By Ben Bowers
As international breaks go, this was an entertaining few days of football. There were some massive shocks in a set of fixtures that has been very fruitful for the home nations, who did not have one defeat between them. The big losers were Germany, who looked a shadow of the side that won the World Cup just over 3 months ago.
In Group A, there was a huge shock as Iceland, led by the hugely impressive Gylfi Sigurdsson, beat the Netherlands, who have not started well under Guus Hiddink, 2-0. Czech Republic also maintained their fine start to the group by beating both Kazakhstan and Turkey away from home. Both they and Iceland have won all three of their games so far.
Wales have made a strong start to Group B, winning two and drawing one of their opening games meaning they top the group. This weekend they held Bosnia at home whilst edging past Cyprus a few days later. However, both Israel and Belgium, who beat Andorra and drew to Bosnia respectively, have a game in hand on the Welsh, who will travel to Brussels next.
Spain’s stuttering form in Group C continued as they lost 2-1 to Slovakia, who have made a 100% start to the campaign. They made up for this by beating Luxembourg 4-0 a few days later, with Diego Costa scoring his first ever goal for his adopted country. Ukraine had a good few days, picking up two wins to give them hope of qualification
There were a couple of shocks in Group D as Germany picked up one point from a possible six. They lost 2-0 to Poland in Warsaw, despite having over 20 shots. A few days later, they were held at home to Ireland, who scored in the 94th minute. The Irish also thrashed the group’s whipping boys Gibraltar 7-0. Scotland also enjoyed a good few days; they scraped past Georgia before earning a respectable draw in Warsaw. Poland and Ireland are currently leading the group.
England maintained their winning record in Group E by registering two wins against underwhelming opposition. They thrashed San Marino at Wembley 5-0 before beating Estonia 1-0 in Tallinn. Switzerland suffered another defeat in Slovenia who are looking like England’s strongest challenger.
Having been dealt a relatively winnable group, Northern Ireland are doing a fantastic job in Group F, winning their first three games. In what was on paper their hardest game, they beat Greece 2-0 away from home. The Greeks have made a terrible start, picking up only one point. Romania are taking advantage of this as they drew to Hungary and beat Finland this weekend.
With no real standout team in Group G, Austria currently top the table. They beat Montenegro and Moldova to cement their place in pole position. Russia were held at home by the Moldovans, putting greater pressure on Fabio Capello. They also drew to Sweden and are level on 5 points but behind the Austrians.
Group H is already being dominated by two teams who have both made 100% starts to qualifying. Croatia beat Bulgaria away before thrashing Azerbaijan at home. Italy scraped past both Azerbaijan and Malta. Norway are behind them on six points, having won both their games at the weekend.
There was controversy in Group I as the game between Serbia and Albania was abandoned after a drone carrying a flag of Greater Albania, which includes parts of Serbia and Kosovo, was flown in the stadium, causing uproar and leading to the game being stopped at 0-0. Serbia had previously drawn in Armenia. Portugal gained a 1-0 win against Denmark courtesy of a 95th minute Cristiano Ronaldo header.
Despite the unexpected thrills, domestic football returns this weekend.