Spain clinched top spot in Group F in style by hammering Malta 7-0 at home on Friday for their biggest win of their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign as seven players got on the scoresheet.
Spain had sealed their place at next year’s tournament last month in unconvincing fashion by drawing 1-1 with both Norway and Sweden but they created a party atmosphere in Cadiz with a superb display of attacking football.
The Spaniards lead the standings with 23 points from nine matches, five more than second-placed Sweden who booked their place at Euro 2020 with a 2-0 win over Romania.
Alvaro Morata put the Spaniards on their way to a resounding victory over Malta by netting midway through the first half, scoring for the seventh consecutive game for club and country.
Santi Cazorla doubled the lead shortly before halftime with his first goal for his country in over four years, a special moment for the much-loved 34-year-old who has staged a remarkable recovery from a career-threatening foot injury.
Robert Moreno’s side turned on the style in the second half, with defender Pau Torres marking his debut with a goal in the 62nd minute and Pablo Sarabia also netting for the first time for Spain less than a minute later.
Dinamo Zagreb striker Dani Olmo then came off the bench to make his Spain debut and moments later marked the occasion by scoring his side’s fifth goal, while Gerard Moreno soon followed by netting his first goal for Spain.
Jesus Navas produced the most impressive strike of the evening for goal number seven, finding the top corner from outside the area, while substitute Paco Alcacer was not far away from hitting goal number eight when he rattled the post.
“I leave here feeling very satisfied because we never lost our desire. Every time Malta took a centre to restart the game we felt compelled to go looking for another goal,” said Moreno.
“It’s great when new players come in and bring fresh air with them. I’m very happy for the lads that made their debuts and scored because it shows the team is ready to renew itself.”
Malta coach Raymond Farrugia endured a painful night in more than one sense as he accidentally banged his head against the dugout in the second half and required medical assistance, although he remained on the sidelines until full-time.
“I barely remember anything about the last 20 minutes,” said Farrugia, who was part of the Malta side who were infamously trounced 12-1 by Spain in a decisive qualifier for Euro 1984.
“We were playing against the best team in the world. With these players Spain have the best team around and I think these players could easily go on to win the European Championship.”
Isak subjected to racist abuse in Romania as Sweden qualify
Sweden’s joy at qualifying for Euro 2020 thanks to a 2-0 win away to Romania on Friday was tarnished by the racist abuse suffered by their striker Alexander Isak when he replaced Marcus Berg in the 78th minute.
The game was stopped briefly by the referee and an announcement was made over the public address system.
“I heard a number of racist shouts from the stands, and I asked the referee if he heard what was happening. He hadn’t heard anything,” the 20-year-old Isak, whose parents are from Eritrea, told Swedish radio.
“A few minutes later he stopped the game and asked. We had a small discussion, the match went on and I am OK with that, and I’m happy we won. Obviously it hurts, it’s a shame but we were prepared for it.”
Undaunted by the taunting from the stands, Isak continued to seek possession and had the ball at his feet as the final whistle went to confirm Sweden’s qualification as runners-up behind Spain in Group F.
“I don’t let things like that affect me in that way. It’s better to ignore it. There will always be idiots around, it’s better not to give them the attention they are looking for,” the 20-year-old said.
Sweden travel to Stockholm on Saturday ahead of their final group game against Faroe Islands at the Friends Arena on Monday.
Italy win record 10th match in a row with Bosnia rout
Italy won 10 internationals in a row for the first time in their 109-year history when goals from Francesco Acerbi, Lorenzo Insigne and Andrea Belotti gave them a 3-0 victory at Bosnia & Herzegovina in a lop-sided Euro 2020 qualifier on Friday.
The Italians, who were already assured of advancing, top Group J with a maximum 27 points and were joined by second-placed Finland (18 points) who earlier reached their first major tournament with a 3-0 home win over Liechtenstein.
The result meant coach Roberto Mancini improved on Vittorio Pozzo’s run of nine straight wins between 1938 and 1939.
“Let’s remember that he won five trophies with the national team so there is still a long road ahead,” said Mancini, who took over after Italy missed out on last year’s World Cup and has overseen a remarkable turnaround.
