MATCHDAY: France Seeks 1st Group Win; England in Albania

A look at what’s happening in 2022 World Cup qualifying in Europe on Sunday:


Spain plays Georgia under pressure to get a convincing win in Tbilisi after being held 1-1 at home by Greece in their opener. Luis Enrique’s side dominated possession against the Greeks and got an opener from Álvaro Morata, but a penalty conceded in the second half ruined their chances for a victory. Despite the setback, Luis Enrique said he was pleased with what he called his team's best defensive performance under his watch. Georgia created scoring chances but lost 1-0 to Sweden in their first match. Zlatan Ibrahimovic set up Sweden’s winner against Georgia in his first international match in almost five years. Sweden will look to keep up its good start when it visits Kosovo. It will be the first meeting for the two sides.


Italy has lost three key players from its opening 2-0 win over Northern Ireland. Captain Giorgio Chiellini and forwards Domenico Berardi and Francesco Caputo left the team Saturday with various physical problems. Francesco Acerbi should replace Chiellini in defense against hosts Bulgaria, while Federico Chiesa and Andrea Belotti should step in to the attack. Berardi opened the scoring against Northern Ireland for his third goal in as many games for the national team. Italy coach Roberto Mancini is seeking a more complete performance after the Azzurri waned in the second half against Northern Ireland. Italy, which failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, is on a 23-match unbeaten run. In the group's other match, Switzerland hosts Lithuania.


France coach Didier Deschamps will demand a significant improvement from his key players against Kazakhstan, following the tepid midweek draw at home to Ukraine for the world champions. His loyalty to center forward Olivier Giroud, for example, is being tested. For while Giroud has done very well for France over the years, his advanced age and lack of match sharpness from not playing for Chelsea are beginning to tell. It could now be time to give Manchester United's Anthony Martial a run in the side. It's Ukraine vs. Finland in the other game. Finland's Teemu Pukki looks to continue his scoring form for club and country. His 22 league goals have pushed second-tier Norwich close to Premier League promotion, and he netted twice against Ukraine in the opening group game to reach 29 international goals. That puts him only three behind former Barcelona star Jari Litmanen's national record.


Top-seeded Denmark already looks in control of the group after the first round of games. A solid 2-0 away win against Israel while Scotland and Austria took points off each other drawing 2-2 in Glasgow was the perfect start. The No. 12-ranked Danes, one place above Germany, are favored to win at home against No. 177 Moldova, which was held to a draw at home by the Faroe Islands on Thursday. Austria now hosts the Faroes, and many in Scotland’s team will play in front of fans for the first time this season in Israel. After Israel’s rapid vaccination program, 5,000 fans were inside Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv to see Denmark win.


England manager Gareth Southgate says he is happy with his midfield options despite the absence of Jordan Henderson, who is a doubt for the European Championship due to a groin injury. Mason Mount and Declan Rice could be in England’s midfield against Albania in the second World Cup qualifier, which follows a 5-0 victory over San Marino. Southgate calls Mount of Chelsea “a very intelligent player" who can create a balance with West Ham's Rice, his childhood friend. Manchester City’s attacking midfielder Phil Foden could also be handed another chance to impress in Tirana. England will be without Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford due to a foot injury. After drawing 3-3 when they met in the group opener, Poland and Hungary have less demanding games. Poland hosts Andorra and Hungary is away at San Marino.


A 3-0 win over Iceland in the opening game took some of the pressure off Germany following its 6-0 loss to Spain last year. Romania away may offer more threat for a German team which is without numerous first-team players because of injuries and a coronavirus case last week. That meant coach Joachim Löw playing defensive midfielder Emre Can as a makeshift left back against Iceland. Leon Goretzka and Leroy Sané are the latest injury doubts. Romania is coming off a tight 3-2 win over North Macedonia and hasn't played Germany in a competitive game since a 1-1 draw at the European Championship in 2000. Facing Armenia, Iceland is without Everton midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson as it tries to recover the form which took the North Atlantic nation to the 2016 European Championship and 2018 World Cup. North Macedonia hosts Liechtenstein.



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