Finally. The latest international break is over, and all 14 Manchester United players will soon be back at the club, safe-ish and sound-ish. It was a mixed bags for the United players in action, with some disappointing results and untimely injuries. Let’s see how they got on.
Phil Jones pulled out immediately either because of a minor injury injury or because, like the rest of us, he’s fed up of England’s mediocrity. The Three Lions did enough to secure their qualification to Russia, picking up two uninspired 1-0 wins over Slovenia and Lithuania. Chris Smalling was an unused substitute in both matches, which is just as well, given that he may be required this weekend against Liverpool if Jones fails to recover in time.
Marcus Rashford started both matches on the left of England’s attack, impressing rather more in the first match, but more importantly - emerging unscathed. Jesse Lingard came off the bench for a few minutes in both ties.
Elsewhere in Europe
Henrikh Mkhitaryan was the first Red in action over the break, kicking things off with a stunning loss to Poland. Armenia had already been eliminated from World Cup qualification, but a 6-1 battering at home must have been hard to take. The second match wasn’t much better, as Micki’s boys could only muster a 1-1 draw with Kazakhstan. At least Mkhitaryan scored the opening goal in that one.
Matteo Darmian and Italy were not able to get the job done to secure their progress to Russia just yet. A 1-1 draw with Macedonia and a narrow 1-0 in Albania was enough to secure a playoff spot, at least. Darmian started both matches, coming off in the second at around the hour mark.
Daley Blind started both matches for the Netherlands, at left-back in the 3-1 win over Belarus, and in holding midfield in the 2-0 win over Victor Lindelöf and Sweden. Unfortunately for Blind, other results didn’t go the Oranje’s way, and they will not be present at the World Cup next year.
Speaking of Lindelöf, he also played 90 minutes in Sweden’s 8-0 thrashing of Luxembourg. Keeping a clean sheet against the deadly attack of those European giants must surely put him in the frame for a chance in first team at Anfield.
David de Gea and Spain didn’t muck about with their qualification. Big Dave kept a clean sheet during Spain’s 3-0 win over Albania, and earned himself the day off in Spain’s dead rubber 1-0 over Israel.
Events in the Belgium camp were altogether more frustrating for Reds fans. Romelu Lukaku was ruled out of Belgium’s first game with injury, while Marouane Fellaini limped off after less than half an hour had been played. Belgium had already qualified, but still played a strong team to win 4-3 over Bosnia and Herzegovina. While Fellaini is now expected to miss weeks with a knee injury, Lukaku recovered in time to come off the bench and score in Belgium’s second game, a 4-0 win over Cyprus.
Nemanja Matić put some more miles on his legs, as he played 90 minutes in both of Serbia’s qualifiers. Matić scored a tidy goal in Serbia’s 3-2 loss against Austria, and helped his team keep a clean sheet during their 1-0 over Georgia. Serbia are through to the World Cup as group winners.
Argentina left it late to secure their qualification to next year’s tournament. Sergio Romero kept a clean sheet in the 0-0 draw against Peru, before getting dragged over the line with his other teammates by Lionel Messi’s brilliance during last night’s 3-1 win over Ecuador.
Antonio Valencia was not involved in Ecuador’s home loss due to suspension, after starting the 2-1 loss to Chile the previous week that eliminated them from qualification. With a long trip back to England, the extra rest will hopefully have done him some good.
Eric Bailly picked up a yellow card in the first half of Ivory Coast’s 0-0 draw away at Mali. Like Darmian, his World Cup qualification campaign is not yet over, with a play-off on the horizon during the next international break in November.