World Cup qualifiers review: Three Liverpool players on the scoresheet

Match Report

As ever on international weekends, there were plenty of Liverpool players representing their countries across all corners of the world, with the World Cup qualifiers now entering a critical phase. For some Reds, it was a weekend to remember; for others, it was one they would much rather forget. Here’s a round-up of how various members of Jurgen Klopp’s squad fared in international action over the past few days.

Woodburn wins it for Wales

Saturday 2 September 2017 is a day that will forever be etched on the mind of one Ben Woodburn, who made his Wales debut in such dream fashion that it reads like a movie script. The 17-year-old was sprung from the bench midway through the second half with the crunch qualifier against Austria at 0-0 and within minutes he found the net with a scorching drive from 25 yards. It proved to be the winning goal and, aside from Woodburn’s personal joy, it was a goal which injects fresh new life into Wales’ World Cup qualifying campaign. Following Ireland’s failure to beat Georgia a few hours earlier, Chris Coleman’s side are now just two points off a play-off spot and they host the Irish on the final group matchday next month. Goalkeeper Danny Ward was an unused substitute for the Welsh in Cardiff on Saturday.

Robertson scores in Scotland victory

Woodburn wasn’t the only Liverpool player to find the net for one of the Home Nations over the weekend. On Friday in Vilnius, Andrew Robertson was on target for Scotland in their 3-0 victory over Lithuania, a win which pulls them to within four points of Slovakia in second and offers renewed hope of snatching a play-off place that looked most unlikely just a few months ago. The left-back struck a fine goal from an acute angle on the half-hour mark to put the Scots two up and it was probably the best performance of their qualification campaign to date. They should follow up with victory over Malta tonight, and if Slovakia lose at Wembley, Gordon Strachan’s team will be only one point off second place.

Outcast Coutinho on target for Brazil

He hasn’t kicked a ball in anger for Liverpool so far this season, but Philippe Coutinho hasn’t lost his place in the Brazil team that during the summer became the first to successfully qualify for next year’s World Cup. He came off the bench and netted for the five-time world champions as they beat Ecuador 2-0 in Porto Alegre to ensure that they would finish top of the marathon South American qualifying section with three games still to play. With the official line from Liverpool being that Coutinho hasn’t played lately because of a back injury, it’s little wonder that few Reds fans bought that theory considering the goal he netted on international duty – how I would love to see him continue doing that in a red shirt. Roberto Firmino was also in the Brazil squad for that game, but he was an unused substitute as preference was given to Neymar and Gabriel Jesus up front.

Henderson skippers England to laboured victory

If you only saw the final score from England’s trip to Malta on Friday, a 4-0 away win, you could be forgiven for thinking it was routine stuff for Gareth Southgate’s men. Those who sat through the spectacle, though, were under no illusions that this was threatening to be one of the most humiliating nights in the national team’s history before three goals in the last five minutes gave the final score a skewed appearance. Nonetheless, it’s three points closer to a qualification that could be effectively sealed if England defeat Slovakia at Wembley tonight.
Liverpool’s two representatives in the matchday squad had contrasting fortunes. Jordan Henderson captained his country, an honour that could have been tainted if the result was not so flattering for England. Daniel Sturridge, though, did not feature on a night when Harry Kane started and three other strikers were sprung from the bench as the need for goals heightened. The ex-Chelsea man’s lack of recent club action seems to be counting against him and one wonders if his place in the World Cup squad, assuming England get there, is in major doubt.

Oh no for Mo as Salah’s Egypt suffer surprise defeat

Despite excelling in his first few games for Liverpool, Mohamed Salah could not prevent Egypt from falling to an unexpected 1-0 defeat to Uganda in Group E of the African qualifiers. The summer signing played all 90 minutes for the Pharaohs as they lost out to their main rivals for qualification. Indeed, Uganda’s win propelled them to top of the group, one point ahead of the Egyptians with three games to play, but Salah and his team-mates can exact instant retribution as they host the Ugandans on Tuesday. In a group where only the top team will reach the World Cup finals, victory is essential for the Pharaohs if they are to keep their destiny in their own hands as the finish line approaches.

