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UEFA World Cup qualifying: Greece vexes Spain; Zlatan assists on return

Pro Soccer Talk takes stock of the top-four race in the Premier League, breaking down the frontrunners and analyzing the teams close to being on the outside looking in.

The first rule of World Cup qualifying, especially given the way UEFA draws its groups, is to avoid the many upsets bids while handling your business at home.

The first-place team from each group in Europe becomes the only automatic qualifier to the World Cup and the second-place team gets into the playoffs.

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That’s why France’s 1-1 draw with Ukraine on Wednesday was an eyebrow-raiser, as was the Netherlands’ 4-2 defeat at Turkey (that one an away setback, at least).

Well, well, well, look what we had Thursday.

Spain 1-1 Greece

Greece had just over 20 percent of the ball and only one shot attempt in Spain.

The problem for Spain? That shot came off a wildly controversial penalty and it also went in the goal.

Anastasios Bakasetas’ 57th-minute penalty was awarded when Inigo Martinez’s sliding clearance ended with his cleats stuck into a Greek leg.

That goal answered Alvaro Morata’s first-half opener as Greece not only took a point from La Furia Roja but did it in the away fixture to hand Luis Enrique an opening day headache.

Spain now goes to Georgia on Sunday before hosting Kosovo on Wednesday.

Sweden 1-0 Georgia

It took less than 35 minutes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden return to put his name on the scoresheet, thought Sweden would’ve wanted more than a 1-0 home win over Georgia to start qualifying.

Ibrahimovic chested down a big cross from the right and chopped an in-tight pass to Viktor Claesson for the opening goal of Sweden’s UEFA World Cup qualifier with Georgia on Thursday.

The 39-year-old is still a prime offensive force after nearly five years away from the national team, where he posted 62 goals and 17 assists in 116 caps between Jan. 2001 and the end of EURO 2016.

Ibrahimovic has 17 goals in 23 appearances for AC Milan this season, including six Serie A braces.

England 5-0 San Marino

The Three Lions knew they’d win their group opener. The question was by how much, given that six previous meetings between the two produced a combined 37-1 scoreline in favor of England.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin was on the mark twice for Gareth Southgate’s men, while James Ward-Prowse and Raheem Sterling also scored with assists going to Jesse Lingard and Chelsea trio Mason Mount, Reece James, and Ben Chilwell.

Ollie Watkins scored off the bench and on debut for England to make it 5-0.

Germany 3-0 Iceland

Serge Gnabry set up goals for Leon Goretzka and Ilkay Gundogan, sandwiched around Kai Havertz’s finish of a Leroy Sane feed as Joachim Loew’s men led 2-0 after seven minutes and never looked back.

The Germans had 81 percent possession and needed just two saves out of Manuel Neuer in emphatically answering the 6-0 smashing at the hands of Spain in Nations League play on Nov. 11.

Germany also joined Norway in making a gesture ahead of a controversial 2022 World Cup in Qatar that has not lost any of its controversy years after it was given to the Middle Eastern nation.

Hungary 3-3 Poland

Seven of 19 shots were on target and six went into the goal as Robert Lewandowski rescued a point for Poland on Thursday.

Hungary led 2-0 through Roland Sallai and Adam Szalai, but Krzysztof Piatek and Kamil Jozwiak scored a minute apart at the hour mark to level the match.

Willi Orban restored the hosts’ lead before Lewandowski scored on one of his few chances of the night to take a point back to Poland.


Bulgaria 1-3 Switzerland
Italy 2-0 Northern Ireland
Israel 0-2 Denmark
Moldova 1-1 Faroe Islands
Scotland 2-2 Austria
Andorra 0-1 Albania
Germany 3-0 Iceland
Liechtenstein 0-1 Armenia
Romania 3-2 North Macedonia

Follow @NicholasMendola