There were goals for three Chelsea strikers in action on the international stage on Sunday…
Romelu Lukaku continued his fine form in front of goal with the opener in Belgium’s comfortable 3-0 victory over Czech Republic in Brussels. The Chelsea number nine struck early to give Roberto Martinez’s men the lead, having already been involved in a collision with visiting goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik that later forced the Olympiacos man into an early withdrawal.
The 28-year-old slotted in a fine finish after being played in down the inside-right channel, taking his international goals tally to 67 as he won a milestone 100th cap for the Red Devils. In the second half, he teed up Alexis Saelmaekers for the third after Eden Hazard had doubled the advantage right before the interval, before being replaced by Michy Batshuayi for the final 10 minutes.
However, prior to his withdrawal, the striker picked up his second booking of the qualifying campaign, which rules him out of the midweek trip to Belarus.
An impressive win against the Euro 2020 quarter-finalists opens up a six-point lead for Belgium in Group E of European World Cup qualifying. Wales are a point further back from the second-placed Czechs following a dramatic 3-2 win over Belarus, though Ethan Ampadu was not involved.
In Stuttgart, it was a happy homecoming for Timo Werner as Germany thumped Armenia 6-0 and the striker claimed a goal and an assist. At the stadium where he grew up, the forward led the line for Die Mannschaft in the absence of the ill Kai Havertz and caught the eye in the build-up to their third with a wonderful back-heel flick from Leroy Sane’s cross to tee up Marco Reus.
Within 10 minutes, he had claimed a goal of his own to make it 4-0 on the stroke of half-time at the end of a slick German move, and there were further goals from Jonas Hofmann and Karim Adeyemi in the second period to add to Serge Gnabry’s early brace.
Werner was also denied a second of his own by the offside flag after rounding the keeper and slotting the ball into the back of the net confidently. Yet this was still a much-needed big win under the new management of Hansi Flick, who has overseen back-to-back clean sheets, with Toni Rudiger returning to the back four against Armenia. It takes them to the top of Group J at the midway stage of qualification.
Reece James started in defence and Mason Mount on the bench for England as Gareth Southgate made 11 changes to the side that had beaten Hungary three days earlier for the visit of Andorra to Wembley.
Despite the inclusion of three traditional right-back in the starting team, it was James who took that position from the off, with Kieran Tripper on the opposite side and Trent Alexander-Arnold deployed in midfield.
The Three Lions were dominant throughout and rarely looked troubled at the back, recording their 11th clean sheet in 14 matches this calendar year. They led inside 20 minutes through Jesse Lingard but things look a while longer to really click into gear, prompted by the introduction of Mount in a triple change on the hour mark alongside Harry Kane and Jack Grealish.
It was incisive combination between the two attacking midfielders down the left channel that led to England doubling their lead, the Chelsea man exchanging passes with his Manchester City counterpart before being bundled into from behind in the box. Kane stepped up to bury a precise spot-kick into the bottom corner for 2-0.
James had earlier swapped with Alexander-Arnold at the break to line up in midfield and he almost marked the move with a goal when he sent a crashing effort against the crossbar early after the restart. He was soon replaced in the switch that saw Mount come on but has provided Southgate with another midfield option following a bright cameo.
Two more goals in the final 12 minutes followed, a second of the evening for Lingard and a header from Bukayo Saka to wrap up the scoring late on. The result maintains England’s 100 per cent winning record in Group I, with 17 goals scored in their five matches to date. They head to Poland on Wednesday looking to further extend a six-point lead at the top.
Elsewhere in the group, Armando Broja was Albania’s hero as the teenage striker came off the bench in Elbasani to fire in a brilliant late winner against Hungary. The young forward, who turns 20 next week, entered the fray with the score still deadlocked at 0-0 and less than a quarter of an hour remaining but took just nine minutes to make an impact.
It was a winner of some controversy given Hungary had a justifiable claim for a free-kick in the build-up but Albania’s quick break forward paid dividends and Broja’s emphatic strike from just inside the 18-yard box flew past the visitors’ substitute goalkeeper to hand Albania a precious three points and the Chelsea Academy graduate his first senior international goal. Albania move up to third with the win, six points behind England but just a point off Poland in the play-off position.
Italy’s post-Euros hangover continued in Basel as the Azzurri dropped more points in Group C at the hands of Switzerland. Both Emerson Palmieri and Jorginho started, with the latter having the best chance of the game for the visitors after Domenico Berardi had won a penalty eight minutes into the second half.
Yet the Chelsea midfielder was thwarted by Yann Sommer, who waited and feigned to go one way before diving to his left and smothering the effort. The Borussia Monchengladback keeper was the standout performer and kept the Italians at bay throughout, although there was some cause for celebration for Roberto Mancini’s side as they extended their unbeaten run to a record 36 matches.
There were no such problems for Cesar Azpilicueta and Spain as the Blues skipper helped La Roja to a much-needed 4-0 win against Georgia.
The defender played throughout at right-back as goals from Jose Gaya, Ferran Torres and Pablo Sarabia did the damage.
It made some amends for a disappointing defeat earlier in the week against Sweden, their first loss in World Cup qualifying for 28 years, and leaves Luis Enrique’s men a point clear of the Swedes, who do have two games in hand.
At the younger age groups, Billy Gee and Ronnie Stutter started for England Under-17s, who scored two late goals to beat their Portuguese counterparts in a tournament in Poland. The young Lions advance to the Syrenka Cup final on Tuesday and will take on the Netherlands.