PIX: Italy continue unbeaten run; Germany, England win

Romelu Lukaku marked his 100th cap with an early goal to set Belgium on their way to an impressive 3-0 win over the Czech Republic. Midfielder Serge Gnabry scored two early goals as Germany rediscovered their form in front of goal to hammer Armenia 6-0, while England thrashed Andorra 4-0 victory.

Images from the FIFA World Cup qualifying matches on Sunday night.

Italy set record with unbeaten run

Italy broke the record for the longest unbeaten run in international matches after they were held to a goalless draw by Switzerland in a World Cup qualifier on Sunday, with Jorginho missing a penalty again.

Italy have not lost for 36 consecutive matches, breaking the 35-match unbeaten run record that had previously been shared by Spain and Brazil. Brazil’s record of 35 was set between 1993 and 1996, while Spain equalled that mark in 2009.

The result could have been more positive had Jorginho converted from the penalty spot in the 52nd minute after Domenico Berardi had been fouled, but the Chelsea midfielder was thwarted by home goalkeeper Yann Sommer.

Italy had further chances to snatch victory but had to settle for a draw, meaning they remain top of Group C on 11 points from five games, four ahead of the second-placed Swiss, who have two matches in hand.

“Today we played a great match, better even than the 3-0 win against Switzerland in June (in Euro 2020 group stage), but we just could not score,” defender Giorgio Chiellini told Rai Sport.

“I liked our play a lot today. There were many positives.”

Roberto Mancini’s side came into the match having disappointingly drawn 1-1 with Bulgaria on Thursday in their first match since becoming European champions in July.

But the visitors were much the better side in the first half in Basel and should have taken the lead through good chances for Berardi and Lorenzo Insigne, both of whom were denied by Sommer.

The best chance of the night came seven minutes into the second half after Ricardo Rodriguez, trying to atone for being caught in possession, lunged in on Berardi to concede a penalty.

Jorginho, who missed his spot kick in Italy’s penalty shootout victory over England in the Euro final, stepped up but placed his effort far too close to Sommer, who made an easy save.

Sommer proved impossible to breach as he denied Insigne again to leave Italy heading home having been frustrated for the second successive qualifier.

“We have had too many chances not to win this match,” Mancini said. “We have to be more ruthless and precise in front of goal.

“A match like this should have been a win 3-0. For sure there will be some changes in the next match.”

There was some confusion about whether Italy had equalled or broken the unbeaten streak record on Sunday as Brazil claimed their run had also stretched to 36 matches, with the South Americans including a 2-2 draw with Romania’s B team in September 1995 in their tally.

As it was not recognised by FIFA due to the match being against a reserve team, it is not part of Brazil’s run.

The Azzurri face Lithuania on Wednesday, while Switzerland travel to Northern Ireland.

Saka enjoys joyous Wembley return

Bukayo Saka’s penalty miss against Italy in July’s Euro 2020 final produced collective groans and some diabolical racist abuse but his return to Wembley on Sunday ended with a beaming smile and rapturous applause from England’s fans.

England’s 4-0 victory over tiny Andorra in their World Cup Group I qualifier was a largely forgettable affair for the sizeable crowd enjoying some late summer sunshine.

Jesse Lingard’s double, his first England goals for three years, grabbed the headlines as Gareth Southgate made 11 changes to the side that beat Hungary 4-0 in midweek.

But the biggest cheers from a laid-back crowd that spent part of the evening making and throwing paper aeroplanes, were for Saka who headed in England’s fourth goal — a fine way for the Arsenal youngster to mark his 20th birthday.

Saka’s spot-kick miss at the end of a nauseatingly-tense final against Italy on a stormy and often unpleasant day in the capital, was a traumatic moment for any player, let alone one so young. Trolls polluted the social media channels with racist abuse aimed at Saka and England’s other Black players.

But from the moment Saka was given an ovation by the Wembley crowd before kickoff it was clear that this would be a far more pleasant experience for the attacking midfielder.

