The first round of 2022 World Cup qualifiers got underway on Wednesday evening as the bid to reach Qatar begins
There were surprise defeats for the Netherlands and Croatia at the hands of Turkey and Slovenia, world champions France could only draw with Ukraine and West Ham midfielder Thomas Soucek netted a hat-trick for the Czech Republic during their comprehensive win over Estonia.
Let’s take a look at the best of the action.
Having failed to qualify for Russia 2018, the Netherlands got their World Cup qualifying campaign off to the worst possible start as they suffered a surprise 4-2 defeat to Turkey.
The hosts were 3-0 up inside 46 minutes through a brace from Burak Yilmaz – the first a deflected effort and the second from the spot – and a curling Hakan Calhanoglu strike.
Substitutes Davy Klaassen and Luuk de Jong both netted in the space of two minutes to pull the Netherlands back into contention, but Yimaz completed his hat-trick with a fabulous free kick nine minutes from time to wrap up the victory for Turkey.
Belgium and Wales have become familiar foes in recent years, with Wales famously eliminating the Belgian’s during their run to the semi finals of Euro 2016, having also gotten the better of them during qualification. It looked as if their recent good form against Belgium was continuing when Harry Wilson swept home a brilliant counter attacking move.
However, Wales were pinned back by a stunning solo strike from Kevin de Bruyne, before Thorgan Hazard headed Belgium into the lead – Connor Roberts slipping at the crucial moment to give the Borussia Dortmund striker a free header.
Romelu Lukaku netted a third from the spot for Belgium after Chris Mepham brought down Dries Mertens.
Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic netted twice as Serbia recorded a 3-2 win over the Republic of Ireland. The visitors had led through an Alan Browne header, but this was cancelled out by Dusan Vlahovic’s cool close range finish.
Substitute Mitrovic completed Serbia’s turnaround with a wonderful chipped finish from outside the area, and the Fulham forward added a second as he headed home the impressive Dusan Tadic’s cross.
James Collins capitalised on a mix up in the Serbia backline to pull one back for Ireland as he turned home fellow substitute Shane Long’s pass, but it proved to just be a consolation.
World champions France’s bid to defend their title got off to a slow start, as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Ukraine.
Antoine Griezmann had given France a first half lead with a wonderful curling effort from the edge of the area, the Barcelona forward moving up to joint fourth in his country’s all-time goalscoring charts with the strike.
However, the hosts were pegged back in the second half as Serhiy Sydorchuk’s shot took a wicked deflection off Presnel Kimpembe to wrong foot Hugo Lloris and trickle into the net.
Portugal were expected to run riot against Azerbaijan – a side ranked 103 placed below them in the FIFA rankings. However, Azerbaijan frustrated their heavily fancied opponents and kept them at bay for the first 37 minutes.
The visitors were only undone by an unfortunate own goal as Maksim Medvedev deflected Bernardo Silva’s free kick into his own net.
Beaten 2018 World Cup finalists Croatia saw their qualifying campaign get off to a disappointing start as they suffered a surprise loss to Slovenia.
Midfielder Sandi Lovric opened the scoring for the hosts inside a quarter of an hour, and the goal proved decisive as, despite seeing 70% of the ball, Croatia could not find an equaliser.
Czech Republic surged to the top of Group E with an emphatic victory over Estonia, West Ham midfielder Thomas Soucek continuing his tremendous season as he hit a hat-trick.
Estonia had taken the lead after 12 minutes through Rauno Sappinen, but the Czech’s equalised via Patrik Schick, before running riot. Antonin Barak put the visitors 2-1 up, Soucek netted a 16-minute treble and Jakub Jankto was also on the scoresheet.
Henri Anier netted a consolation for Estonia with a well taken turn and finish.
Elsewhere, Norwich striker Teemu Pukki netted a brace in as Finland and Bosnia and Herzegovina played out an entertaining 2-2 draw.
Norway ran out 3-0 winners over Gibraltar. The Norway players wore t-shirts in the warm up to protest the controversial staging of 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Montenegro were 2-1 winners over Latvia thanks to a Stevan Jovetic brace, Russia beat Malta 3-1 and Cyprus and Slovakia played out a stalemate.