Cameo for Can as Germany close in

Emre Can had to settle for the final 11 minutes as a substitute in Germany’s 2-1 win over the Czech Republic, but it was during his brief stint on the field that the world champions scored the late winner to put them on the cusp of qualification. Mats Hummels’ 88th-minute goal means that if the Germans preserve their 100% record at home to Norway tonight and Northern Ireland fail to beat the Czechs, they will secure their place at the finals in Russia with two games to spare. Can will hope to start against the Norwegians but such is the strength of Germany’s squad that he might have to be content with the subs’ bench again.

Mignolet sees Belgian team-mates secure qualification

The axing of Simon Mignolet from the goalkeeping position for Liverpool’s win over Arsenal last week may have been a shock, but it was no surprise that he had a watching brief as his Belgian team-mates became the first European team to successfully qualify for next year’s World Cup. Thibaut Courtois, the country’s undisputed first-choice keeper, played in their two recent fixtures, a 9-0 romp over Gibraltar in which six goals came before half-time and the 2-1 win in Greece which meant they could no longer be caught at the top of Group H. Courtois will almost certainly be number one at the tournament in June, but if Mignolet sees regular action for Liverpool this season and keeps up his impressive form from the latter months of 2016/17, he is a good bet to take one of the three goalkeeping berths in the Belgium squad in Russia.

Klavan’s Estonia enjoy unexpected pleasures

Estonia won’t qualify for the 2018 World Cup, but last Thursday they had a huge say in who does make it to Russia from Group H. They had been expected to be easy prey for Greece in Piraeus but the 2004 European champions failed to find a way past a resolute Estonian defence, marshalled by captain Ragnar Klavan. Unfortunately for the Liverpool man, a booking in that game ruled him out of his team’s 1-0 win over Cyprus yesterday, with the only goal arriving in stoppage time. Estonia remain fifth in the group but they effectively ended Greece’s hopes of topping the group and shattered Cypriot dreams of a late playoff burst.

Torrential rain doesn’t dampen Lovren and Croatia

Croatia’s match against Kosovo kicked off at 8:45pm local time on Saturday and ended at 4pm on Sunday. In case it seems like there was an exorbitant amount of stoppage time, Saturday’s game lasted just 21 minutes before torrential rain rendered the pitch in Zagreb unplayable and the match was abandoned. It resumed on the 22-minute mark on Sunday lunchtime and the wait was worth it for Croatia, whose 1-0 win put them two points clear at the top of Group I. Dejan Lovren played the entirety of the two-day fixture and it was his centre-back partner Domagoj Vida who notched the crucial winner.

Mane’s Senegal held by Burkina Faso

He might have scored in each of Liverpool’s three Premier League games so far this season, but neither Sadio Mane nor his Senegal team-mates could find the net as they were held to a scoreless draw at home to Burkina Faso in what has become a very condensed Group D, where all four teams have reasonable hope of qualifying at the halfway stage. The 0-0 in Dakar leaves Senegal a point behind the Burkinabe, with the reverse fixture taking place on Tuesday and one that the 2002 World Cup quarter-finalists dare not lose if they are to harbour strong hopes of getting to what would be just their second finals.

Gomez captains England under 21s in Dutch draw

England’s quest to qualify for the 2019 Under 21 European Championships began with a 1-1 draw away to Netherlands last Friday. It was a memorable day for Liverpool’s Joe Gomez, who captained the Three Lions for the first time and a 64th-minute yellow card is unlikely to have spoiled his day. He was one of two Reds to feature, with striker Dominic Solanke playing 71 minutes before being replaced by Kasey Palmer. Surprisingly, there was no game time for the in-form Trent Alexander-Arnold, with Everton’s Jonjoe Kenny preferred at right-back.

Mixed week for Wijnaldum

Midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum started both of Netherlands’ recent World Cup qualifiers, which brought mixed results. The Dutch were subjected to a 4-0 hammering in France last Thursday, a result which dropped them to fourth in Group A, but they have moved back into playoff contention after yesterday’s 3-1 win over Bulgaria, leapfrogging their opponents and closing to within three points of second-placed Sweden. Wijnaldum’s contribution was steady but unspectacular, with no goals to his name across two mid-level performances.