The Netherlands have regained control of the World Cup qualifying group, but this is hardly convincing.
A 1-0 win over Latvia with Davy Klaassen’s salvo lacked swagger after beating Turkey 6-1 last month.
However, it was enough to bring two points to the top in Europe’s Group G, as Norway, who finished second behind injured striker Erling Haaland, drew 1-1 with Turkey.
Other large teams also had to work towards their victories. Germany was defeated before it recovered and beat Romania 2-1.
Croatia, runner-up in the 2018 FIFA World Cup, had just one goal over Cyprus with 11 minutes left before it pulled away and won 3-0.
Only group winners go directly to the World Cup. The runners-up will advance to the playoffs.
Belgium is preoccupied with the final four of the Nations League this week, so the focus has been on the Czech Republic and Wales fighting for second place.
After a tense 2-2 draw on Friday, the Czechs and Welsh remain on par with eight points, half of the Belgians’ total. Aaron Ramsey put Wales ahead in the 36th minute, but Jakub Pesek responded almost immediately, leveling the score for the Czechs.
The home side took the lead when Wales goalkeeper Danny Ward lost control of the ball and scored an own goal, but Daniel James parried to level the score. Estonia beat Belarus 2: 0.
The Netherlands ‘victory over Latvia, sealed by midfielder Klassen’s eighth goal for the national team, increased the Netherlands’ lead at the top of the group and came close to returning to the World Cup after failing to qualify in 2018.
Kerem Aktyurkoglu put Turkey ahead in the sixth minute in the first leg for new coach Stefan Kunz as he was recruited from the German U21 national team. Christian Thorsvedt leveled off for Norway shortly before halftime.
The Netherlands were ahead of Norway by two points and Turkey was two points behind. Turkey has won only one of the last seven competitive games, and that was against tiny Gibraltar. Montenegro beat Gibraltar 3-0.
Croatia and Russia remained the leaders of the group in one of the upcoming matches of the competition.
Croatia had to wait until the first half to take the lead with Ivan Perisic’s goal, even if the final 3-0 score meant a more comfortable result against last-ranked Cyprus.
The new coach of the Russian national team, Valery Karpin, played four matches without defeat, having won with the Slovak national team with a score of 1: 0, but in Kazan an own goal was required from the Slovak defender Milan Skrinjar.
Russia has yet to concede a goal since Karpin took charge after the European Championship, but that’s only because Slovakia missed a number of good scoring chances. Slovenia beat Malta 4-0 and moved up to third place in the group.
Germany scored four wins in four games under new coach Hansi Flick with a 2-1 win over Romania, but things weren’t quite the same.
Janis Hagi, son of the great Romanian Giorgi Hagi, put Romania ahead early on before Germany missed a number of chances to level the score.
Serge Gnabry finally achieved the German level with a powerful shot early in the second half, his fifth goal in seven qualifying games, and Thomas Müller scored his second in a corner in 81st for his 40th international goal.
Flick’s arrival has reunited a large contingent of Bayern Munich on the German side with the coach who led them to the 2020 Champions League victory. Both goals on Friday and seven of Flick’s 14 goals were scored by players he coached at Bayern Munich.
North Macedonia moved up from fourth to second after beating Liechtenstein 4-0, while Armenia drew 1-1 with Iceland.