Internationals: England qualify for World Cup as Gallagher debuts, play-offs beckon for Italy

Three Blues came off the bench as England easily secured their place at the 2022 World Cup, but Italy will have to advance through the play-offs if they are to compete in Qatar next year after only drawing 0-0 in Northern Ireland.

Conor Gallagher became the latest Chelsea Academy graduate to make his senior England debut, introduced at half-time in the Three Lions’ 10-0 thrashing of San Marino. Ben Chilwell was also brought on then, with Reece James introduced shortly after the hour.

As expected, England were utterly dominant from start to finish. Just as on Friday, an early Harry Maguire header put them ahead, before an own goal doubled the lead inside 15 minutes. Harry Kane then scored four goals in a quarter-of-an-hour, including a pair of penalties, to give England a commanding 6-0 lead at the interval.

Chilwell started the move from which Emile Smith Rowe made it 7-0, and then Gallagher volleyed a pass from Chilwell too close to the hosts’ keeper in search of a debut goal. A few minutes later, Gallagher was cynically fouled as he turned Dante Rossi, earning the defender a second yellow.

England didn’t relent. Tyrone Mings added an eighth before Gallagher hit the post on the turn, with Jude Bellingham’s eventual follow-up disallowed by VAR. Goals nine and 10 came from the right boot of Tammy Abraham and head of Bukayo Saka respectively. There was still time for Abraham to have a goal chalked off as Gareth Southgate’s side finished their qualification campaign in some style. It is England’s biggest victory since 1964.

In Belfast, Italy were held to a goalless draw by Northern Ireland allowing Switzerland, who beat Bulgaria 4-0, to leapfrog them in Group C. Just as for the last World Cup, the four-time winners will be in the play-offs, where they’ll be hoping for a better outcome after Sweden knocked them out.

Tonight, Jorginho and Emerson started for the Azzurri, who found life very difficult against a typically resolute Northern Irish outfit that, in truth, created the best three chances of the game, none better than former Blue George Saville’s second-half strike which was well saved by Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Jorginho was withdrawn on 68 minutes, and Emerson not long after he had seen a long-range strike deflected wide with 10 to play.

Scotland had already guaranteed their play-off place with victory in Moldova last week, but a superb performance and 2-0 win over Denmark tonight secured a home play-off semi-final next March.

Billy Gilmour and Andreas Christensen both started for their respective nations. Christensen shot a couple of feet over from range with 15 minutes on the clock, while a dangerous low cross from Gilmour caused confusion in the Danish defence, who were indebted to a brilliant Kasper Schmeichel save to keep out Che Adams.

However, there was nothing the Leicester keeper could do to stop Hearts’ John Souttar heading in from close range before half-time.

With Hampden Park rocking, Gilmour fizzed a shot at Schmeichel early in the second period. The midfielder, on loan at Norwich, was replaced by Kenny McLean on 74 minutes having pulled up. Adams got the goal his performance deserved late on to end Denmark’s flawless winning record in qualifying and secure a sixth straight win for the Scots, who like Italy are guaranteed to be seeded for the one-legged semi-final play-off, scheduled for 24/25 March 2022.

Earlier today at Under-18 level, Academy midfielder Lewis Hall came off the bench for the final 15 minutes as England defeated Portugal 2-0 in Spain in their final Pinatar Tournament fixture of this international break. Brodi Hughes was an unused sub.

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