The seventh round of qualifying matches for next summer’s European Championship in Germany kicked off with eight matches across the continent on Thursday.
Here are four quick takeaways from the day’s action.
Haaland leads Norway rout but Spain test looms large
Erling Haaland scored twice as Norway breezed past Cyprus 4-0 away on Thursday. The brace brought Haaland to 27 goals in as many international matches, made him his country’s second all-time top scorer (at the ripe old age of 23) and helped the Norwegians win a match they had to in order to stay in contention for one of the two automatic berths in Group A.
The real test for Norway comes on Sunday, though, when Haaland & Co. host La Roja at Ullevaal Stadion in Oslo. Spain is still two points clear of Norway in second place following Thursday’s 2-0 win over Scotland (more on that in a minute), meaning the Lions really need a victory to have any chance of finishing in the top two with Spain having played one fewer match. Fail to win that one, and the final qualifier in Glasgow next month might not mean much.
La Roja exacts revenge against Scotland
Ever since the Scots stunned them 2-0 at Hampden Park back in March, the Spaniards have had Oct. 12 marked on their calendars. But while the rematch in Seville ended how the hosts had hoped — with a multi-goal victory that keeps them in contention for the top spot in the group — it wasn’t as easy as the three-time former European champions and its supporters hoped.
It took Spain 73 minutes to finally break the scoreless deadlock with the stingy visitors via star striker and team captain Álvaro Morata. Second half substitute Oihan Sancet added an insurance tally with four minutes of regular time left.
While the result wasn’t as convincing as some fans expected, it still secured three valuable points for Luis de la Fuente’s side – which, thanks to a superior goal difference, would leapfrog Scotland into first place if it wins that game in hand Sunday in Norway.
Turkey stuns Croatia at home, now leads Group D
The Turks might not stay in first place for long, as the Croats have played one fewer match that they’s make up Sunday in Wales.
Still, Thursday’s 1-0 upset of the 2022 World Cup semifinalist (and 2018 runner-up) will long be considered a landmark victory for a soccer crazy nation that has reached a major tournament just three times since its surprising run to the World Cup semifinals more than two decades ago.
Barış Alper Yılmaz’s goal on the half-hour mark was a worthy match-winner:
Whether they stay in the top spot to not, Turkey is well on track to reach Germany 2024; they’d clinch with a win over the Welsh on the final match day next month, if they don’t book a spot based on other results before that. If and when they qualify, Thursday’s triumph will give the Crescent Stars belief that they can make noise once there after failing to survive group play in 2016 and 2021.
Albania’s fairytale run continues
Show of hands: who had Albania four points clear of Robert Lewandowski-led Poland with just two qualifiers left to play?
Yet that’s exactly where the Albanians sit after trouncing Czechia 3-0 on Thursday. Odds are they’ll stay there, too, with their final two contests against Moldova and the tiny, already eliminated Faroe Islands.
While the Eagles are destined to reach just their second major tourney (they went three and out at Euro 2016), Poland’s place is far from assured. Assuming Lewandowski’s squad tops the Moldovans on Sunday, they’d still need to bounce the Czechs next month in Warsaw to qualify for 2024 directly.
Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United Statesmen’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.
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