Born in the south east of Ireland, Simon put his life-long love of football to good use when he started a successful independent blog in 2010. That opened up an alternative route to a career in journalism, and having had work published across a number of sites and publications, Simon joined the staff at Spotlight Sports Group in 2018.
With club football’s major leagues still on ice, international matters took centre stage last week with the resumption of the Euro 2020 qualification Group Stage.
After another round of chaotic, drama-filled international fixtures, the 10 qualification Groups across Europe from A to J are starting to take shape and the race to win a place at next summer’s Finals is starting to intensify.
Here are 5 things we learned from week one of the international break:
Kane and Sterling continue to tear Group A to shreds
England continue to steamroll their way through Euro 2020 Qualification Group A, and on Saturday, a dizzy-looking Bulgaria side were the latest team to be devoured by Gareth Southgate’s ravenous Three Lions.
England battered four without reply past the hapless Bulgarians at Wembley Stadium, taking their goal tally to a whopping 14 after just three Group A fixtures, and two of the Three Lions in particular shone brightest……..again.
Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling bagged all of England’s goals between them on Saturday, taking their haul for the campaign to 10 goals combined.
Remarkably, England have attacking duo Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling to thank for an incredible 71% of their total goals in Group A so far.
Individually, the Spurs centre-forward and Manchester City winger have five goals apiece, and only Russia’s Artem Dzyuba (six), Marko Arnautovic (six) and Israel’s Eran Zahavi (eight) have more.
Each member of the latter named trio have played more games than Kane (3) and Sterling (3) however (Dzyuba, Arnautovic, Zahavi – 5 each).
With penetrative pair Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling in such rich goal-getting form, it’s no surprise to see our analysts backing England to win against Kosovo with relative comfort on Tuesday.
Group D opens up for Ireland
After picking up a useful late point at home to Switzerland in Dublin on Thursday, the Republic of Ireland’s Euro 2020 qualification hopes received another shot in the arm thanks to an unlikely result in Tbilisi on Sunday.
Georgia frustrated and ultimately held Denmark to a 0-0 draw in the Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena, in a result that left the Danes in second spot, two points behind Ireland at the summit of Group D.
Mick McCarthy’s men travel to play Georgia at the same venue in the next round of qualification fixtures in early October, and a victory in Tbilisi would hand Ireland a huge advantage in the battle to make next year’s Finals.
Fascinating developments in Group H
The top end of Euro 2020 Qualification Group H is already making for some compelling viewing, with three teams locked at the summit on 12 points each after five games.
Group H favourites and World Cup champions France currently occupy top spot – a position they are expected to hold for the duration of the qualification schedule.
However, just below Les Bleus with a slightly inferior goal-difference are Turkey and Iceland, both of whom will have designs on taking the second automatic spot for next year’s Euro 2020 finals.
France, Iceland and Turkey all avoid each other in the Group’s next round of fixtures this week, though they are all scheduled to play each other between now and the end of November.
Turkey’s game against Iceland on November 14th in Istanbul, a venue where France were already beaten in Group H, already has a pivotal look about it.
You can find free betting tips and predictions for all of Group H’s fixtures this week in our match preview section.
Scotland’s Euro 2020 automatic qualification hopes shattered?
Even though we are only at the half way point of the Group I schedule, Scotland will need a miracle to make the cut for next summer’s Finals via the two automatic qualification places.
The Scots were undone by a wily Russian side in Hampden Park on Friday, coming out of the crucial contest on the wrong end of a 2-1 reverse.
The setback leaves Scotland on just six points after five matches and needing a monumental effort to claw back the deficit between themselves and Russia in second spot.
The salve for Scotland of course, is the Nations League Semi Final spot that they already have in the bank for themselves – something that offers an alternative route to the Championship proper next year.
However, you get the feeling that their Nations League insurance policy might have taken some of the edge off their efforts to succeed in Group I.
Scotland play a strong Belgium team in their next Group I fixture on Monday evening in a contest that could exacerbate manager Steve Clarke’s already mounting problems. Read how our experts think things are likely to develop for Scotland in our match preview for the game.
Shock results in Group J
Developments took an unexpected turn in Group J after a double dose of shocking results was administered by the section’s competing teams on Sunday.
In Yerevan, a Henrikh Mkhitaryan inspired Armenia caught Bosnia and Herzegovina cold at the Vazgen Sargsyan Republican Stadium, where the Armenians beat one of the bookies’ qualification favourites in a thrilling 4-2 end-to-ender in front of an ecstatic home crowd.
Approximately 2,000 miles west in Athens, Liechtenstein also upset the odds when they battled their way to a share of the spoils after a 1-1 draw against Greece at the Olympic Stadium, a result that earned the minnows the first point of their qualification campaign in the process.
The draw leaves Greece floundering one place from bottom in Group J and a full seven points short of the top two qualification places.
Like Scotland, Greece need a miracle to progress automatically, though they don’t share the Scots’ Nations League safety net.
Bosnia & Herzegovina do however – and Edin Dzeko and co could be lining up against Scotland next March if the two nations are paired together in this December’s draw.
Remember – we’ll be covering all this week’s international football extensively in our match preview section.
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