The first round of the European section of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers commenced on 24th March as 55 teams compete for the 13 available slots in the World Cup over the course of the year. The qualification process involves a group stage and play-off stage, with group winners directly qualifying for the World Cup tournament, while the runner-ups have to navigate through the play-offs.
Here are our highlights from the first round fixtures:
RONALDO SHINES FOR PORTUGAL
It has been an event-filled week for Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal. The campaign started with a 1-0 victory against Azerbaijan. Portugal then had to contend with a 2-2 draw against Serbia as Cristiano Ronaldo stormed off the field after he was denied a clear goal due to the absence of VAR. A Diogo Jota double had given Portugal a 2-0 lead in the first half but the Serbians fought back in the second half to snatch a 2-2 draw.
Portugal then had to contend with a resurgent Luxembourg as Gerson Rodrigues netted the ball in the first half. But a close-range header from Diogo Jota levelled the scores at the end of the first half. Ronaldo and Joao Palhinha added to the scoreline to secure a comfortable victory for the Portuguese.
This was the 103rd goal for Cristiano Ronaldo on the international stage, and the first in the 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign. The 36-year-old GOAT is now six goals short of Iranian Ali Daei’s all-time record of 109 international strikes. Portugal sit at top of the UEFA Group A table in the World Cup qualifying with seven points from three matches.
DENMARK DEMOLISH MOLDOVA
Denmark recorded their biggest ever World Cup qualifying victory against Moldova on Sunday, with Kasper Dolberg and Mikkel Damsgaard both scoring twice. Kasper Hjulmand made 10 changes to the side, except for goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, from the side that earlier defeated Israel. That made little difference to the fortunes of the Danes, as they crushed Moldova, which was ranked 177th in the World. Jens Stryger Larsen, Mathias Jensen, Robert Skov and Marcus Ingvartsen contributed a goal each.
This is the 11th straight unbeaten match for Denmark in the World Cup qualifiers. With two straight victories, they sit at the top of the UEFA Group A table.
LUXEMBOURG SHOCK IRELAND
Republic of Ireland’s World Cup hopes are in tatters as Stephen Kenny’s men suffered a shock defeat at the hands of minnows Luxembourg. As the Irish attackers searched in vain for an opportunity to score, they were shocked by an 85th-minute strike from midfielder Gerson Rodrigues. Luxembourg showed impressive tenacity to hold back the hosts in the first half of the game, as they prevented Ireland from converting numerous attacks into a goal. It is the 10th straight match for Ireland under Stephen Kenny without a win.
The loss leaves Ireland without any points in the UEFA Group A qualification table, as the Irish earlier lost 3-2 to Serbia in an entertaining thriller. Luxembourg were certainly the weaker side heading into the match, but their improvement in recent years was on full display against Ireland and Portugal.
TURKEY AND LATVIA PLAY OUT A THRILLING DRAW
Turkey settled for a frustrating 3-3 draw against Latvia on Tuesday in their group G qualifying match. Turkey held a 2-1 lead going into the second half, and Burak Yilmaz converted a penalty to increase the lead in the 52nd minute to 3-1. But Şenol Güneş’ men suffered a spectacular collapse in the last half an hour as they conceded two goals to Latvia as Roberts Uldrikis and Davis Ikaunieks netted the ball capitalising on the weak defence offered by the Turks.
The draw against Latvia puts an end to Turkey’s perfect start to the World Cup qualifying campaign – they have earlier defeated Netherlands (4-2) and Norway (3-0) with convincing margins. Latvia’s surprise performance in the match gave them their first point in the qualifying campaign, the Latvians have earlier suffered defeats at the hands of Montenegro and the Netherlands. Turkey lead the UEFA Group G table with seven points while Netherlands, Montenegro and Norway follow with six points each.
VISIT OUR BLOG TO GET YOUR FIX FOR ALL OF THE MOST CURRENT FOOTBALL NEWS STORIES & FEATURES