After the novelty of the UEFA Nations League, it’s time to get back to international football as we know it. Here’s a look at the heroes from the first weekend of Euro 2020 qualifiers.
Raheem Sterling, England
After years of abuse and discrimination, suddenly Sterling can do no wrong, for club or country. The Manchester City forward scored 2 against Spain in the Nations League last October, and on Friday night, he scored 3 against the Czech Republic in the first of England’s Euro 2020 qualifiers. 7 goals in 48 games sounds a lot better than in 2 in 45, doesn’t it? Playing in a more familiar wide role, Sterling is finally showing his City form at international level. His first goal was a trademark tap-in at the back-post, his second was a calm turn-and-shoot, and his third strike took a very fortunate deflection that Harry Kane would have been proud of. The most exciting news is that England now have 2 clinical finishers up front.
Eran Zahavi, Israel
Sunday’s most surprising result was Israel (ranked 91st in the world) thrashing Marko Arnautović’s Austria (23rd) 4-2. Guangzhou R&F attacker Zahavi was their hero with a 21-minute hat-trick. His first two goals were both diving headers, and credit must go to Eliazer Dasa and Bebras Natcho for their excellent deliveries. Zahavi’s third, however, was all his own work. Finding a bit of space outside the box, he fired an absolute screamer into the top left corner. Zahavi has scored 4 goals in the Euro 2020 qualifiers already.
Nico Schulz, Germany
Schulz only made his senior debut in September last year, but he already looks like a key part of Joachim Löw’s new-look Germany. In his first international match against Peru, the Hoffenheim midfielder scored the winner in the 85th minute. And in his sixth match against local rivals Netherlands in the Euro 2020 qualifiers, Schulz scored the winner in the 90th minute. Now, that’s what you call a big game player. Schulz had already set up the opening goal for Leroy Sané when he ghosted into the box and slotted the ball past Jasper Cillessen. Is Schulz the new Miroslav Klose?
Andriy Pyatov, Ukraine
The odds were stacked against Ukraine in the first of their Euro 2020 qualifiers. Not only were they playing away against Portugal, but it was also the return of Cristiano Ronaldo. However, CR7’s big day was ruined by Ukraine’s veteran keeper. Of Portugal 18 shots on goal, Pyatov saved 8 of them. He denied Ronaldo twice with terrific reaction stops, but best of all was his diving stretch to keep out a curler from André Silva. Thanks to Pyatov, Ukraine picked up a cleansheet and a point, which leaves Group B looking very interesting.
Steven Davis, Northern Ireland
One thing you should never do is write off Northern Ireland. After 2 wins out of 2 in their first Euro 2020 qualifiers, Michael O’Neill’s men sit top of a very tough Group C, ahead of Germany and the Netherlands. O’Neill is an excellent manager, and Davis is an excellent captain. The midfielder’s calmness and quality shone through in both games. He scored a crucial penalty against Estonia and then set up Jonny Evans’s opening goal against Belarus with a clever flick-on. Across the 180 minutes of international football, Davis created 5 chances and completed 87% of his passes.