The 2018 World Cup Qualifiers will not stop until next Tuesday, and several European teams keep pushing towards clinching a berth in the world’ biggest international tournament.
There are several Manchester United players involved in these games, and a few of them saw action during Sunday’s slate of matches. How did they fare?
Sweden – Victor Lindelöf
Victor Lindelöf started and played the whole 90 minutes during Sweden’s convincing 4-0 win over Belarus. This was clearly an improved performance if we compare it to their 2-3 against Bulgaria earlier this week.
Lindelöf had a lot of work against Bulgaria, but that wasn’t the case against a Belarusian side that barely posed a threat in Robin Olsen’s goal. The former Benfica defender registered six clearances and one tackle, but also won his two duels and delivered a key pass. Pretty comfortable appearance for Lindelöf, who will now hope to gain a starting role with United in the near future.
Sweden now sit in second place of Group A with 16 points, three ahead of the Netherlands with two games left to play.
Netherlands – Daley Blind
The Netherlands needed a win against Bulgaria to keep their playoff chances alive, and that’s exactly what they accomplished. The Oranje side looked quite improved compared to what they did against France, and the result backed that up. And the lone Manchester United player that saw action played a big role in the team’s win.
Yes, you read that right. Daley Blind was one of the best players for the Netherlands in their 3-0 victory against Bulgaria. The versatile defender once again started at left back, and contributed with two assists. First, Blind delivered an accurate low cross so Davy Propper could slot it home past Plamen Iliev. And later in the second half, he repeated the formula but this time Arjen Robben was the one who came score.
Blind had a complete effort in the win. Aside from the two assists, he finished with five tackles, two crosses, two clearances, one blocked shot, four key passes, seven crosses (four accurate) and two dribbles (one completed). The former Ajax star certainly made his presence felt on both sides of the ball.
The Dutch side now sits in third place of Group A with 13 points. They are three behind Sweden for a potential playoff berth. And since they will meet in the next round of matches, the Netherlands will have to be at the top of their game if they want to make it to Russia.
France – Paul Pogba
Last but not least, we have Paul Pogba who once again started for the French National Team against the lowly side of Luxembourg. Pogba started alongside N’Golo Kante as a central midfielder, but he had all the freedom in the world to roam into a more attacking role when possible.
Unfortunately, France could not repeat what they did against the Netherlands and crashed time and time again with Luxembourg’s defensive line. Les Bleus had to settle for a scoreless draw that wasn’t in anyone’s plans, and Pogba failed to thrive despite looking lively from start to finish. For what is worth, Pogba ended the game with six shots (two on target), one yellow card, two key passes, and four inaccurate crosses.
Not everything is bad for France, though. They remain at the top of Group A with 17 points in eight matches, but only edge Sweden by one and Netherlands by three. They had a golden chance to move closer to Russia, and failed to take advantage of it.
Belgium – Romelu Lukaku and Marouane Fellaini
Romelu Lukaku was coming off a hat-trick against Gibraltar, while Marouane Fellaini did not even crack the bench for that game. But both players were in the starting XI for The Red Devils’ match against Greece. Fellaini started as a CM next to Moussa Dembele, while Lukaku was the lone attacker with the support of Kevin De Bruyne and Dries Mertens behind him.
And just like it happened against Gibraltar, Lukaku once again was the hero of a Belgian side that clinched a berth in Russia following a hard-worked 2-1 win on Greek soil. Lukaku scored the winning goal in the 74th minute thanks to an assist from Thomas Meunier, and ended the contest with two shots (both on target), and one dribble.
Fellaini, on the other hand, made way for Leander Dendoncker in the 89th minute. He finished with five clearances, four tackles, and two interceptions. The former Everton stalwart was forced to play on a more defensive stance, but thrived in it, and played a big role in Belgium’s impressive win.
With the three points under their belts, Belgium became the first European side to clinch a berth in the upcoming World Cup. They moved up to 22 points, eight clear over Bosnia and nine over Greece with two games left in the schedule.