The first stage of the UEFA World Cup 2018 qualifiers are almost at an end with a number of countries booking their place in Russia next summer.
Germany, Serbia, Poland, England, Spain, Belgium and Iceland, are already guaranteed a place in the Group Stages next year while two of France or Sweden and Switzerland or Portugal will join them. For the 2nd placed teams, the play-offs beckon in November and the draw for those matches will take place on October 17.
Following another exhaustive round of fixtures, who have been the MVPs and who have been the flops in UEFA qualifying this week?
here are the six mvps:
James McClean (Rep of Ireland)
It hasn’t been a vintage campaign from the Republic of Ireland by any stretch of the imagination yet when it mattered their makeshift team became only the second side in four years to beat Wales on their own patch to seal a play-off place.
The hero of the hour was fittingly their best player and top-scorer (with four goals) of the qualifiers, James McClean, as the winger lashed home an unstoppable volley with his weaker right foot to seal victory by the narrowest of margins.
Robert Lewandowski (Poland)
The UEFA record for goals scored in a single World Cup qualification campaign was broken this week as Robert Lewandowski’s strike in Poland’s 4-2 win over Montenegro, took him to 16 goals in just ten matches.
It is a quite incredible feat from Lewandowski considering he doesn’t play for one of European football’s traditional heavyweights and has been without his trusty sidekick Arek Milik for virtually the entire campaign.
Christian Eriksen (Denmark)
This current Denmark side is a long way from their vintage 1992 European Championship winning team but they have a great chance of making it to the 2018 World Cup as they are one of the seeded 2nd placed teams.
If they do indeed seal their place at the finals, Christian Eriksen will be the man who got them there almost singlehandedly as he has been a talismanic figure, scoring eight and setting up three of their 20 goals.
Johann Berg Gudmundsson (Iceland)
Although they possess one standout star in Gylfi Sigurdsson, the foundations of Iceland’s miraculous success over the past few years has been built upon an incredible team spirit and work ethic so picking one player out from the rest is a tad unfair.
However, Johann Berg Gudmundsson certainly delivered at key moments in the last two qualifiers, scoring the first in a nerve-shredding 3-0 win over Turkey and the last in a 2-0 victory against Kosovo to help his side top their group.
Aleksandar Prijovic (Serbia)
Scoring a first goal for your country must be an incredible feeling at any time but when it’s late a winner in a must-win game to seal top spot in a World Cup qualifying group, it must be all the more sweeter.
Aleksandar Prijovic’s 74th-minute winner for Serbia against Georgia was his first goal at the fifth attempt and made sure of Serbia’s automatic qualification place for the World Cup, even though a draw would’ve been enough after Ireland’s shock win over Wales.
Jan Vertonghen (Belgium)
Jan Vertonghen matched Jam Ceulemans’ longstanding caps record for Belgium when he made his 96th appearance in a 4-3 win over Bosnia & Herzegovina and he will surpass it in their final fixture against Cyprus.
It is some achievement for the Spurs defender and he even managed to mark his record-equalling appearance with a goal after making a mistake for Haris Medunjanin’s opening goal for the hosts.
And…Here are three flops:
Wayne Hennessey (Wales)
It has been a difficult start to the season for Wayne Hennessey considering Crystal Palace’s struggles and he must have hoped for some respite while away with his national team this week.
Unfortunately, for Hennessey, that didn’t happen as his risky rolled pass out to Ashley Williams was seized upon by Jeff Hendrick who then teed up McClean for Ireland’s winning goal. It was a poor decision that had dire consequences for the Welsh side.
Chris Brunt (Northern Ireland)
In the end, Scotland’s failure to beat Slovenia meant that Northern Ireland entered their final game against Norway knowing that they had already finished as runners-up in their group.
With the pressure off, Northern Ireland delivered comfortably their worst performance of the qualification campaign and their poor performance was summed up by Chris Brunt’s bizarre own goal that handed Norway a 1-0 win.
Gordon Strachan (Scotland)
Gordon Strachan’s position looked to be untenable after Scotland had picked up only four points from their opening four matches but they rallied and almost finished 2nd before drawing to Slovenia 2-2 in the final game.
After the game, Strachan bizarrely blamed his team’s failure on a general lack of height, saying: “Genetically we are behind. In the last campaign, we were the second smallest, apart from Spain.”
Such complaints aren’t likely to garner Strachan an awful lot of sympathy, particularly as he undid his whole argument in the same sentence. Spain are pretty good at football, Gordon.