World Cup qualifying roundup: Sweden beat Spain; Bulgaria earn surprise point
Sweden recovered from a goal down to hand Spain their first World Cup qualifying defeat for 28 years with a shock 2-1 victory in Stockholm. Alexander Isak and Viktor Claesson produced sumptuous finishes to cancel out Carlos Soler’s early goal for the Euro 2020 semi-finalists and move Sweden top of Group B.
“It’s a shame, we went for the win, and probably in our best period of the game they scored their second goal,” Spain’s captain, Sergio Busquets, said. “The group is a lot more complicated now and we don’t have things in our own hands. We were going well, but perhaps lacked a bit of luck, but we have to continue – there’s still a number of games to go, even if right now the scenario isn’t the best.”
Vedat Muriqi settled the other match in Group B, as Kosovo defeated Georgia. Sweden lead Spain by two points with a game in hand.
Italy made it 35 games unbeaten to equal the European record run set by Spain but the Euro 2020 winners were ultimately disappointed as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Bulgaria in Group C. In their first match since winning the European Championship in July, Federico Chiesa wasted no time in putting Italy ahead in Florence, arrowing home a fine finish with 16 minutes on the clock. However, Atanas Iliev struck an equaliser against the run of play five minutes before the break, the first goal Italy have conceded in their World Cup qualifying campaign to date.
It was one-way traffic in the second half as the home side went in search of a winner but, apart from Ciro Immobile’s effort from a tight angle that was cleared off the line, Roberto Mancini’s side did not look like scoring again.
Shayne Lavery and Daniel Ballard scored their first international goals as Northern Ireland breathed life into their Group C campaign with a resounding 4-1 win away to Lithuania.
Lavery’s goal on his first competitive start was a decisive third, much-needed after it took a Bailey Peacock-Farrell penalty save to stop a much-changed Northern Ireland side from throwing away a 2-0 lead in a chaotic start to the second half.
Moments after Conor Washington’s penalty added to Ballard’s first-half strike, the visitors failed to deal with a corner and were punished by a superb strike from Rolandas Baravykas.
It almost got worse after Paddy McNair fouled Justas Lasickas following a mistake from Craig Cathcart, but Peacock-Farrell denied former Hearts winger Arvydas Novikovas from the spot.
Within five minutes it was 3-1 and effectively all over as Lavery – full of confidence after starting his Blackpool career with four goals in seven – adjusted his feet to turn in Jordan Thompson’s cross from close range. And there was time for McNair to add a fourth from the spot after Edgaras Utkus barged into Steven Davis in the box.
Hansi Flick got his reign as Germany coach off to a winning start as Timo Werner and Leroy Sané scored in a 2-0 win over Liechtenstein in Group J, but once again the Germans struggled in front of goal. Elsewhere in the group, Romania won 2-0 in Iceland and North Macedonia and Armenia played out a 0-0 draw.
Romelu Lukaku scored twice as Belgium overcame an early scare to crush Estonia 5-2 away on Thursday and solidify their position at the top of Group E. Lukaku extended his scoring record to 66 goals in his 99th appearance for his country after Belgium were shocked when Estonia captain Matthias Kait stole away the ball in midfield and thundered home a powerful shot to put the home side ahead in the second minute.
But Fifa’s top-ranked team fought back to move to 10 points from four group matches while Estonia are bottom after losing their opening three games. Hans Vanaken, Axel Witsel and substitute Thomas Foket also scored for Belgium while Erik Sorga grabbed a consolation for the hosts.
The other game in the group saw Czech Republic scrape past Belarus 1-0.
Robert Lewandowski led Poland to an emphatic 4-1 win over Albania as Paulo Sousa’s side climbed to second in Group I, behind England who won 4-0 in Hungary.
Talismanic captain Lewandowski opened the scoring in the 12th minute with a close-range header, but Albania equalised 13 minutes later when a long pass from Klaus Gjasula found striker Sokol Cikalleshi and he put the ball past Wojciech Szczesny.
Poland regained the lead against the run of play just before halftime through a header from New England Revolution forward Adam Buksa, who scored on his debut. Nine minutes into the second half, Grzegorz Krychowiak tapped in a pass from Lewandowski, after the Bayern Munich striker had dribbled past three Albania players. Just before the final whistle, Karol Linetty fired the ball in off the crossbar to secure a convincing win for Poland. Elsewhere, Andorra defeated San Marino 2-0 at home.