World Cup Qualifying: Salah stars but Henderson flops

Liverpool Crest

It has been a very satisfying few days for several Liverpool players who are celebrating their nations’ passage to the 2018 World Cup. Germany and England were among those to clinch their places in next summer’s tournament in Russia, but the likes of Netherlands and Wales are forced to watch from the sofa as they missed out. We round up the involvement of all Liverpool players who represented their countries during the recent international break.

Reds midfielders disappoint but England qualify

They got there in the end, but the manner in which England booked their place at the World Cup could hardly have been more unimpressive. Gareth Southgate’s team were painfully pedestrian and one-paced in 1-0 victories at home to Slovenia and away to Lithuania. Liverpool duo Jordan Henderson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain started for the Three Lions at Wembley, but both carried over their indifferent form, with Henderson all at sea in central midfield and the ex-Arsenal man making no real impact on the flanks. Henderson had another dismal game in Vilnius, where Daniel Sturridge came on as a substitute and had one decent chance denied in a match that had nothing riding on it after Harry Kane’s stoppage time winner against Slovenia ensured qualification with a game to spare. Unfortunately, none of the three Liverpool players in the England squad last week staked much of a claim to be in the starting line-up for their first assignment in Russia next June.

Salah double sends Egypt to the finals

Egypt have had more than their fair share of World Cup qualifying heartbreak since their last finals appearance in 1990, but all that has been left in the past after Mohamed Salah’s double ensured that they would win CAF Group 3 and, at long last, return to the finals. They were almost made to wait by Congo, who equalised with three minutes to spare, but when Egypt won a stoppage time penalty, it fell to their main man to take it and Salah kept his nerve to score a goal that brought unprecedented joy for a generation of long-suffering Egyptian football fans. This was very much a case of the big player for the big moment.

Mane victorious but injured

While Salah sent Egypt delirious, it wasn’t as good a week for Liverpool’s other African representative. Sadio Mane helped Senegal to a 2-0 win over Cape Verde which saw them go top of their group, while direct rivals Burkina Faso fell to a surprise defeat in South Africa. However, the win came at a cost to Liverpool as Mane picked up a hamstring injury which looks set to rule him out for six weeks, this not long after he missed three matches through suspension. He will also miss the games against South Africa in which Senegal look likely to secure qualification for their second World Cup finals appearance.

Can scores a worldie for the world champions

Germany ensured qualification in their usual, business-like manner, beating Northern Ireland 3-1 in Belfast to seal their place in Russia and then hammering Azerbaijan 5-1. Two early goals against the Irish effectively killed off any chance the home side had of causing an upset, while the Azeris briefly drew level but were ultimately well beaten. Liverpool’s Emre Can appeared off the bench in Belfast and then played the full game against Azerbaijan, scoring Germany’s fifth with one of the best goals of the week in Europe, one which hopefully will strengthen his hold on a first team berth at Anfield.

Robertson impresses but Scots go out

Scotland’s wait to reach a major tournament will extend into a third decade after Sunday’s 2-2 draw in Slovenia proved insufficient to keep them ahead of Slovakia in second place in UEFA Group G. A late 1-0 victory over the Slovaks on Thursday put Gordon Strachan’s men into the box seat, but with Slovakia comfortably beating Malta as expected, Scotland then had to win in Ljubljana. They led at half-time but a wretched second half saw them fall 2-1 behind and a late equaliser was not enough to stave off yet another qualification failure. One man who did everything he could to end Scotland’s drought was Andrew Robertson, who gave a man of the match performance against Slovakia and served a timely reminder to Jurgen Klopp that he ought to be in Liverpool’s starting XI.

Cameos for Woodburn as Wales’ dream dies

There will be no repeat of the Euro 2016 fairytale for Wales at the World Cup next year after Monday’s loss at home to Republic of Ireland saw them nudged out of the play-off spot in UEFA Group D. The Welsh had been on course for second after a hard-fought 1-0 win away to Georgia, but were undone by a determined Irish side in Cardiff. It was Wales’ only defeat in 10 qualifiers, but a spate of draws earlier in the group ultimately cost them dearly. Liverpool’s Ben Woodburn added two more international caps to his name, both coming from the bench, although he made precious little impact on either game. Club compatriot Danny Ward was an unused substitute, but that was as expected.

Brazilian duo coast through uneventful week

Liverpool fans would have been keeping a nervous eye over Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino as they travelled to South America for Brazil’s final two qualifiers, which were effectively dead rubbers for the already-qualified five-time world champions. Their match in Bolivia had nothing riding on it for either team and a goalless draw ensued. Coutinho got through 66 minutes before being substituted, while Firmino had no part to play in La Paz. Brazil closed out an imperious qualifying campaign with a 3-0 win over Chile, which saw the defeated side miss out on the finals. Coutinho played 86 minutes, picking up a yellow card shortly before half-time, and was substituted for his Liverpool team-mate, who flew several thousand miles to play seven tepid minutes of football.

Gini booked as Dutch fall short

After reaching the World Cup final in 2010 and finishing third four years later, Netherlands have now missed out on a second consecutive major tournament, wins in their concluding games over Belarus and Sweden not enough to see them into a play-off spot. They won 3-1 in Borisov before facing the Swedes, whose romp over Luxembourg meant that they were all but uncatchable. The Dutch signed off with a 2-0 victory but fell five goals short of the margin required to move ahead of their opponents in the group. Liverpool’s Georginio Wijnaldum played the full 90 minutes against Belarus, picking up a yellow card on the hour mark, and was taken off with 20 minutes remaining in the futile win over Sweden.

Klavan skippers Estonia to record victory

It will have gone virtually unnoticed in the greater scheme of World Cup qualification, but Estonia matched their largest ever margin of victory last Saturday by beating Gibraltar 6-0. Ragnar Klavan captained the side as they recorded their joint-biggest win of all time and the veteran defender also played the full 90 minutes in Estonia’s 1-2 loss to Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Liverpool man going into the referee’s notebook during the first half. His team ultimately finished fourth in UEFA Group H.

Solanke on target for England under 21s

England’s under 21s enjoyed a 3-1 home win over Scotland in Group 4 of qualification for the 2019 European Championships and their third goal came courtesy of Liverpool’s Dominic Solanke. The timing of the goal was ideal for Aidy Boothroyd’s side, coming almost immediately after Scotland halved the deficit to potentially set up a tense finale in Middlesbrough, and was the striker’s last notable contribution before his late withdrawal. Two other Liverpool players featured for the full 90 minutes, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez playing their part in a satisfactory win for England. None of the Liverpool trio started against Andorra on Tuesday, with Boothroyd’s decision to shuffle the pack almost backfiring spectacularly as England laboured to a 1-0 win. Solanke came off the bench for the final 11 minutes, with the two defenders having the night off.

Mignolet sees Belgium team-mates fill their boots

Even with Belgium already qualified, Roberto Martinez opted to field strong starting XIs for their concluding fixtures in Bosnia-Herzegovina and at home to Cyprus. The Belgians hit four in both games, the Bosnia game a 4-3 thriller that saw both teams come from behind to lead at various junctures. The other assignment was far more straightforward, with Thibaut Courtois keeping a clean sheet. The Chelsea man played the two matches, meaning that Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet had a watching brief from the substitutes’ bench.

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