England have moved two steps closer to Brazil with a victory over Moldova and a point away at Ukraine this week, but it was the end of the road for the other home nations and for Giovanni Trapattoni.
Sparkling performances from Danny Welbeck and Rickie Lambert helped England to a comfortable 4-0 win at Wembley last Friday evening. Captain Steven Gerrard hit the opener with a sweet strike from outside the penalty box reaching the bottom left corner of the net, before Lambert made it 2-0 with a simple header.
Welbeck added a double either side of half time to wrap up the points for the Three Lions but he was at the centre of England’s only problem of the match. The forward picked up a yellow card which left Roy Hodgson and every England fan furious when he continued his run and shot after being flagged for offside. The referee produced the yellow card just after the Manchester United player had been flagged, leaving him suspended for the away game in Kiev.
Welbeck was certainly missed in the fixture on Tuesday night too, which fizzled out into a 0-0 draw, enough to leave England top of Group H in the World Cup Qualifiers. In a game of few chances, the away side never looked comfortable, with the back line constantly tormented by winger Konoplyanka. All that Ukraine lacked was an end product.
Frank Lampard picked up his 100th cap in the fixture, but couldn’t help his side make a strong impression in Kiev. England’s best chance came when Gerrard hit a decent strike that landed on top of the Ukranian net.
Despite the lacklustre performance England fans were certainly the happiest by the end of the international break. Wales’ dismal qualification campaign continued with a 2-1 away defeat to Macedonia and a 3-0 thrashing by Serbia in Cardiff. Chris Coleman’s side were without Gareth Bale for the two matches, but with few signs of encouragement in either fixture the pressure has been turned up on the manager.
Wales were left bottom of Group A as their near neighbours Scotland leapfrogged above them following a 2-1 win in Macedonia on Tuesday. Watford’s Ikechi Anya scored his first goal for Scotland, before Jovan Kostovski looked to have secured a point for the home team in the 84th minute.
However, when Wigan Athletic midfielder James McArthur was fouled outside the penalty area his club teammate Shaun Maloney wrapped up the three points with a trademark free kick. After a 2-0 defeat at home to Belgium on Thursday, the win provided some positive signs for the Gordon Strachan.
Across the Irish Sea there were ends to two more qualification attempts, as both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland succumbed to further defeats over the international break.
Michael O’Neil would have been pleased with his side’s start to their home match against Portugal, as Northern Ireland took a 2-1 lead thanks to West Brom’s Gareth McAuley, Derby’s Jamie Ward and Helder Postiga’s red card.
But there was no stopping Cristiano Ronaldo in the second half as he hit a hat-trick to give Portugal three points. More disappointing for Northern Ireland’s fans was a shock 3-2 defeat away to Luxembourg on Tuesday night.
O’Neil will at least have the chance to revive the nation’s spirits next month, a luxury Trapattoni no longer has. He lost his job as Republic of Ireland manager after his side were defeated 2-1 to Sweden in Dublin and 1-0 away to Austria.
With a new generation of young talent emerging in the Emerald shirts, the next manager has a challenging but exciting job ahead of him as Ireland will hope to qualify for back to back European Championships for the first time in their history.