Things we learned from the World Cup qualifiers

Ronaldo will be United’s man for big moments, Haaland showed his Premier League potential against Van Dijk and Grealish can unlock England: THINGS WE LEARNED from the World Cup qualifiers

  • Cristiano Ronaldo scored two late goals for Portugal to sink Republic of Ireland
  • England battled a hostile crowd to take a very impressive 4-0 win over Hungary 
  • Erling Haaland and Virgil van Dijk had a fascinating duel as their sides clashed 
  • Kylian Mbappe and Karim Benzema’s partnership hasn’t hit full stride yet 
  • Italy matched Spain’s 35 game European unbeaten record against Bulgaria

The frenzy surrounding the summer’s European Championships has come to an end and all focus is now on qualification for next year’s World Cup in Qatar.

After the disappointment of England’s Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy, they bounced back in spectacular style with a 4-0 victory over Hungary in front of a hostile crowd in Budapest.  

Sportsmail takes a look at the main talking points from the World Cup qualifiers. 

England bounced back from Euro 2020 disappointment with a fine win against Hungary

Cristiano Ronaldo shows he is still clutch ahead of Manchester United return 

Expectation was high for Cristiano Ronaldo to break Ali Daei’s 15-year international scoring record against the Republic of Ireland and he didn’t disappoint.

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The 36-year-old is notorious for pulling off the spectacular throughout his career, though it didn’t look like things were going his way after he missed a first-half penalty and Portugal were minutes away from a shock defeat.  

But you should never rule out Ronaldo from standing up to the occasion and he did just that by heading in a record breaking 110th international goal to level the game after 89 minutes.  

And there was another twist, as he then extended his new record with a dramatic late winner in the 96th minute, another salmon-like leap and exactly the same result. 

Ronaldo might be 12 years older since he was last at Manchester United, but he still continues to prove he is as clutch at 36-years-old as he was at 24.

Cristiano Ronaldo came up clutch as he scored two late goals to sink the Republic of Ireland

England’s team spirit shines through in battle against adversity 

Following England’s Euro 2020 final loss on penalties, many questioned how the Three Lions would recover from such a heartbreaking defeat.

Their return to action wasn’t ideal as the game against Hungary was marred by sickening racist abuse directed at Three Lions’ stars.   

Raheem Sterling and Jude Bellingham were targeted by monkey chants, while the former was pelted by a number of plastic cups thrown from a section of the home crowd after scoring the first goal.

Despite a hostile crowd in Budapest and coming off their defeat to Italy, England showed defiance and were back in their groove as they hammered the hosts in the second-half to take a 4-0 victory.

Their celebrations were the perfect response to the negativity thrown their way which included Declan Rice and Jack Grealish pretending to drink from the cups that were thrown.

On a night of shame, England’s team spirit shone through and they continue to be a group that the country can be proud of.    

England showed defiance against the adversity thrown their way by a hostile Budapest crowd

Jack Grealish could be the last piece of the jigsaw for England

There was a clamour for Jack Grealish to play for England at Euro 2020 and his performance against Hungary showed why. 

The Manchester City star was Gareth Southgate’s go-to guy to make an impact off the bench in the summer but he started on the left during the World Cup qualifier in Budapest.

And he was instrumental in the opening goal as he surged down the left flank after Declan Rice won possession, before releasing the overlapping Mason Mount to set up Raheem Sterling.

Grealish became the main man as he was able to drive England up the pitch, as the Three Lions had more control of the ball and eventually took advantage of their domination.  

For so long Grealish and Mount were seen to be competition, but with the Manchester City star on the left and the Chelsea man in midfield it showed that they could be a potent combination going forward. 

Jack Grealish showed that he could be the missing link to help England move forward

Erling Haaland’s duel with Virgil van Dijk shows he’s ready for the Premier League   

The major talking point going into the Netherlands’ clash with Norway was the duel between Virgil van Dijk and Erling Haaland – and it didn’t disappoint.

