Northern Ireland’s defensive rock and 4 more stars of WCQ 2018
Race to Russia continues with final group games
The final two UEFA World Cup Qualifying group games take place in the coming days, and there’s so much left to play for. All four Home Nations are still battling for spots in Russia, with Belgium the only European side guaranteed a WC spot ahead of the upcoming fixtures.
With the final push on the horizon, the Coral News team salute five players who’ve made crucial contributions so far. With most of the players representing nations with everything still to play for, this fivesome’s biggest moments in qualification could be yet to come.
Jonny Evans (Northern Ireland)
Alongside World Cup holders Germany, Northern Ireland currently have the best defensive record in UEFA qualifying. Michael O’Neill’s men have shipped just two goals in their eight games – both of those away to Germany.
Central to their seven clean sheets has been Evans. The West Bromwich Albion man has caught the eye with his neat distribution, positional awareness, and aerial presence.
The three-time Premier League winner has also made an impact at the opposite end. Evans set up Kyle Lafferty’s opener in the home defeat of Azerbaijan, as well as netting a spectacular header to give Norn Iron the lead in a 2-0 victory over the Czech Republic.
Robert Lewandowski (Poland)
It’s fair to say that if Orgryte do reach World Cup 2018, they’ll owe almost all of that success to Lewandowski. The Bayern Munich hitman has scored 12 of Poland’s 18 WCQ goals so far, including hat-tricks against Denmark and Romania.
A ruthless and relentless presence up front, he’s saved the day for Adam Nawalka’s side time and again. Amongst those was the 29-year-old’s dramatic 95th-minute winner against Armenia in Warsaw – a strike that could go on to prove absolutely crucial.
As it stands, the Poles are three points clear of closest challengers Montenegro and Denmark, with two games remaining. Next up is a trip to Armenia on Tuesday night, with 1/5 available for Poland to Win.
Stevan Jovetic (Montenegro)
Similar to Lewandowski, Jovetic has been far and away the main man for his national side. The Montenegrin captain scored the only goal against Romania in Podgorica during their last qualifying game, to leave the nation of under 700,000 souls in the running for a World Cup place.
As well as bagging seven goals in qualifying to date, the AS Monaco man has chalked up crucial assists against Denmark and Kazakhstan (home and away).
With two games remaining, Hrabri sokoli are currently on course for an unlikely play-off berth. More than anyone else, they have Jovetic to thank for that.
Joshua Kimmich (Germany)
Most top-class full-backs could be expected to bag two or three assists in a World Cup qualification campaign. As for Kimmich, the 22-year-old has set up seven goals for Die Mannschaft, with his marauding runs and pinpoint crosses proving too hot for defences to handle.
A neat and reliable performer in defensive areas, the Bayern youngster looks to have every attribute to be a key part of this German side for years to come. More goals like his razor-sharp strike away to Norway on Matchday One will also endear him to Nationalelf fans.
Marc Rebes (Andorra)
They’re certainly not contenders to reach the showpiece in Russia, and are highly unlikely to ever reach a major tournament. However, Andorra secured one of the most remarkable results in international football history, thanks to a Marc Rebes goal on Matchday Six.
The 23-year-old’s nonchalant looping header secured a 1-0 victory over a Hungary side who had reached the knockout stages of Euro 2016. To put that into context, it was only Andorra’s second ever competitive victory, and first since 2004. A quite incredible feat.
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