20 November 2019 22:39
Giggs put the onus on young players in his first qualifying campaign in charge of his country and how the new generation rewarded him, with Daniel James, David Brooks, Harry Wilson, Ethan Ampadu and Joe Morrell – all of whom are 22 or under – complementing headline acts such as Gareth Bale and, after returning to fitness, Aaron Ramsey. Next summer Giggs will hope to call on Brooks and Joe Rodon, the latest Swansea academy graduate to make an impression in a Wales shirt, with both absent on Tuesday. Which footballers have scored a hat-trick of free-kicks? England emerged creditably from a trying week but there are still questions in key areas. Places in the midfield, which will surely be the decisive battleground against better opponents than Montenegro and Kosovo next summer, look particularly up for grabs and an ideal balance remains elusive.
Declan Rice occupied the holding role in Pristina but did not impress against a nimble, technical home side and at times he looks like what, essentially, he is: a converted centre-back. Harry Winks adds extra passing range in that position, as he showed against Montenegro, but his defensive attributes need work and there is a sense England remain short of a top-quality operator to act as the team's pivot. It does not help, either, that Dele Alli seems far from the picture right now and Gareth Southgate may end up chewing over his best combination right up until Euro 2020. 3) Finland need others to step up besides Pukki You would have said it was inevitable were it not for the fact they had never done it before, but Finland secured qualification to a major international tournament by beating Liechtenstein 3-0 last weekend. With their talismanic striker, Teemu Pukki, scoring twice, a national Pukki party followed but so did defeat in Greece on Monday night and the realisation that the Suomi will be seeded fourth, not third, in the European Championship draw. Iceland were similarly placed last time following their qualifying miracle, and went on to beat everyone's expectations (and England to boot). The 24-year-old has been impressive at the base of midfield, just as he has been for Rangers this season, and looks comfortable controlling games at this level. Paul MacInnes Facebook Twitter Pinterest Glen Kamara, right, has been impressive in midfield for Finland. Photograph: Kalle Parkkinen/Sipa/Shutterstock Maybe it's time to take away the "considering" when discussing Santi Cazorla. It's amazing how well he plays considering he's 34. It's astonishing what he does, considering the horrific injury that might have ended his career. Consider nothing, except the football. And against Romania, Cazorla — who scored his first Spain goal in 1,463 days in the previous match — was again the best player on the pitch, handed a standing ovation when he was withdrawn. Lining up on the left of a front three, a different role to the one he had played three days earlier, he seemed to be involved in everything that was good about Spain, his vision unmatched. Cazorla got his first international call-up in more than three years in May and although he missed out in September he is there again now — and on merit, in the starting XI. He has arguably been La Liga's best player this season and although there is uncertainty with the change of manager, on this form Cazorla should be in the team next summer. 5) Doherty should start for Republic in play-offs Matt Doherty's lapse of concentration allowed Denmark to nick the goal that ultimately sent them through to Euro 2020 at the Republic of Ireland's expense. But everything else Doherty did during that match was excellent, including his equalising goal. His performance showed that, fitness permitting, he should start in the play-off in March even if Séamus Coleman is available. Mick McCarthy should also consider redeploying the 3-5-2 that he experimented with against Switzerland, with Doherty and Enda Stevens in the wing-back roles and Aaron Connelly or Troy Parrott alongside David McGoldrick up front. Paul Doyle Facebook Twitter Pinterest Matt Doherty heads home a late equaliser for Republic of Ireland against Denmark. Photograph: Ben McShane/Sportsfile via Getty Images 6) Will O'Neill manage Northern Ireland in play-offs? Whether or not Michael O'Neill can maintain his position as Northern Ireland's manager for the play-off in March is surely linked to success or otherwise at Stoke. O'Neill bridled when asked in the immediate aftermath of their draw with the Netherlands whether it is practical for the manager of a Championship club to simultaneously prepare an international side. In O'Neill's mind the Northern Irish squad – and team – virtually picks itself, it would be unfair to those players to introduce a new manager before key games and the March window is an international break for clubs anyway. O'Neill has no plans to scout individuals for international duty in the coming months. Apart from anything else, this raises questions as to what international managers are paid for over the winter break. If Stoke find themselves still immersed in a relegation scrap by the play-off juncture, it will be unpalatable to their support for O'Neill to return – even briefly – to Northern Ireland matters. The Irish Football Association, you have to assume, has a succession plan in mind. Or does it want O'Neill to linger for Euro 2020 in the event of qualification? "We are entering a new era," Roberto Mancini said after Italy's two recent wins (3-0 against Bosnia and 9-1 against Armenia) and he is the main reason for that. Eighteen months ago, when Mancini took over, Italy were in a terrible place, having missed out on a place in the World Cup. Now they have 11 wins in a row, and are producing some impressive performances with the manager's 4-3-3. Leonardo Bonucci is leader of the defence now that Giorgio Chiellini is injured and in midfield Jorginho is playing in a "regista" role with the youngsters Sandro Tonali and Nicolò Barella alongside him. The biggest change, though, has been the amount of goals Italy have been scoring. Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti are both in good form but the biggest surprise has been the consistency of Roma's Nicolò Zaniolo. He is only 20 years old but he could be one of the breakthrough players at next summer's tournament. Facebook Twitter Pinterest Italy's 20-year-old attacking midfielder Nicolò Zaniolo celebrates after scoring against Armenia. Photograph: Carmelo Imbesi/EPA Croatia ultimately steered their qualifying campaign into the Euro harbour on Saturday, but not without some stress and anxiety first. Needing only a point at home to secure qualification, they went in at 0-1 at half-time in Rijeka to a clearly inferior Slovakia side who they had thrashed 4-0 away only two months earlier. But then Nikola Vlasic and Bruno Petkovic, both of whom have been revelations this year for the manager, Zlatko Dalic, scored two in four minutes, with Ivan Perisic later adding a third. "Unstable" is probably the best word to describe them, but when they get going they look good for the very top again. Turkey have not looked this strong since Senol Gunes guided them to a third-placed finish at the 2002 World Cup. Gunes is back at the helm but there is something radically different about this side; they have learned how to defend. The Crescent-Stars conceded only three goals in 10 qualifiers, keeping eight clean sheets in a group that featured Iceland and France. Meanwhile, the midfield is industrious and there is quality in attack with Roma's Cengiz Under in the mix. This is starting to look more and more like a golden generation for Turkey who have the potential to be dark horses next summer. Facebook Twitter Pinterest Turkey's Merih Demiral, centre, celebrates with teammates after Turkey secured qualification for the Euro 2020 finals. Photograph: Tolga Bozoğlu/EPA One month after the disastrous 6-0 defeat against England, which was marred by racist chanting, Bulgaria tried to clear up their reputation both on and off the pitch. Three days later Bulgaria managed their first win in over a year, beating the Czech Republic 1-0 in their final Euro 2020 qualifier and their first game under Georgi Dermendzhiev, who has replaced Krasimir Balakov. The game was played behind closed doors – apart from around 300 children in the stands – following Uefa's ban after the racist incidents during the England match. Bulgaria are now awaiting the play-off draw but will be without their captain, Ivelin Popov, who surprisingly called time on his international career on Sunday. • Euro 2020 qualifying: view the final group standings