His headed goal produced the biggest roar of the night and he was serenaded at fulltime — Saka responding by handing his shirt to a young fan in the stands.

“It means a lot, it really made a difference for me,” Saka said. “It means everything to me and shows that everyone supports me through thick and thin.”

His manager Gareth Southgate was pleased with Saka’s “fabulous reception”.

“It was lovely, you can see how popular he is with the team as well,” Southgate told ITV.

“I hope (it offers) closure if it was needed but I don’t think there is a player in that dressing room who thinks anything but positively about what he did all summer.”

England’s win maintained their 100% start to Group I of which they are now commanding leaders.

It was a rather frustrating night, however, as 134th ranked Andorra, whose entire population could easily fit into Wembley with room to spare, spent the entire evening with 11 men behind the ball — an entirely understandable tactic.

After Lingard had opened the scoring after 18 minutes, England actually had to wait until the 72nd minute to double their lead as Harry Kane, on as a substitute with Mason Mount and Jack Grealish, slotted home a penalty.

Those substitutions enlivened England’s display and they will no doubt all be back in the starting line-up for Wednesday’s far tougher test away to Poland.

“It was difficult for the players picked who didn’t have as much games together,” Southgate said. “You have to keep moving the ball, keep being patient. It wasn’t an easy task.”

Germany hit Armenia for a six!

Midfielder Serge Gnabry scored two early goals as Germany rediscovered their form in front of goal to hammer Armenia 6-0 on Sunday and go top of World Cup qualifying Group J with 12 points from five games.

Germany’s attack struggled in a laboured 2-0 win over Liechtenstein on Thursday in their first game under new coach Hansi Flick, but against Armenia it all came together in a dazzling display that also yielded another clean sheet.

The Germans took the lead in the sixth minute when Leon Goretzka picked out Gnabry with a brilliant angled ball, and the winger fired a dipping shot over the goalkeeper and into the net.

Gnabry added a second nine minutes later and in the 35th minute it was the turn of Marco Reus, who was teed up by a superb volleyed backheel from Timo Werner to fire home a first-time shot.

The Germans displayed their full range of clever passing and deft flicks and were four up by halftime after Goretzka unselfishly headed the ball back across the goal for Werner to guide it home.

Jonas Hofmann added a fifth seven minutes after the break with a low bouncing drive, and substitute Karim Adeyemi put the icing on the cake with a goal on his international debut to make it 6-0 in second-half stoppage time.

After conceding in each of Joachim Loew’s last seven games in charge, the Germans were watertight in defence, allowing a single shot on goal that was comfortably dealt with by goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.

At the other end they managed to create 23 chances, getting 11 of them on target as the Armenians were out-classed, and Werner was delighted to get among the goals in the city where he was born.

“It’s always special coming back to Stuttgart and then to score. I think we showed some very good attacks tonight, we had very good movement and were really pressing high. Also, Armenia gave us more space than Liechtenstein did on Thursday,” he told UEFA.com.

Fellow goal-scorer Goretzka said his side’s defensive effort all over the field had laid the foundations for victory.

“I think our pressing and counter-pressing were really good today. I wasn’t really surprised by our display. If you look at the names on our team sheet, it is a performance you can expect and one we are capable of,” he explained.

The win means the Germans leap-frog Armenia to the top of the group, with their visitors now two points behind in second spot. Romania are third on nine points, one ahead of North Macedonia.

Centurion Lukaku sets Belgium on their way to easy win

Romelu Lukaku marked his 100th cap with an early goal to set Belgium on their way to an impressive 3-0 win over the Czech Republic in their World Cup qualifier in Brussels on Sunday.

It was Lukaku’s 67th goal for his country and came after eight minutes, followed by a second from captain Eden Hazard four minutes before halftime.

