate Nani taking the captain’s armband, the Portuguese fell victim to perhaps the shock of the opening week of qualifiers. Bekim Balaj sparked scenes of joy for Albania, while the jeers and whistles rang out at full-time for Paulo Bento and his misfiring team.

Denmark were also staring down the barrel of an unexpected home defeat, but unlike Portugal they found a way to survive a very stiff test from Armenia, who won 4-0 on their last visit to the Scandinavian country. Thomas Kahlenberg’s late winner ensured a 2-1 win in a match that saw the teams’ respective talismans Christian Eriksen and Henrikh Mkhitaryan show their worth.

The Danes can be happy with the win in the knowledge that they will have plenty to work on for their upcoming qualifiers. Serbia’s prospects may have been boosted without kicking a ball (well, they did have a friendly against France) after Portugal’s defeat, one which already leaves Ronaldo and co with very little margin for error.

Star men: Lorik Cana (Albania), Bekim Balaj (Albania)

 

 

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Arsenal

Three Arsenal youngsters who could help England bring football home in 2022

The Gunners’ academy continues to develop some of the very best youngsters.

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Arsenal
Photo: Getty Images

After a successful tournament got the nation dreaming, England fell at the penultimate at the World Cup and may require Arsenal‘s help in 2022.

Gareth Southgate’s youthful squad exceeded pre-tournament expectations and suddenly Greg Dyke’s objectives for the 2022 World Cup seem within grasp – and the Three Lions now have four years to build towards glory in Qatar.

Come November 2022, when FIFA has confirmed the World Cup will commence, Southgate is likely to call upon a number of the players who starred for the Three Lions in Russia but changes to his squad are also inevitable.

“The two targets I have for the England team are – one, to at least reach the semi-finals of Euro 2020 and two, win the World Cup in 2022.”

– FA Chairman Greg Dyke reveals his ambitious plan in 2013.

Fortunately, English football is breaming with exciting young talent at the moment and Arsenal may hold the key to success with three of their most highly-rated prospects.

Eddie Nketiah

Bursting onto the scene in November 2017, Eddie Nketiah became an instant hit at the Emirates Stadium after netting twice against Norwich City in the Carabao Cup. Since then, the 19-year-old forward has gone on to make three Premier League appearances.

Competition for places at Arsenal is fierce, particularly following the captures of Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the past 12 months, which means he may have to be patient to get his chance – but the situation is entirely different on the international stage.

In four England U21 appearances, Nketiah has scored two goals, per TransferMarkt stats, following on from eight goals in eight games at U18 level and four goals in two games for the U17 side. In just over a year, Nketiah rose to Aidy Boothroyd’s U21 ranks from the U17’s and shows no signs of stopping his rise.

(Photo by Bertrand Langlois/Getty Images)

Ainsley Maitland-Niles

Becoming a regular for Arsenal in Arsene Wenger’s final season at the Emirates Stadium, Ainsley Maitland-Niles showed his versatility by catching the eye playing as a full-back. His natural position is in midfield though and this is where he could be of value to England.

It is fair to say that England’s options in the middle of the park sitting in front of the defence are extremely limited, with neither Jordan Henderson or Eric Dier doing enough to cement their spot in the position for the long-term.

Maitland-Niles could become the man England are looking for in the coming years and further first-team experience with Arsenal looks set to follow under Unai Emery, as the 20-year-old penned a new long-term deal with the Gunners last month.

(Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

Reiss Nelson

Arsenal fans have been excited about 18-year-old Reiss Nelson for a while now and saw the teenager break into the fringes of the first-team last term, as Whoscored data shows he finished the campaign with 15 appearances across all competitions.

Eight of those opportunities came as a starter, including two in the Premier League, and there is every chance Nelson could earn further action under the guidance of Unai Emery next term – especially as Alex Iwobi has not done enough to warrant continued action.

Should the Nigeria international continue to suffer with poor form, the eight-cap England U19 international could be Arsenal’s breakthrough star of the year – following in the footsteps of players like Maitland-Niles, Jack Wilshere and Hector Bellerin.

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Who will bring football home? England’s predicted World Cup 2022 squad

Players from Everton, Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester United and even Bristol City feature.

Mathew Nash

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England were desperately close to making it into the World Cup final, after defeat to Croatia in the semi-finals.

