Serbia’s 3-2 defeat to Austria last weekend meant that a win at home over Georgia was needed to guarantee their place at next year’s finals and Matic, as per usual, was at the centre of a commanding 1-0 win for the hosts. Moved the ball eloquently and never looked like losing control of the midfield battle.
Came through a physical contest away to Albania unscathed, producing a disciplined defensive display at wing-back as Italy ground out a 1-0 win. He will now have to anxiously wait to see who his play-off opponents will be in November.
Manchester United supporters would have been glad to see De Gea left on the bench for Spain’s 1-0 win over Israel ahead of Saturday’s crucial trip to Anfield on Saturday.
Three years ago, Romero was starting in the World Cup final. But with less than a minute played it looked like he’d be watching next year’s finals at home after he failed to close down Romario Ibarra, who ensured La Albiceleste suffered the worst possible start by prodding home after 38 seconds.
But things picked up dramatically from there. Romero made a number of smart – but mainly routine – stops as Lionel Messi single-handedly fired Argentina to Russia with a sumptuous hat-trick.
Jose Mourinho would have been delighted to see the Ecuadorian spared from a Messi demolition in Quito, especially on what was a poor surface at high altitude.
With the Netherlands going through something of an existential crisis, Blind showed during a 2-0 win over Sweden that he is starting to emerge as one of the Oranje’s most senior, reliable figures on the pitch, guiding others along with his invariable calmness and intelligence on the ball.
Another night to forget for the 24-year-old. Gave away a penalty with 15 minutes gone after handling the ball in the box, paving the way for Arjen Robben to convert. Couldn’t do much about the Dutchman’s superb second goal.
Much was made of Lukaku featuring against Cyprus, especially with Anfield just around the corner and the striker still recovering from injury, but this was the perfect result for Mourinho and Man United fans all around the world.
He came on after 66 minutes and, somewhat predictably, ended up on the scoresheet, latching on to a long-ball and barging several Cyprus players aside to lash home his 16th goal for club and country this season. At the age of just 24, Lukaku is now just six goals away from becoming Belgium’s all-time top scorer. Truly phenomenal.