This week sees the second round of European Championship qualifiers put a halt to the so-far mouthwatering domestic campaigns across the continent.
Most of this week’s fixtures, it has to be said, are ‘David and Goliath’ affairs, but the international stage provides many surprise acts and a number of under-performing stars.
England kicked things off tonight when they hosted European minnows, San Marino, at Wembley. The tiny island nation, with a population of just over 31,000 people, are ranked joint 208th in the world and are yet to win an international fixture. They, unsurprisingly, failed to end that run tonight, suffering an eventual 5-0 defeat against the Three Lions. Elsewhere in Group E, Slovenia managed to get their bid to reach the finals back on track, coming out of a tough home fixture against Switzerland with a 1-0 win and all three points.
In Group B, Wales host Edin Dzeko’s Bosnia and Herzegovina, who lost their opening fixture 2-1 to Cyprus, on Friday. With most-likely rivals Belgium yet to play in the group, it would be an opportunity for Bale and co. to gain some important momentum and keep their country at the top of the leaderboard.
Republic of Ireland will welcome newbies Gibraltar on Saturday, in a game which Martin O’Neill will be eager to use as a morale-boosting run out. Group D seems to have been the toughest group handed to a home nation, having to compete against World champions Germany and a Poland side containing the prolific Robert Lewandowski.
Group D also contains an improving Scotland side, who produced a stubborn display in the opening defeat to Germany. Gordon Strachan’s team haven’t qualified for the latter stages of the competition since France 1998. They will begin attempting to change that when they take on Georgia at Hampden Park on Saturday.
Northern Ireland will look to build on their inspiring last-gasp victory over Hungary when they host amateur’s Faroe Islands. Michael O’Neill will no doubt expect nothing less than all three points on Saturday night.
Europe’s heavyweights are also in action this week. Spain hoped to make it two wins from two tonight when they took on Slovakia, hoping to put their World Cup nightmare behind them. However, they suffered a shock 2-1 defeat, with Miroslav Stoch securing the win for Slovakia late on.
Reinstated Netherlands boss Guus Hiddink hosts Kazakhstan tomorrow night, while Italy face similarly low-ranked opposition in Azerbaijan at the Stadio Olimpico.
World champions Germany then travel to Poland on Saturday, in a match-up that promises to deliver an interestingly history-fuelled battle.
Belarus 0-2 Ukraine
FYR Macedonia 3-2 Luxembourg
Slovakia 2-1 Spain
England 5-0 San Marino
Lithuania 1-0 Estonia
Slovenia 1-0 Switzerland
Liechtenstein 0-0 Montenegro
Moldova 1-2 Austria
Sweden 1-1 Russia