Winners and Losers: Who shone and slumped in latest WCQ games?
Last weekend’s World Cup 2018 qualifiers had it all. From last-gasp winners to minnows making history, there was one dramatic twist after another during three nights of fine football.
So, who were the big winners and losers in the weekend’s action?
There was joy in the principality of just 84,000 souls as Andorra recorded just their second ever competitive victory, defeating Euro 2016 Quarter-Finalists Hungary 1-0 at Estadi Nacional thanks to a stunning header from Marc Rebes in the 26th minute.
Bernd Storck’s side turned up the pressure after the break, but an inspired defensive display and a string of saves from the hosts’ keeper Jose Gomes ensured a first competitive win since 2004.
Michael O’Neill’s men showed resolve and a clinical edge on their travels once again, snatching a 92nd-minute victory over Azerbaijan in Baku, with Stuart Dallas’ clinical last-gasp strike giving Norn Iron – currently in the play-off spot – a four-point gap on the chasing pack.
The visitors were extremely solid throughout, with the hosts managing just two shots on target over the piece, as Northern Ireland chalked up a fifth clean sheet in six WCQ games. Very impressive.
Janne Anderson’s side snatched top spot away from France, as Blagult turned around Les Bleus’ initial lead, which arrived courtesy of a stunning strike from Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud.
The Gunners’ hitman’s 37th-minute effort was quickly cancelled out by a neat finish from midfielder Jimmy Durmaz. Both sides traded blows in an exciting second period, before Ola Toivonen provided an incredible winning goal with the last kick of the game, spotting Hugo Lloris way out of position and netting from inside his own half.
While it was a joyous night for minnows Andorra, this result capped off a miserable fall from grace for Hungary, for whom the highs of the Euro 2016 knockout stages must seem far more than a year ago.
Now eight points off the play-off spot in Group B, their chances of a World Cup spot look almost zero, and with six games gone they find themselves just two points ahead of the Faroe Islands and three above Andorra. How the mighty have fallen.
Elisha Levy’s men went into the weekend with an outside chance of catching either Italy or Spain – currently occupying Group G’s top two spots – but ended it with their dreams in tatters, following an emphatic 3-0 defeat at home to Albania.
The home side dominated possession and chances, but were extremely wasteful in front of goal, and found themselves punished on the counter-attack by a ruthless Shqiponjat side. Worst of all? Albania had headed into this match on the back of a five-game losing streak. Ouch.
The race to win Group I has been blown wide open – and that’s bad news for Croatia, whose defeat to Iceland saw their three closest chasers climb to within two points of Ante Cacic’s men in top spot.
Despite boasting the likes of Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic in their starting XI, the visitors looked short of ideas in Reykjavik, and they were punished in the 90th minute as sloppy marking allowed Hordur Magnusson to head home his first competitive goal for Iceland with ease. 1-0 and all very much to play for in this group.
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