The last couple of weeks saw the traditional international break take place, with the world cup qualifiers hitting a critical stage.
Teams are beginning to qualify, some sides are fast seeing their hopes of making Russia 2018 fade away and there are always a few stand out individual performances thrown in for good measure. So what have been the last talking points to emerge from the latest international break, who’s made it through and which players have stood out?
First things first. There are already eight nations who already have guaranteed themselves a place in the draw for the group stages which takes place in December. Russia, the hosts, are already there. Brazil, Iran, Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Belgium are the other seven countries who have already booked their place, with Brazil actually qualifying way back in March. Belgium are the first European side to make it through after Russia, who as hosts automatically qualify.
England have a five point advantage on second placed Slovakia in Group F and even though they beat Malta 4-0 and then Slovakia 2-1 it doesn’t really tell the full story. England made extremely hard work of Malta and it wasn’t until late into the game that the floodgates opened for them, many expected a dominant performance from Gareth Southgate’s men but that failed to materialise. Against Slovakia, England were behind, before coming back to win the game. They’ve only dropped four points so far in the qualifiers but fans will certainly be hoping performances improve.
The international break announced one player onto the footballing scene, Liverpool’s Ben Woodburn. He came off the bench for his international debut against Austria for Wales and needed only three touches to grab Wales the 1-0 win. He superbly brought the ball under control, touched it out of his feet and then struck a well hit drive, leaving Heinz Linder with no chance. Woodburn wasn’t finished there though, he also bagged an assist in Wales’ following game against Moldova for Hal Robson-Kanu.
It was also an interesting international break for Liverpool for another reason. Yes, they had Andrew Robertson, Sadio Mane, Ben Woodburn and Mo Salah on the scoresheet but Philipe Coutinho came off the bench and scored for Brazil too. This is something to take note of as the want away midfielder had complained of a back problem and then illness but made a miraculous recovery to star for his country.
There also has to be a mention for Syria. A country ravaged by war and terrorism. Thanks to a late leveller in Iran they have managed to go on to secure an Asian play-off place, so they still have a chance of qualifying for Russia 2018 after a remarkable campaign so far. Elsewhere, Scotland saw fresh life breathed into their hopes as they recorded a 3-0 win against Lithuania and followed that up with a 2-0 home victory over Malta. They are making a late surge and are now only one point adrift of second in Group F.