The Three Lions did however bring back some pride and promise from the long-suffering England fans.

With England also the World Under-17 and Under-20 Champions, the future is brighter than ever.

So who will be at the World Cup in 2022?

It seems impossible to guess four years in advance. Not many would have suggested the likes of Jordan Pickford, Harry Maguire or Jesse Lingard four years ago.

(Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)

The squad, hopefully, will not change much and the experienced players in the squad will likely still be around.

However, for the sake of the article and debate, anyone who will be over 30 in 2022 has been ignored. That leaves Kyle Walker, Danny Rose, Kieran Trippier, Gary Cahill, Phil Jones, Ashley Young, Jordan Henderson, Fabian Delph, Jamie Vardy and Danny Welbeck in the cold, even if some of them will likely be present.

Eric Dier also got nudged out, as his form recently has been a concern and Nick Pope has been replaced.

So who makes the XI and the overall squad of 23?

GOALKEEPERS

Jordan Pickford

The Everton stopper cemented his place as England’s new number one during the quarter-final triumph over Sweden. Highly-rated by club and country and with excellent distribution it will be no surprise if he remains England’s first-choice in 2022.

(Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)

Jack Butland

What a deputy. The Stoke City goalkeeper could easily be our number one. The Potters relegation will hopefully not set him back and he should push Pickford for years to come.

Angus Gunn

The son of a Scotland international has so far rejected their international calls. Recently joined Southampton for £13.5 million and will hope to cement his place as a Premier League regular.

Honourable mentions: Nick Pope, Freddie Woodman, Dean Henderson.

DEFENDERS

John Stones

Despite one lapse of concentration which cost England crucially against Croatia the Manchester City man was excellent in Russia.

If he maintains a starting place at City and his career is not derailed, then Stones will be one of the leaders in Qatar.

Harry Maguire

Became a national hero this summer. A swashbuckling defender with an eye for a goal and a great meme. Should be a multi-cap England international.

Joe Gomez

Replacing Kyle Walker as the pace-man in a back three is Liverpool’s Gomez. If he can combat his recent injury troubles he will be a certain future England player. Remember how he shackled Neymar back in November.

Jamaal Lascelles

For many people, the Newcastle captain should have been in Russia ahead of Phil Jones or Gary Cahill.

Rightly so. A brilliant leader who would slot into a back three perfectly and deserves to be in the England fold for the next four years.

(during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Arsenal at St. James Park on April 15, 2018 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.

Dael Fry

The Middlesbrough defender is one inclusion that may cause derision. But this lad is extremely talented.

A reliable defender, good with the ball at his feet and a favourite at St George’s Park. Fry will hope to emerge as an England hopeful in the years to come.

Honourable mentions: Eric Dier, Alfie Mawson, Michael Keane, Ben Wilmot.

FULL-BACKS/WING-BACKS

Trent Alexander-Arnold

Already in the England picture and shone v Belgium. Will likely play in the ¾ play-off this weekend. In four years he might be playing in the final.

Jonjoe Kenny

A tough call this but the Everton defender is like the Kieran Trippier to Alexander-Arnold’s Walker-like characteristics.

Whilst the Liverpool man has the pace and the power Kenny is more deliberate and his crossing is fantastic.

A favourite with the England youth management and the eventual successor to Seamus Coleman at Goodison Park.

Honourable mentions: Kyle Walker-Peters, Dujon Sterling, Steven Sessegnon.

Ryan Sessegnon

A shoe-in for 2022 if he remains fit and healthy. The Fulham star is perhaps England’s most exciting prospect.

He might even be considered an attacker by 2022 but for now, he would be an excellent left wing-back and will hopefully make his England bow this season.

(Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Joe Bryan

This might be the biggest swing and potential miss in the squad. The Bristol City star is wanted by a host of clubs this summer after his fantastic form at Ashton Gate.

But he is a hard-working and super-fit young man who, given the right opportunities, is easily capable of playing for his nation.

Honourable mentions: Lewis Gibson, Luke Shaw, Ben Chilwell

MIDFIELDERS

Lewis Cook

Absolutely adored by the England camp the Bournemouth man has already made his England debut. More positive in his passing than Jordan Henderson and more dynamic than Eric Dier, he is surely the future of England’s composed holding role.