“Of course, I’m pleased to have bettered a legend such as him.”
Under Pozzo, Italy won the 1934 and 1938 World Cups, the 1936 Olympic Games as well as the now defunct Central European International Cup twice.
Italy’s current streak includes a friendly win over the United States followed by nine matches in Euro 2020 qualifying so far. They finish by hosting Armenia on Monday.
Bosnia dropped to fifth on 10 points and, while Finland’s victory dashed any slim hopes they had of finishing in the top two, the Balkan country can still progress to next year’s tournament via the Nations League playoffs in March.
With Finland’s success reducing the Bosnia-Italy game to a dead rubber, it was played at walking pace for long spells but the gulf in class was apparent as defender Acerbi fired the visitors ahead with a fine individual effort in the 21st minute.
Insigne doubled Italy’s lead with a bouncing shot on the turn in the 37th, while goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma denied Bosnia’s Ermin Bicakcic and Adnan Kovacevic with a pair of excellent saves at the other end.
Disgruntled home fans treated Belotti to a standing ovation after the striker made it 3-0 with a spectacular 53rd-minute goal, as he took a through ball in his stride and beat Ibrahim Sehic with a thunderbolt from 18 metres.
“If I had to find a problem, it’s that in the final 15 minutes we dropped a bit deep,” said Mancini. “When we are tired, we need to hold the ball and make the opposition run.”
Debutant Itten puts Swiss on brink of Euro place
Substitute Cedric Itten, playing in front of his home crowd, scored six minutes into his Switzerland debut to give them a 1-0 win over Georgia and leave them with one foot in Euro 2020 on Friday.
The 22-year-old, who plays for local side St Gallen and missed nearly all of last season with a knee injury, headed in a Denis Zakaria cross in the 77th minute to break down stubborn opponents at the Kybunpark.
Switzerland, second in Group D with 14 points, were left needing a win away to basement side Gibraltar on Monday to qualify. Leaders Denmark (15) visit Ireland (12) in their final game on Monday.
Itten’s goal came almost immediately after team mate Renato Steffen escaped a red card for a lunging, studs-up, ankle-high tackle on Georgia’s Otar Kakabadze.
Georgia, who completed their eight games with eight points, cannot qualify through the group but are guaranteed a place in the Nations League playoffs which offer four more places at the finals.
They carved out several good chances and Zuriko Davitashvili hit the post in the first half despite being on the ground.
Denmark win sets up crunch qualifier in Dublin
Denmark got off to a slow start before overwhelming Gibraltar 6-0 on Friday to take over the top of Group D and set up a decisive Euro 2020 qualifier in Dublin on Monday.
Denmark will qualify for next year’s European Championship if they avoid defeat against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium, after moving 3 points clear of the Irish.
But they will need to sharpen up their play after making heavy weather of beating tiny Gibraltar, whose population is not much more than the 24,033 who watched the game at Copenhagen’s Parken Stadium.
Denmark, unbeaten in the qualifiers, were ahead only 1-0 at halftime and had lapses of concentration by the part-timers to thank for their goals rather than their own ingenuity.
Winger Robert Skov opened the scoring in the 11th minute after Gibraltar’s diminutive goalkeeper, Kyle Goldwin, twice failed to hold on to the ball but for the rest of the half the hosts battled to break down a determined defence.
Straight after the break, Goldwin mistimed coming out to cut off a long kick upfield from the Danes and the pace of striker Christian Gytkjaer allowed him to get to the pass first and slide it home.
Martin Braithwaite converted an easy tap in 4 minutes later after Goldwin parried Christian Eriksen’s square pass into his path and Skov grabbed a second for himself in the 64th minute as Gibraltar’s defence failed to clear a cross.
Eriksen scored the fifth with a shot from outside the penalty area 6 minutes from time and then added another with the last kick of the match as a clearance was kicked straight at him.
Denmark have 15 points from seven matches, one more than second-place Switzerland, who finish their campaign away at Gibraltar on Monday.
Ireland must beat Denmark to qualify.