Substitute Alexis Saelemaekers added a third with 25 minutes left to play to underline Belgium’s top place in the FIFA rankings and extend to 29 games their unbeaten home record.

Victory consolidated Belgium’s top place in Group E as they moved to 13 points from five games, six points clear of the second placed Czechs.

Lukaku, who was feted before the match for his milestone, wasted no time in emphasising his key role for the team, racing away onto a Hans Vanaken pass to expertly finish.

It was typical quick Belgian transition play with Youri Tielemans initiating the attack as they floored their visitors with a quick counter punch.

The same Tielemans-Vanaken combination set up Hazard’s 41st minute opportunity. Vanaken’s clever backheel fell for Hazard to shoot across the goalkeeper.

Lukaku had further opportunity to score but was twice denied by saves from debutant goalkeeper Jindrich Stanek, who had come on early after Tomas Vaclik was injured.

At the other end, Thibaut Courtois made two outstanding stops to deny the Czech and enhance his reputation among the world’s best goalkeepers.

He came out to deny Matej Vydra, who was clear on goal early in the second half and then made a diving one-handed save to parry a stinging close-in shot from Vladimir Coufal.

Saelemaekers scored his first international goal after a smart build-up with Hazard backheeling Toby Alderweireld’s forward pass, Lukaku then flicking it on further and the substitute running onto finish it.

Spain back on track with Georgia thrashing

Spain got back to winning ways as they thrashed Georgia 4-0 in their Group B World Cup qualifying meeting on Sunday.

Jose Gaya, Carlos Soler and Ferran Torres put the hosts in control with three first half strikes as they showed no hangover from a first World Cup qualifying defeat in 28 years last time out against Sweden.

Pablo Sarabia added another after the break as Luis Enrique’s side cruised to three points.

“We came into this game following a defeat that hurt us a lot and we managed to bounce back,” Torres said.

“A result like this spurs us on and it was important to keep a clean sheet because goal difference could be key at the business end.”

Spain started brightly and deservedly took the lead on 14 minutes when Gaya’s effort from the edge of the box deflected off Guram Kashia and wrongfooted Giorgi Loria in the visitor’s goal.

Soler then made it two goals in as many caps with an emphatic finish soon after, before Gaya was denied a second through an offside flag just after the half hour.

Torres did make it three just before the break after good work from Marcos Llorente down the right-hand side before Sarabia rounded off the scoring on 63 minutes as he finished off a lightning counter-attack.

Spain move back top of the group with 10 points from five games, one ahead of Sweden who have two games in hand.

The margin of victory also ensured they currently have a better goal difference than their group rivals.

Kosovo, who on Sunday drew 1-1 with Greece, host Spain on Wednesday, while Sweden travel to Greece.

Lewandowski strikes twice as Poland trash San Marino 7-1

Robert Lewandowski took his tally to six goals in four games as he helped Poland hammer bottom-placed San Marino 7-1 in their Group I World Cup qualifier on Sunday.

Poland moved onto ten points and remain second behind leaders England, who beat Andorra 4-0 earlier on Sunday, while Hungary fell to fourth place after losing 1-0 to Albania.

Poland’s main man Lewandowski required four minutes to put the visitors ahead as he sent the ball past goalkeeper Elia Benedettini.

Karol Swiderski took advantage of a precise pass inside the box from defender Tymoteusz Puchacz to score twelve minutes later, followed by another Lewandowski goal to make it 3-0 in the 21st minute.

The Bayern Munich forward, whose first goal for the national side came in his debut against San Marino in 2008, helped Poland increase their advantage once more shortly before halftime, as Karol Linetty converted from a Lewandowski cross.

Three minutes into the second half, however, an error in the Polish defence allowed Nicola Nanni a surprise goal for San Marino, their first in a competitive game since November 2019.

But Adam Buksa put the home side back in their place with a hat-trick after replacing Lewandowski at halftime. Paulo Sousa’s side face leaders England at the National Stadium in Warsaw on Wednesday.

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