Harry Winks

Set for a big break at Tottenham this season he has the potential to be an England star. If he can overcome his current injury trouble he would seem like being a shoe-in for 2022.

Phil Foden

England lacked a midfielder who could pick the locks of the Croatia defence in the semi-finals. This is the young man to do just that. The Manchester City youngster needs to break into the first-team fold but given what he has already achieved that should not be a problem.

(Photo credit should read DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images)

Ruben Loftus-Cheek

A lot depends on his next move, as Chelsea does not seem to be the right place for RLC to develop.

Showed in all his England performances that he is a talent to keep an eye on for the future and England will surely nurture him.

Dele Alli

May not have set the world alight in Russia, but the Tottenham star’s talent cannot be overlooked.

If he can get to the level he is capable of, then Alli is a 100-cap man with ease.

Jesse Lingard

Can he continue to prove people wrong for another four years?

Excellent at the World Cup and been in fine form for Manchester United. If he continues to progress in this way, then he should still be in the England set-up four years from now.

James Maddison

A tough choice considering the wealth of attacking midfield talent but the Leicester newbie seems the most likely to reach the levels necessary to play at a World Cup.

The £24 million talent can play a number of positions and is a special talent the Premier League will enjoy watching next term.

Honourable mentions: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Nathaniel Chalobah, Ross Barkley, Jack Grealish, Kieran Dowell,

FORWARDS

Raheem Sterling

He divided opinion among some at this summer’s World Cup. But under the guidance of Pep Guardiola he will continue to improve.

Whether out wide or through the middle, England will surely stick by the attacker.

(Photo credit should read MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images)

Harry Kane

The nation’s current captain and front-runner for the Golden Boot award at this summer’s tournament it is hard to see how he won’t lead the line again in four years time.

If he keeps going at his current rate, Kane will surely take Wayne Rooney’s goal-scoring record for England.

Ademola Lookman

Some felt the Everton attacker was unlucky not to go this summer. After thriving on loan at RB Leipzig it seemed he might make a late lunge.

This summer is big for Lookman. He needs to decide where is best to carry on his career which could be key to a future England career.

Marcus Rashford

The Manchester United talent can surely only get better. If he can become a regular starter, wherever he happens to play his club football then the teenager will hope to secure a place in Qatar.

Honourable mentions: Dominic Solanke, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Eddie Nketiah.

Who did we miss? Can England bring football home in 2022?

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Three Everton players who could help England bring football home in 2022

Everton have a long list of top talents coming through that could make it into the England team.

Mathew Nash

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England are out of the World Cup following defeat against Croatia in the semi-finals last night. But the future looks bright for England. They had the second youngest team in the tournament and are the current under-20 and under-17 World Champions.

So who could help them bring football home at Qatar 2022?

When looking at Everton’s current crop, it is hard to pick just one.

Ademola Lookman is an excellent attacker, although could be on his way. Callum Connolly’s versatility makes him a manager’s dream whilst Tom Davies had a brilliant 2016-17 season, even if last term was less impressive.

But here are the three Everton players who might have a chance of heading to Qatar in four years time.

(Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

Dominic Calvert-Lewin

Like England’s summer hero Harry Maguire the 21-year-old came through the ranks at Sheffield United. Since joining Everton his progress has been astonishing.

He is already a hero for England. He scored the winner for England’s under-20s last summer as they won the World Cup.

With striking positions set to be up for grabs in four years time, DCL will no doubt be in the running.

(Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

Kieran Dowell

The spindly playmaker is adored in the England and Everton set-ups for his God-given natural talent.

Stormed into a loan spell at Nottingham Forest last season, which admittedly dwindled toward the end.

But with his dexterity and ability, only injury and himself could hold Dowell back from making it to Qatar.

(during the Premier League match between Leicester City and Everton at The King Power Stadium on October 29, 2017 in Leicester, England.

Jonjoe Kenny

Dowell’s best mate and England’s trusted right-back at youth level. His cross-city rival Trent Alexander-Arnold may be catching the eye but Kenny is no slouch.

An exquisite crosser of the ball and defensively sound he is the Trippier if Alexander-Arnold is the Walker of England’s future right-back choices.

Like Dowell, eligible for Ireland, so England, must ensure the Everton pair are aware of their pathway.

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