PIX: Italy, Germany win easy; Poland hold England

Italy recorded their first win since being crowned European champions as strikers Moise Kean and Giacomo Raspadori inspired a crushing 5-0 win over Lithuania to strengthen their grip on top spot in World Cup qualifying Group C.

The two 21-year-olds impressed their manager by lighting up the first half, as Kean netted twice either side of an Edgaras Utkus own goal and Raspadori, making his first start for his country, also scored.

“Everything is in their heads and their feet. If they are committed and work seriously, they have great futures. But it is up to them,” Italy manager Roberto Mancini told RAI.

It was the first time Italy, who endured frustrating draws against Bulgaria and Switzerland in their previous two qualifiers, scored four goals in the first 30 minutes of a match.

Giovanni Di Lorenzo inadvertently added a fifth when his second half cross-shot nestled in the bottom corner, as the Azzurri side comfortably extended their record international unbeaten run to 37 matches.

“The guys responded well on the pitch, despite losing so many players over the last few days. Scoring five or six goals is not simple,” Mancini said.

Italy top the standings with 14 points, six ahead of second-placed Switzerland following their 0-0 draw away to Northern Ireland. Lithuania remained bottom with zero points.

A paltry return of one goal in Italy’s two previous draws resulted in widespread calls for a freshening up of the attack, and Mancini responded with eight changes to his injury-depleted side including Kean and Raspadori.

They soon justified their selection when Kean pounced on a sloppy back pass to tuck in the opener from close range and Raspadori’s shot hit Utkus and deflected in.

Sassuolo striker Raspadori, playing on his home pitch at the Mapei Stadium, netted with a simple finish from close range, and Kean made it four on the 29th minute with a cushioned volley into the top corner.

“It is hard to understand what happened. It is a beautiful moment that came in my club stadium, in front of my family. It was perfect,” Raspadori said.

Italy came back for more after the break as Raspadori had his second of the night disallowed for offside before Di Lorenzo’s cross-shot eluded everyone to find the net.

In Belfast, Bailey Peacock-Farrell was the hero for Northern Ireland as the goalkeeper saved Haris Seferovic’s first-half penalty to earn a 0-0 draw against Switzerland.

The result sent Ian Baraclough’s side up to third place, ahead of Bulgaria on goal difference and three points behind the Swiss.

Sane inspires Germany to big win over Iceland

Winger Leroy Sane scored one goal and made another as Germany made it three wins in a row with a resounding 4-0 victory over Iceland in World Cup qualifying Group J on Wednesday.

The Germans took the lead in the fifth minute when Sane played in Serge Gnabry to score, and after a lengthy VAR review for a possible offside, the goal stood.

The visitors added a second 20 minutes later when Antonio Rudiger was left unmarked to score with a header from a Joshua Kimmich free kick.

Iceland almost pulled one back at the start of the second half when Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s curled effort hit the post and Albert Gudmundsson fired home the rebound, but he was offside in the build-up and the goal was chalked off.

A constant threat with his quick dribbling and precise passing, Sane effectively killed the game off when he rifled the ball into the roof of the net after another flowing German attack 11 minutes into the second half.

After a shaky start to qualifying including a shock 2-1 loss to North Macedonia in March, the Germans have rediscovered their scoring touch, but were still guilty of a few glaring misses.

Kai Havertz wasted a three-on-one opportunity by firing narrowly wide with the goal at his mercy and Timo Werner somehow failed to put Lukas Klostermann’s pass into an empty net.

Werner made amends by adding a late fourth that hit the left-hand post and bounced out before spinning back across the line to round off an encouraging team performance.

The Germans have taken a maximum nine points from their first three games under new coach Hansi Flick, scoring 12 goals and conceding none.

“We only had a few training sessions. Our goal was to win the three games, and we achieved that. We have taken a step forward,” Flick said.

“We’re not at 100% yet, but the team is on the right track. The guys are implementing things the way we imagine.”

Flick added that there was room for improvement.

“(Too often) the last decisive pass was not correct, The timing wasn’t right, these are things we have to do better,” he said.

Germany top the group on 15 points, four ahead of Armenia. Romania are third on 10 points with four games left to play, with Iceland fifth on four points.

Poland level late to end England’s winning streak

Damian Szymanski headed in a stoppage time equaliser as Poland ended England’s 100% record in Group I to draw their World Cup qualifier 1-1 on Wednesday.

Harry Kane had fired England ahead with a swerving strike in the 72nd minute as Gareth Southgate’s side looked set for a sixth straight win.

But in the second minute of stoppage time, substitute Szymanski rose well at the back post to nod in a floated cross from Robert Lewandowski as Poland kept their hopes of qualification alive.

