The Malta Independent 19 August 2019, Monday

Euro 2020: Turkey stun world champions France; Azzurri rule Athens; Germany beat Belarus

Associated Press Saturday, 8 June 2019, 23:15 Last update: about 2 months ago

Turkey stunned world champions France on Saturday evening with an impressive 2-0 win in their Euro 2020 qualifying match.

Roared on by a fantastic crowd in Konya Turkey took the game to their opponents, with France unable to get any kind of fluidity at all.

Turkey were quicker, more urgent, and they were marshalled superbly by their well-organised midfield and their young centre-back pairing of Merih Demiral and Kaan Ayhan, who kept France's all-star attackers very quiet.

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It was the defensive pair who combined for the opening goal when Demiral headed Cengiz Under's deep free-kick back across goal where it found his partner gleefully waiting to power a header past Hugo Lloris.

Turkey captain Burak Yilmaz then had a glorious chance to double the lead but he scuffed his shot, giving Lloris an easy save. However he soon made up for it.

Chasing down a loose ball Yilmaz beat Samuel Umtiti and then helped out-muscle Paul Pogba, which gave Dorukhan Tokoz a chance to slip in Under, who took a chance before lashing a shot past Lloris and into the side netting.

Didier Deschamps reacted, bringing on Kingsley Coman at the break, but his team couldn't really get anything going in the second-half as Turkey closed out for a win that could have been bigger but still sends them top of the group with a perfect record of three wins from three and zero goals conceded.

 

GERMANY BEATS BELARUS WITHOUT COACH LOEW

Germany brushed off the absence of coach Joachim Loew to beat Belarus 2-0 on Saturday in European Championship qualifying, but remains behind fast-starting Northern Ireland in the standings.

With Loew sitting the game out after injuring himself in the gym, assistant Marcus Sorg took charge of a routine win with goals from Leroy Sane and Marco Reus. That kept Germany unbeaten in three games in 2019 after last year saw it eliminated in the World Cup group stage as defending champion.

Germany put Belarus under pressure from the start, and only two good reaction saves from Alexander Gutor stopped Serge Gnabry and Lukas Klostermann from scoring.

The Belarus defense struggled to track Sane's movement, and when he received the ball from Joshua Kimmich in the 13th minute, it was a simple matter to jink past defender Alexander Martynovich and stroke the ball into the far bottom corner.

Belarus tried to hit back, Nikita Naumov forcing a fine save from Manuel Neuer at a corner. Germany had chances to score a second but finishing was poor.

Reus eventually doubled the Germans' lead in the 62nd, charging through the static Belarus back line to knock in a pass from Matthias Ginter. Sane headed against the post in the 83rd.

Northern Ireland remains the surprise early leader in Group C after beating Estonia 2-1 and recording its first away win in nearly two years.

Substitutes Conor Washington and Josh Magennis scored in the 77th and 80th minutes respectively to overturn Estonia's early lead from a free-kick by veteran Konstantin Vassiljev.

Northern Ireland has won all its first three games as it tries to qualify for the European Championship for the second time, but has yet to play Germany or the Netherlands.

The Dutch team isn't playing any European qualifiers during this international break because it's in Sunday's UEFA Nations League final against Portugal.

 

AZZURRI RULE ATHENS

Italy dominated Greece in Athens and ran riot with three goals in a 10-minute spell, as they go three points clear at the top of their Euro 2020 qualifying group.

The Azzurri continued their 100 per cent record in Euro 2020 qualifying with 11 goals scored and none conceded, beating a very defensive Greece side who practically used no recognised strikers in their starting XI. Cristiano Biraghi, Gianluigi Donnarumma and Matteo Politano were injured, so Lorenzo Insigne and Emerson Palmieri were picked.

These nations had crossed paths nine times before with only one Greek victory, 2-1 at home in a friendly back in March 1972, five Italy wins and three draws.

Carlos Zeca made a decisive last-ditch tackle to stop Andrea Belotti going clear, almost scoring an own goal, while Salvatore Sirigu smothered a Dimitri Siovas chest and volley, then Belotti blasted over from Insigne's assist.

