Europe started into the World Cup qualifiers for 2022 on Wednesday. Due to the pandemic, the schedule is very tight and on the very first matchday there were already a few surprises or surprisingly close games to be seen. And a potential new Slovenian national hero who is actually Austrian.
Sandi Lovric shoots Slovenia to victory over Croatia
For the tenth time Slovenia and Croatia faced each other in an international match – Slovenia won none of the first nine games. Now the time had come and a born Austrian was the deciding factor. Sandi Lovric, who was born in Tyrol and lived in Austria throughout his life, made his debut for the Slovenian national team only six months ago and has now scored his second international goal against Croatia, which helped the outsider to a sensational 1-0 victory. The Croatians played with all the stars like Modric, Brozovic, Kovacic or Kramaric, but Sandi Lovric scored the only goal. The Croatians were consistently the better team, had 67% possession, but were far too rarely compelling, which is why Slovenia was able to counter and provide relief again and again. The Croatian defeat is probably the biggest sensation of the first day of the match. Also the Live Trends from Overlyzer show that Croatia was mainly the better team in this game.
Burak Yilmaz scores three against the Netherlands
The Netherlands also made a bad start into the qualifiers as the better team. Away in Turkey there were three goals scored by Burak Yilmaz, including a penalty and a fantastic free kick and another goal by Hakan Calhanoglu, which gave Senol Günes’ team an opening win. With goals from Davy Klaassen and Luuk de Jong, the “Elftal” came up to 3-2, but the Turks and their newly formed team proved to be very powerful and mature enough to compete against larger teams. In the end, 20 shots and eleven corners did not help the Dutch.
World champion loses points against Ukraine
The world champion from France also got off to a bumpy start into the WC qualifiers. However, it was difficult to understand why they couldn’t pick up more than the 1-1 draw against Ukraine. At first everything went according to plan and Antoine Griezmann made it 1-0 for the French. France had every chance to improve the result in the first half, but an own goal by Presnel Kimpembe after 57 minutes made it 1-1 which the Ukrainians held until the final whistle. The statistics were clear: France had 64% possession, 17 shots and 12 corners. Ukraine could barely break free and still take home a point from the Stade de France.
Portugal struggles against Azerbaijan
The Portuguese coach Fernando Santos spared some of his stars with an eye on the upcoming tasks: players like Bruno Fernandes, Joao Felix or Diogo Jota initially only sat on the bench. Stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Andre Silva, Bernardo Silva and Joao Cancelo were still in the starting line-up. Just before the break, the clearly superior Portuguese took a 1-0 lead through an own goal by Maksim Medvedev – and then nothing more happened. Portugal had 31 shots, ten corners and a total of 122 initiated attacks, as well as 66% possession, but could only defeat Azerbaijan with an own goal. In the next game against Serbia, the Portuguese have to improve their efficiency.
Haaland empty-handed against Gibraltar
The team from Gibraltar also achieved a respectable result, “only” losing 3-0 to the rapidly improving Norwegian team. Superstar Erling Braut Haaland went empty-handed and was replaced after an hour. Sörloth, Thorstvedt and Svensson took care of the goals. Haaland not to score would definitely have been an absolute value bet against the amateur players from Gibraltar. The superiority of the Norwegians was even greater than that of the Portuguese against Azerbaijan. Stale Solbakken’s team had 78% possession and only allowed Gibraltar to come in front of goal once. Overall, however, Norway missed 27 chances and that’s the only reason they couldn’t do more for the goal difference.