A look at what’s happening in 2022 World Cup qualifying in Europe on Wednesday:
Spain hosts Kosovo looking to improve after disappointing performances in a home draw against Greece and a late win at Georgia. Coach Luis Enrique said he was worried because he expected Spain to face more difficulties getting through the tight defensive scheme that Kosovo will likely use. There was controversy ahead of the match as the Spanish soccer federation referred to Kosovo as a “territory.” Spain does not recognize Kosovo’s 2008 independence from Serbia. The Kosovo federation warned it wouldn’t play the match unless Spain pledged to respect the Balkan country’s sovereignty, including its anthem and flag. It said Spanish soccer officials promised the game would “be held in line with the FIFA and UEFA rules and protocol.” Greece hosts Georgia in the other group match. Both teams are yet to win.
Italy can put pressure on group rival Switzerland with a win in Lithuania. That would move the Azzurri three points ahead of idle Switzerland atop the group in which the other three clubs all have zero points. Italy is on a 24-match unbeaten run but has injury issues with midfielder Marco Verratti and Alessandro Florenzi out following a 2-0 win in Bulgaria on Sunday. Jorginho was not called up due to injury, while captain Giorgio Chiellini, goalscorer Domenico Berardi and Francesco Caputo each picked up physical issues in the opening 2-0 win over Northern Ireland, which now hosts Bulgaria.
Defending champion France had a short turnaround before facing a fresh Bosnia-Herzegovina, which did not play last weekend. So the decision by France coach Didier Deschamps to rest key players in the 2-0 win at Kazakhstan on Sunday may prove a wise one. Striker Olivier Giroud is pushing for a return to the France lineup after sitting out against Kazakhstan, while Adrien Rabiot may return to central midfield alongside Paul Pogba. In the other game, Ukraine hosts Kazakhstan and looks for its first win after draws with France and Finland.
Denmark can take a huge step toward the only automatic qualification place on offer for the group winner if it can win in Austria. The Danes seek a third straight victory after resting all its first-choice starters for a 8-0 win over Moldova on Sunday. Austria can go top with a win in Vienna and has 23-year-old forward Saša Kalajdžic looking to score for a third straight qualifier. Scotland has fought back to earn draws at home to Austria and at Israel, and needs to finally take a lead and win against the Faroe Islands in Glasgow. Moldova hosts Israel with each having just one point from two games.
England is looking for a third straight win to open its qualifying campaign when it faces Poland, which is without captain and star striker Robert Lewandowski through injury as well as three players who have tested positive for the coronavirus. England has already beaten San Marino and Albania in a gentle start to the group and leads by two points from Poland and Hungary, who drew their opening qualifier 3-3. While England coach Gareth Southgate reported an injury-free squad for the game, his Poland counterpart Paulo Sousa must dig into his reserves. Mateusz Klich, Lukasz Skorupski and Kamil Piatkowski are the players missing because of positive tests for COVID-19 though experienced midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak could be available after returning a negative test on Tuesday, a day after testing positive himself. Hungary is away to Andorra while San Marino hosts Albania.
Even after just two games, it looks like little can stop Germany qualifying as it prepares to host North Macedonia. Opening wins over Iceland and Romania mean that Germany has already beaten both of the teams expected to be its closest rivals in the group. The squad is depleted by injuries and a coronavirus case, though, and coach Joachim Löw was irritated by a string of missed chances which made for a nervy finish to the 1-0 win over Romania on Sunday. Romania looks to gets its campaign back on track at the group's surprise early contender Armenia, which beat Iceland 2-0 last time out but is without the injured Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Iceland visits Liechtenstein determined to end a seven-game losing run.
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The Associated Press