Van Dijk was making his first international appearance since his return from injury but Haaland’s freakish combination of speed and strength meant the Dutchman didn’t have an easy comeback.

Haaland’s movement was causing the Dutch defence all sorts of problems as shown by his rapid dart off the shoulder and run in behind caught Van Dijk napping which was nearly punished only for his shot to be saved.

The Borussia Dortmund striker did get his goal when Van Dijk couldn’t tackle him in time when a ball was clipped over the time for the Norwegian to finish.

Haaland revealed that during the game he broke Van Dijk’s finger but his performance against the Dutchman, arguably the best defender in the world, showed that he would be more than ready for the Premier League.

He is widely expected to leave Dortmund next season and there is no doubt several Premier League teams will be interested.  

Erling Haaland and Virgil van Dijk embrace after a fascinating duel between both players

Kylian Mbappe and Karim Benzema partnership still needs time 

There was a prospect Kylian Mbappe could have been club teammates with Karim Benzema had Paris Saint-Germain accepted Real Madrid’s offer at the end of the summer transfer window.

It is likely they will be teammates next summer but by their first few games together for France, there’s still signs their partnership needs a bit of time to work.

France were heavy favourites at Euro 2020 and though Benzema scored four goals at the championships, the pair weren’t able to form quite the lethal combination that many had expected.

They again struggled to impress as they were held to a 1-1 draw with Bosnia at home in their World Cup qualifier.

Jules Kounde’s second half red card made things tougher for France but it is the latest disappointing result after failing to beat Hungary and Switzerland at the Euros.

Mbappe has only scored once in seven games since Benzema’s return to international football and France will be keen to get him back firing with the Real Madrid man. 

Karim Benzema’s partnership with Kylian Mbappe hasn’t got off the ground as yet for France

Alexander Isak is a striker Premier League teams should be looking at 

Talking of strikers, Sweden’s Alexander Isak again impressed as they took a stunning 2-1 victory against Spain.

The 21-year-old who lit up the Euros, showed what a lethal forward he can be by punishing a mistake by Spain before instantly firing home from the edge of the box.

Isak is picking up more of a reputation across Europe after a season in which he scored 17 goals for Real Sociedad last campaign. 

While all attention is on Erling Haaland, Alexander Isak is someone top teams should be looking at as a potential alternative.

He would be a cheaper option and is the same age as Haaland so has plenty of years ahead of him to develop his talents even further.   

Alexander Isak caused Spain all sorts of problems and justly deserved his goal for Sweden

Scotland’s Andrew Robertson and Kieran Tierney dilemma continues

One of the most difficult parts of Steve Clarke’s job appears to be the never-ending issue of how to accommodate two brilliant left-backs in his team.

The manager seemed to have found a solution by playing Tierney at left-centre back and Robertson at left wing-back.

However, the shortage of right backs in the squad prompted Clarke to shift Robertson to an unfamiliar role as a right-back against Denmark.

Robertson didn’t look comfortable on his weaker side and the manager reverted to his more familiar set-up in the second-half with Denmark already 2-0 up.

Tierney has played on the right previously for Scotland and arguably would have been the better choice for that position but Clarke probably wishes one of the two was a right-back.

Scotland captain Andy Robertson did not look comfortable as a right-back against Denmark

It will be tough to knock Italy off their perch 

Italy’s 1-1 draw with Bulgaria was by no means anything to shout about especially off the back of their brilliant Euro 2020 campaign. 

Nevertheless, it saw Italy match Spain’s European record run of 35 matches unbeaten which was set between 2007 and 2009. 

It’s an incredible feat by Roberto Mancini’s side who will be buzzing with confidence after lifting the European Championship back in July.

They don’t have the star players that other nations have but their team spirit and chemistry is not matched by many in international football.

It will be difficult for any team to knock them off their perch and they will look to carry on this run all the way through to Qatar.  




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