Toni Rudiger, Timo Werner and Kai Havertz helped Germany recover from an early goal conceded to win 2-1 against Romania in Friday night’s World Cup qualifiers.
There was a comfortable victory for Mateo Kovacic and Croatia and Ethan Ampadu played in a Wales side that was required to come from behind to take a respectable point against Czech Republic.
Rudiger and Werner both started for Germany in a home match played in Hamburg, and Werner was once again the victim of a VAR review when as early as the fifth minute, the referee awarded a penalty for a foul on the Chelsea man but the decision was then overturned.
Very soon after, the Germans found themselves behind to a quality counter-attack, ended when Ianis Hagi, the Rangers player who is son of Romania legend Gheorghe Hagi, skilfully tricked his way past the home team’s rearguard, Rudiger being one those players beaten, and scored with a crisp shot.
After that, Germany dominated but could not find a way back in the first half despite some openings.
Shortly before half-time, Werner tried to play a team-mate in rather than go for goal himself during a moment of chaos in the Romania defence, but the Germans were crowded out.
Serge Gnabry went close on the verge of half-time, having poked wide of the goal when on the floor earlier, and Rudiger also tried his luck just before the interval. Although shooting wide, it was a respectable attempt.
Gnabry, the Germans’ most threatening player, scored the equaliser with a shot from outside the area seven minutes into the second half. Marco Reus missed a great chance for a lead soon after and although in the right position in front of goal later on, Werner had to deal with an over-struck cross and could not threaten the goal with it.
Sixty-five minutes were played before Havertz was introduced. Ten minutes later after a strong run, the 22-year-old was denied by a great saving tackle.
Instead it was another substitute, Thomas Muller, who scored the winner, side-footing in at the far post after a towering near-post header from Leon Goretzka.
Hansi Flick’s side lead their group by four points from North Macedonia and Armenia with seven games played.
Croatia were in Cyprus for their game and with Kovacic starting, they scored two minutes into added time at the end of the first half. Luka Modric set up Ivan Perisic for the goal but then missed a penalty early in the second half.
Kovacic was replaced by Mario Pasalic with 63 minutes played but from the bench, our midfielder was able to watch his team make the points safe with 10 minutes remaining when RB Leipzig’s Josko Gvardiol scored. Hajduk Split’s Marko Livaja made it 3-0 at the very end.
Croatia are at the top of their group, level on points with Russia.
Wales gave a good account of themselves away to Czech Republic. Ethan Ampadu, currently on loan in Italy at Venezia, played the whole game in a back-three but got forward early on with a strong run that led to a penalty appeal, turned down.
Wales went ahead 10 minutes before half-time when Aaron Ramsey hit the net from a tight angle, but the lead did not last long as Jakub Pesek lashed in a loose ball after an initial save from Danny Ward.
Ward’s night took a big turn for the worse shortly after the restart when he contrived to allow a back pass from Ramsey into his net to put the Czechs 2-1 ahead.
However the Welsh were back on level terms with 68 minutes played when Fulham’s Harry Wilson finished nicely from a Daniel James defence-splitter. The game ended in a 2-2 draw although the Welsh had chances to win it.
With a game in hand on tonight’s opponents, Wales have the same points but they both trail runaway leaders Belgium by eight points.
European Under-21 Championship qualifiers
Thierno Ballo started in Austria Under-21s’ match away to Estonia and played 57 minutes of a big win, with his side doubling their half-time advantage to win 4-0. The attacking midfielder, who is currently on loan in Austria, assisted for the third goal shortly before going off. Austria lie third in their group, three points off the pace.
Ian Maatsen played a big part in Netherlands Under-21s coming from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 in Switzerland. The left-back, who is currently plying his club trade near the top of the Championship while on loan at Coventry City, was the main set-piece taker for the Dutch, who were 1-0 down at the break with the deficit doubled shortly after the restart.
However a Maatsen corner on 62 minutes led to one goal pulled back and then seven minutes later, he directly assisted the equaliser with another of his corner deliveries. The result places the Netherlands three points behind the Swiss who lead the group having played a game more.
Defender Sam McClelland played the whole of Northern Ireland’s away match in Russia but suffered a 1-0 defeat. It is a result that leaves his side bottom of their group, with one win from three games.
Goalkeeper Lucas Bergstrom was an unused sub in Finland Under-21s’ game in Azerbaijan. He watched his side gain a point from a 1-1 draw despite a red card midway through the second half.