European qualification for World Cup 2019 kicked off this week with nations from across the continent looking to start their qualification bids out on the right foot.
In Group 1, Bosnia and Herzegovina were forced to sit out the first orbit of games, Wales the first team to bank any points at they came up against Kazakhstan – a team they’d faced in Euro qualification over the last two years. Despite two 4-0’s over the Kazaks in their last two meetings, the dragons weren’t as free scoring in Astana, Jess Fishlock’s lone strike – a delicious volley from outside the box – enough to bag the three points.
The Pride at Prenton Park
The win was enough to take Wales straight to the top of the group until England squared off against Russia at Prenton Park on Tuesday evening. The Lionesses took an early and commanding lead against a Russian team who were more than a little off of the pace, Nikita Parris’ opener doubled by Jodie Taylor minutes later as they went two to the good inside of fifteen minutes. Out of sorts with their defence being pulled one way then the other, Russia’s day went from bad to worse when Ksenia Tsybutovich was dismissed and Fran Kirby was given the chance to add a third from the spot.
Although the Chelsea woman missed from 12 yards, Jordan Nobbs soon widened the gap, slipping away from her marker and blasting in the third, Lucy Bronze’s thunderbolt from range just before the break enough to have the match already over. The fifth goal was another pearler, this time from Toni Duggan who curled the ball over the defence and into the right side of the net. The Barcelona woman wasn’t done there however and rounded the rout off with a calm volleyed finish after the Russian defence had made a hash of a standard clearance.
Gifted one of the easier qualifying groups, England made no mistakes as they opened their account in convincing fashion, Russia left to lick their wounds.
In one of the harder groups to follow given the cluttered scheduling and lone use of FIFA windows, Austria will take comfort knowing that they’ve gone straight to the top and will stay there until (at least) this time next month.
Prolific striker Nina Burger got the ball rolling for Austria in the fifteenth minute, slotting the ball home from Nadine Prohaska’s cut-back before Nicole Billa grabbed a quick second before the Serbian defence could react. The game all but done when Burger nodded home at Sarah Puntigam’s corner eight minutes before the break. The second-half fell into a lull, passing without much consequence until Burger completed her hattrick in stoppage time with a fine arced ball over the advanced ‘keeper. Whilst Austria might not have hit their best they certainly had little trouble with Serbia but will be in for two tough matches against Spain later in qualification.