FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifiers: England, Italy, Germany seek to maintain winning momentum
Spain host Kosovo looking to improve after disappointing performances in a home draw against Greece and a late win at Georgia.
A look at what’s happening in 2022 World Cup qualifying in Europe on Wednesday:
Spain host Kosovo looking to improve after disappointing performances in a home draw against Greece and a late win at Georgia. Coach Luis Enrique said he was worried because he expected Spain to face more difficulties getting through the tight defensive scheme that Kosovo will likely use. There was controversy ahead of the match as the Spanish football federation referred to Kosovo as a “territory.” Spain does not recognize Kosovo’s 2008 independence from Serbia. The Kosovo federation warned it wouldn’t play the match unless Spain pledged to respect the Balkan country’s sovereignty, including their anthem and flag. It said Spanish officials promised the game would “be held in line with the FIFA and UEFA rules and protocol.” Greece host Georgia in the other group match. Both teams are yet to win.
Italy can put pressure on group rival Switzerland with a win in Lithuania. That would move the Azzurri three points ahead of idle Switzerland atop the group in which the other three clubs all have zero points. Italy are on a 24-match unbeaten run but have injury issues with midfielder Marco Verratti and Alessandro Florenzi out following a 2-0 win in Bulgaria on Sunday. Jorginho was not called up due to injury, while captain Giorgio Chiellini, goalscorer Domenico Berardi and Francesco Caputo each picked up physical issues in the opening 2-0 win over Northern Ireland, who now host Bulgaria.
Defending champions France had a short turnaround before facing a fresh Bosnia-Herzegovina, who did not play last weekend. So the decision by France coach Didier Deschamps to rest key players in the 2-0 win at Kazakhstan on Sunday may prove a wise one. Striker Olivier Giroud is pushing for a return to the France lineup after sitting out against Kazakhstan, while Adrien Rabiot may return to central midfield alongside Paul Pogba. In the other game, Ukraine host Kazakhstan and looks for their first win after draws with France and Finland.
Denmark can take a huge step toward the only automatic qualification place on offer for the group winner if they can win in Austria. The Danes seek a third straight victory after resting all their first-choice starters for a 8-0 win over Moldova on Sunday. Austria can go top with a win in Vienna and has 23-year-old forward Saša Kalajdžić looking to score for a third straight qualifier. Scotland have fought back to earn draws at home to Austria and at Israel, and need to finally take a lead and win against the Faroe Islands in Glasgow. Moldova host Israel with each having just one point from two games.
England are looking for a third straight win to open their qualifying campaign when they face Poland, who are without captain and star striker Robert Lewandowski through injury as well as three players who have tested positive for the coronavirus . England have already beaten San Marino and Albania in a gentle start to the group and lead by two points from Poland and Hungary, who drew their opening qualifier 3-3. While England coach Gareth Southgate reported an injury-free squad for the game, his Poland counterpart Paulo Sousa must dig into his reserves. Mateusz Klich, Lukasz Skorupski and Kamil Piatkowski are the players missing because of positive tests for COVID-19 though experienced midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak could be available after returning a negative test on Tuesday, a day after testing positive himself. Hungary are away to Andorra while San Marino host Albania.
Even after just two games, it looks like little can stop Germany qualifying as they prepares to host North Macedonia. Opening wins over Iceland and Romania mean that Germany have already beaten both of the teams expected to be their closest rivals in the group. The squad is depleted by injuries and a coronavirus case, though, and coach Joachim Löw was irritated by a string of missed chances which made for a nervy finish to the 1-0 win over Romania on Sunday. Romania look to gets their campaign back on track at the group's surprise early contender Armenia, who beat Iceland 2-0 last time out but are without the injured Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Iceland visit Liechtenstein determined to end a seven-game losing run.
Szymanski said the business case for a revamped European competition is strong, given the continent's biggest clubs are already global brands but are struggling to recover from the pandemic and recoup a greater share of broadcast revenues.
Flick will leave the reigning German champions at the end of the season after he asked Bayern to be released from his contract, with RB Leipzig coach Julian Nagelsmann named as his successor.
Flick, whose successful reign as Bayern manager will come to an end this season, has got the backing of Germany team director Oliver Bierhoff.