Italy broke the deadlock after 23 minutes when Belotti left Roma defender Kostas Manolas standing with a sudden change of pace, his pull-back going behind Insigne and Chiesa for Barella to side-foot home from 12 yards.

The Cagliari midfielder had followed the move well and was in the right place to take advantage.

Greece had to open up a little more as they sought an equaliser, which created the spaces Italy were looking for. Insigne cut inside from the left and placed a right-foot curler into the far top corner, his first international goal since March 2018.

The Nazionale ran riot and completed their rout of three goals in 10 minutes. A corner was taken short and Emerson Palmieri's cross surprised Sokratis Papastathopoulos, allowing Leonardo Bonucci the glancing header to bounce in off the inside of the far post.

It would've been 4-0, but Barella forced a desperate save and Insigne couldn't turn in the rebound after a mad scramble.

Greece made two substitutions at half-time, but Barella tested the goalkeeper from the edge of the box after a long passing move, while Andreas Samaris and Giorgos Masouras were both fortunate to avoid a second yellow card for late challenges.

Salvatore Sirigu made his first save on 69 minutes, flying to palm away a Kostas Fortounis half-volley after a corner, but Vassilis Barkas had to rush off his line and use his torso to deny Insigne when sent clear by a Federico Chiesa pass.

Jorginho and Mattia De Sciglio gave the ball away cheaply a couple of times, but the Greek finishing failed to make the most of these gifts.

Chiesa also missed a sitter, ballooning over from seven yards on what should've been a simple tap-in as Belotti rolled across. Barkas got his fingertips to an Alessandro Florenzi scorcher late on and then palmed an Insigne low curler out of the far bottom corner.

The change in Mancini's approach was clear from the statistics beyond the goals, as Italy completed 687 passes compared to 254 for the hosts.

 

CROATIA BACK ON TRACK, BEATS WALES 2-1 IN EURO QUALIFIER

World Cup finalist Croatia put its 2020 European Championship qualifying campaign back on track with a 2-1 victory over Wales on Saturday, and Northern Ireland rallied late for its third straight victory.

Russia thrashed San Marino 9-0 for its biggest win since the Soviet era. That surpassed the previous post-Soviet marks of 7-0 against Liechtenstein and San Marino.

World champion France, Belgium, Italy and Germany are also in action later Saturday while the Netherlands face Portugal in UEFA's Nations League final on Sunday.

Artyom Dzyuba led the Russians with four goals in Saransk to join Belgium atop Group I with six points. With a game in hand, Belgium faces Kazakhstan on Saturday night.

Finland grabbed a 2-0 victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina for a joint lead in Group J with Italy that plays at Greece later Saturday.

Armenia got the first three points in the same group after topping Liechtenstein 3-0.

Also, Iceland beat Albania 1-0 to join France and Turkey at the top of Group H ahead of Turkey hosting France later Saturday. Moldova beat Andorra 1-0 for its first win in this group.

 

CROATIA REBOUNDS

James Lawrence scored an own-goal to give Croatia an early boost after diverting a cross from Ivan Perisic in the 17th minute in Osijek.

Croatia looked to be the better side anyway as it moved on from recent inconsistent results.

Perisic doubled the advantage early in the second half for Croatia to rebound from a 2-1 loss to Hungary in Budapest. Substitute David Brooks cut the deficit for Wales with a deflected shot in the 77th.

Hungary kept momentum with a 3-1 win in Azerbaijan to share the Group E lead with Croatia on six points, with Wales and Slovakia trailing by three points but with a game in hand.

 

NORTHERN IRELAND LEADS

Northern Ireland is a surprising early leader of Group C that includes Germany and the Netherlands.

Substitutes Conor Washington and Josh Magennis turned things around with goals in a span of four minutes late in the second half. Captain Konstantin Vassiljev put the hosts in front from a free kick in the first half.

Northern Ireland has nine points, six more than Germany which has two games in hand and plays at Belarus on Saturday.

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