We were treated to some gripping football in mid-week in the European World Cup play-offs. The weekend of international friendlies did not quite live up to the billing but there were still some exciting matches. Here is a rundown of the action.
The Republic of Ireland’s revolution under Stephen Kenny took another step in the right direction after rescuing a draw late on against the world’s number one side, Belgium. Although there were a couple of big absentees for Roberto Martinez’s team, there were still talented individuals on show. They were given a tough 90 minutes by the Boys in Green at the Aviva Stadium to mark the Football Association of Ireland’s centenary anniversary.
Kenny’s team started brightly but found themselves behind inside 15 minutes as Michy Batshuayi cut inside Seamus Coleman and curled a low shot into the far corner. The early goal saw Ireland’s intensity drop and Belgium were able to pass around the green shirts with ease. The visitors got too complacent, however, and the hosts raised their pressing levels and were able to force Belgium into making mistakes which put the hosts on the front foot. The equaliser came from Rotherham United striker Chiedozie Ogbene, who teed the ball up for an overhead kick, which took a deflection to take the ball past Simon Mignolet in goal. Ireland were a lot sharper in the second-half but found themselves 2-1 down after some poor concentration from a corner allowed Hans Vanaken to head home unmarked.
Ireland continued to push and the equaliser came right at the death after Ogbene did brilliantly to keep the ball in play near the corner flag, he then looked up before floating an inviting cross into the box which was met by substitute Alan Browne, whose header could not be prevented from going in by Mignolet and the Aviva erupted.
In Barcelona, Spain managed to survive a late scare to defeat Albania 2-1 as Luis Enrique’s men dominated the ball with 82% possession. Barcelona attacker Ferran Torres opened the scoring for La Roja after being set up by Yeremy Pino, but the hosts were quickly set back after some comical defending. Pau Torres struggled to deal with a high clearance and he headed the ball straight into Myrto Unzuni and the ball trickled into the net past debutant David Raya. Spain were able to regroup and spare their blushes as Dani Olmo curled in a wonderful effort after being teed up by Jordi Alba.
It was the Chelsea show as Germany beat Israel as Kai Havertz and Timo Werner were on the scoresheet for Hansi Flick’s side. Havertz continued his fine form with another goal which he flicked in an inviting corner from David Raum as Germany looked to continue their positive form ahead of the World Cup. His Blues teammate Werner doubled their lead just before the break after peeling off to meet Ilkay Gundogan’s free-kick. Flick has now won all eight of his games in charge of Die Mannschaft. Thomas Muller could have notched a third later in the game from the spot but his effort cannoned off the right post.
Elsewhere, the Netherlands ran out as 4-2 winners over Denmark in what was the most thrilling friendly of the weekend. The headline from the game was Christian Eriksen getting on the scoresheet upon his return to the national team. Tottenham Hotspur attacker Steven Bergwijn opened the scoring with a headed effort but it was quickly cancelled out after Jannik Vestergaard turned in Joakim Maehle’s cross. The Netherlands were able to get back in control with two goals in quick succession thanks to Nathan Ake and Memphis Depay which saw Louis van Gaal’s side head into the break with a comfortable lead. Eriksen was brought on after the break and scored within moments of his return to international action with an excellent finish to reduce the deficit to one, but any chance of a comeback was squashed when Bergwijn notched his second of the game with a great effort into the far corner.
At Wembley Stadium, England fought back from a goal down to beat Switzerland in their match, which highlighted the issues of Alzheimer’s. The players’ names were removed from the shirts in the second half to raise awareness of the disease. The Swiss broke the deadlock through Breel Embolo’s header against the run of play and England had to work hard to find their way back into the game. Luke Shaw equalised just before the break with a thunderous effort after being teed up by Conor Gallagher. The turnaround was completed late in the second half as Harry Kane scored from the spot following a handball which took his Three Lions tally to 49, level with Sir Bobby Charlton.