England have 16 points from six games with Albania second on 12 points, Poland on 11 and Hungary on 10 points.

The top team in the group qualifies for next year’s World Cup in Qatar with the second place team heading into the playoffs.

It had been an unremarkable game until the final 20 minutes with a mass scuffle on the halftime whistle the most notable incident of the first half.

Television images showed Kamil Glik had nipped the neck of England’s Kyle Walker but it was not clear if that alone had caused the fracas.

Poland defender Glik and England’s Harry Maguire were booked following the pushing and shoving outbreak and Southgate said a report had been submitted about the incident.

“We’re getting to grips with what that was. There’s been a report put in and we need to find out a little bit more about what’s happened,” he said.

“At the moment we’re still gathering all the evidence so there’s no point in me speculating any further,” he added.

After the interval the game continued its pattern of conservative passing from England and solid defence from the home side.

But Kane silenced the Warsaw crowd when he picked the ball up deep and from almost 30 metres beat Wojciech Szczesny with a shot that swerved late.

It was the 15th straight qualifier, for Euros and World Cup, in which Kane has scored and it looked to have brought a sixth straight win in this campaign.

Strangely Southgate chose not to make any substitutions while Poland made five changes and the home side ended strongly.

England keeper Jordan Pickford survived a scare nine minutes from the end when he took his time over a clearance and his effort was charged down by Karol Swiderski and flew goalwards but the England keeper scrambled back just in time.

Then came the late blow from Paulo Sousa’s side as Lewandowski carved out some space for a cross from the left and Symanszki timed his jump and header perfectly.

“An amazing feeling. I’m glad we managed to score that goal in the last minutes. I’m happy,” said Symanszki.

“I’ve worked hard for this, struggled with injuries. To play against England, to score a goal, it’s a dream come true.”

Fornals and Torres goals give Spain victory in Kosovo

Goals from Pablo Fornals and Ferran Torres earned Spain a 2-0 victory away to Kosovo in World Cup qualifying Group B on Wednesday and dragged them back into automatic qualification contention.

Fornals produced a fine near-post finish from the angle on 32 minutes after smart build-up play from Carlos Soler and Alvaro Morata.

Spain dominated the ball for large swathes of the game, but were almost undone on numerous occasions as their high defensive line was exploited by the hosts.

They were indebted to profligate finishing, in particular from Vedat Muriqi, who ran clear on goal but put his shot wide of Unai Simon’s left-hand post.

Simon then almost gifted the hosts an equaliser as he raced out of his box to meet a long ball over the top, only to get in a muddle with Inigo Martinez.

The Athletic Bilbao stopper was just able to scramble back and stop Florian Loshaj’s goalbound effort to keep Spain ahead.

It proved a crucial save as Torres went on to seal the win in the 90th minute from a counter-attack. After initially being flagged offside, the goal was awarded following a VAR check.

“It was a tough fought game right until the end,” defender Aymeric Laporte said.

“Getting that second at the end was liberating in difficult conditions. The pitch was a tricky to play our football on.

“They’ve got their own weapons, and some quick forwards, but the important thing is we got the result. We need to win all our remaining games if we want to top the group.”

Luis Enrique’s side moved clear at the top of the group on 13 points from six games, four ahead of Sweden who have played two matches fewer.

Greece defeated Sweden 2-1 on Wednesday to move into third place on six points.

Praet scores for Belgium in a narrow win over Belarus

Dennis Praet’s first-half goal secured a narrow 1-0 away win for Belgium over Belarus in Kazan on Wednesday to move them closer to World Cup qualification.

The midfielder’s 33rd-minute strike maintained Belgium’s unbeaten run in Group E as they advanced to 16 points, nine points ahead of the Czech Republic, who have played one game fewer, and Wales, who have two games in hand.

Praet steered a snap effort wide of Belarus goalkeeper Sergei Chernik after being teed up by a short pass from Alexis Saelemaekers, two minutes after Michy Batshuayi had the ball in the net but his effort was ruled offside.

Belgium, top of the FIFA rankings, scored eight goals against Belarus at the start of the World Cup qualifiers in March but this time looked tired after a third game in six days, having beaten Estonia and the Czech Republic in their previous two qualifiers.

They were without suspended Romelu Lukaku and Jan Vertonghen and elected to spare Thibaut Courtois, Yannick Carrasco and Axel Witsel the long trip to Russia, where Belarus were forced to host the game because of flight sanctions.

Captain Eden Hazard started on the bench and only came on after an hour but failed to provide the expected spark. His free kick four minutes from fulltime, however, did force a sharp save out of Chernik.

Belarus, who did not trouble Belgium in the game, have now lost four of five qualifiers and sit second from bottom in the group.

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