In among all the chaos that has ensued as a result of a single managerial appointment, there was actually a full set of international fixtures taking place that either confirmed a spot in Euro 2020, consigned some nations to the play-offs, or downright meant nothing.
Fear not, though. No matter whether the fixtures were dead rubbers, of grave importance or flew under the radar, there were plenty of talking points to unearth from the latest break in domestic football.
Here they are.
Northern Ireland Went in Front Against Germany…Briefly
Michael O’Neill has forged a decent football side in the form of Northern Ireland. They might not always be the most pleasing on the eye, but having got them into Euro 2016 playing that brand of football, there is no reason to stop. Except that he’s now Stoke City’s manager. So, that aside.
Either way, they came within a whisker of automatic qualification to Euro 2020, which says a lot when they had both Germany and Netherlands in their group. However, with the final match of the group stages not being able to prevent them from featuring in the playoffs, the fact they went in front against Die Mannschaft – in Germany – will have been reason to celebrate for the traveling faithful.
Their lead lasted 12 minutes. Unfortunately, it didn’t stop there, and the final score finished 6-1, so we’ll wish them better fortunes when they head to face Bosnia-Herzegovina in the playoffs in March.
Gareth Bale’s Slip of the Tongue
We all saw that magnificent banner held up by one of the Welsh spectators. It was pure #bants. The only thing that could have been any more #bants would have been if Gareth Bale held it with all his teammates and sang along to the song.
Oh, he did? Everyone knows that? Right, let’s move on.
What about him dropping an f-bomb in his post-match interview? Not everyone? Good, because it was hilarious and added a lovely human element to what is often times a very robotic exchange of words between a footballer and a reporter.
Have a look. It was f***ing great.
And can you blame him? An Aaron Ramsey double against Hungary ensured Wales will avoid the playoffs and head straight to Euro 2020, in what was a supremely professional and composed showing.
An Unlikely Source Netted a Hat-Trick in Thumping Netherlands Win
Having missed out on the last two major national tournaments, under Ronald Koeman there appears to be a new lease of life for the Netherlands. Finishing second in their Euro 2020 qualifying group and earning a spot automatically for next summer’s competition, this Dutch side will unquestionably be among some of the favourites to lift the crown.
Blessed with the likes of Memphis Depay and Quincy Promes in attacking positions, it was a surprise to see Georginio Wijnaldum bag himself a brace in their final qualifier against Estonia.
Not known for his goalscoring prowess, the Liverpool midfielder put the Estonians to the sword in a match they utterly dominated. Their qualifying campaign finished on a perfect note with the routine 5-0 victory, with their sights now firmly set on Euro 2020 glory.
Scotland Building Momentum Ahead of Dreaded Playoffs
Scotland have been, by their own standards, fairly average for an unfortunate number of years. Managers have come and gone but to no avail, as the Tartan Army endured a mostly miserable Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.
A manic end to their Nations League group made sure of a playoff spot regardless though, and something of a mini-revival is seeing them build momentum ahead of March’s clash with either Bulgaria, Hungary, Israel or Romania.
Against Kazakhstan, Steve Clarke’s men came from behind to secure another morale boosting victory in a mostly comfortable 3-1 win. Since being trounced 4-0 by Russia, the Scots have now won three on the trot, scoring 11 goals in the process. Ignore the opposition, that’s still momentum.
Granit Xhaka Is Alive and Well in a Different Red
Right, OK, Switzerland played away at Gibraltar in their most recent international fixture so they were forced to wear white, but you catch my drift.
Embroiled in an unsavoury dispute with both his club Arsenal and their supporters, traveling away with his national side will have been a welcome respite to his domestic struggles.
It showed, too. Away to the European minnows they were in rampant fashion, sweeping aside Gibraltar 6-1, with the Swiss captain even getting on the scoresheet as the Rossocrociati secured top spot in Group D ahead of Denmark.
So, he’s alive and well Arsenal fans. Not that you really cared.
Italy Went Totally Mad
In a footballing sense. And in a good sense, too.
Taking on Armenia in their final qualifying group match, the Italians could have been forgiven for taking their foot off the peddle somewhat having already secured top spot in Group J.
That, they did not do. Instead they clearly assumed that goal difference was important and proceeded to obliterate Armenia 9-1 at Stadio Renzo Barbera. Ciro Immoble continued his stupendous scoring form for club and country with a brace, while the hugely exciting Nicolo Zaniolo followed suit with his own double.
Nicolo Barella, Alessio Romagnoli, Jorginho, Riccardo Orsolini and Federico Chiesa got the others to remind us all that we should probably be watching out for Italy next summer.
Ten qualifying matches, ten wins, 37 goals scored and only four conceded. Yes, their group wasn’t great but still, fine effort.