Netherlands and Italy survive scares while Wales earn vital point
Coral writers take a look at the rest of the Euro 2016 qualifying action, as Belgium( bared their teeth, Italy and the Netherlands almost suffered surprises and Wales were left frustrated at the Cardiff City Stadium.
Belgium 6-0 Andorra
The Red Devils made their first competitive outing since a drab World Cup exit to Argentina, delivering a drubbing to minnows Andorra.
Former Chelsea midfielder Kevin de Bruyne continues to be a leading light for Belgium, and broke the deadlock by coolly dispatching a spot-kick, doubling his return just three minutes later after bounding easily into Andorra’s box and slotting home.
De Bruyne was not the only one to bag a brace in Brussels, as Napoli star Dies Mertens also struck twice to close the rout, bundling in a header from a precise Radja Nainggolan ball, before jinxing through the porous defence and unleashing a curling shot.
Tottenham’s man of the moment Nacer Chadli also got in on the act, sidefooting home, whilst on-loan Liverpool starlet Divock Origi impressed with a lovely sharp turn and low strike to prove that Belgium have plenty to offer even in the absence of rested Eden Hazard.
Italy 2-1 Azerbaijan
The Azzurri found determined Azerbaijan difficult to break down, but finally went ahead just before the break, as defender Giorgio Chiellini hit the first of a memorable hat-trick, including one at the wrong end. In a contest where set pieces were king, re-called Andrea Pirlo proved to be a hero yet again, curling in a corner for the Juventus centre half to head home.
Azerbaijan had been lucky up to that point, surviving near misses by Claudio Marchisio and Andrea Ranocchia, but goalkeeper Kamran Agayev was too rash in his rush to claim the ball, leaving Chiellini with an easy task.
Opposition stopper Gianluigi Buffon was also culpable after failing to collect a corner, leading to an under-pressure Chiellini directing the ball into his own net.
Keen to make amends for his blunder, Chiellini was a goal hero for the second time in the game, sparing Antone Conte’s blushes by directing a bullet header past Agayev in the clsong stages, courtesy of diminutive super-sub Sebastien Giovinco’s cross.
Netherlands 3-1 Kazakhstan
Clockwork Orange were also nearly embarrassed after Renat Abdulin directed a diving header to put Kazakhstan ahead in the 18th minute, and it took the Netherlands until midway through the second half to find an equaliser.
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, currently the subject of much transfer speculation, was the one to turn the tide, placing a strong header from Ibrahim Afellay’s ball past Alexsandr Mokin.
Once the Netherlands were back on equal footing the floodgates opened, with forgotten man Afellay pouncing on a deflected Arjen Robben cross, and lashing home from outside the box to put the Dutch ahead.
Captain Robin van Persie then stepped up to make it a respectable 3-1 in the closing stages. The Manchester United forward sent stopper Mokin the wrong way with a perfect spot-kick to complete his nation’s comeback and allow Guus Hiddink to breathe a sigh of relief.
Wales 0-0 Bosnia-Herzegovina
Gareth Bale almost gave his country a crucial three points against Eastern European namesakes the Dragons, but was thwarted by an imperious Asmir Begovic, who remindedu us why he was once constantly linked with a move to the top Premier League clubs.
It was a tale of two goalkeepers, as second-choice Crystal Palace stopper Wayne Hennessey kept out impressive efforts from the visitors’ star duo Miralem Pjanic and Edin Dzeko, before Begovic stepped up to deny Bale.
The speedster had nowhere to go but instead of waiting for support, attempted an audacious low shot from outside the area, forcing Begovic into a brilliant save. His heroics grabbed what was an important point for Bosnia-Herzegovia, but Wales were left disappointed, despite going joint top of Group B.