Page must summon inner spirit to reach Germany
Wales manager Rob Page couldn’t put his finger on it. Sublime against Croatia, and then pretty scruffy against Armenia – ranked 95 in the world and 67 places below them. Inconsistency has been at the heart of Wales’ problems in booking their place at Euro 2024.
His side had a score to settle after the humiliating 4-2 defeat in Cardiff five months ago, a result which left them playing catch-up in the race for the tournament in Germany next summer.
Page had to turn the tide of history as Wales had never beaten their opponents in three previous meetings, but they fell short in their mission to obtain maximum points.
In fairness, Armenia really ought to have won this contest late on as Danny Ward had his crossbar rattled and the ball flew inches off target as Wales went for broke.
The visitors faded and were fortunate to take a point, which helps neither side as far as joining already-qualified Turkey in the top two is concerned.
Even beating Turkey in Cardiff on Tuesday would not be enough for Wales should Croatia win their final two fixtures. Page couldn’t fault the commitment of his players, but the required quality was missing. The play-offs in March beckon.
Momentum now key for Scotland as winless run extends
“It was far from terrific in Tbilisi, but Lawrence Shankland came off the bench to rescue a point to end Scotland’s hoodoo in Georgia and halt their run of defeats.
“The Hearts striker was only drafted in as a late replacement for Che Adams, but his goal will give Steve Clarke plenty to think about when he is selecting his squad for Germany next summer.
“Scott McTominay has played a blinder during a successful qualifying campaign and the Manchester United midfielder once again proved why he should be one of the first names on the team sheet. Seven goals in seven qualifiers, including that double against Spain, is more than impressive, especially when he has struggled for game time with his club.
“After a brilliant start to the campaign, hotels and flights to Germany have already been booked – but the squad has struggled to keep their quality with their winless run extended to four games; albeit that run includes defeats to England and France in friendlies and away to Spain in qualifying.
“Momentum is now key for Scotland as they look to hold on to that feelgood factor heading into next year. They welcome Norway to Hampden Park on Sunday for their final qualifier looking for another victory after they stunned them in Oslo back in June.”
More frustration for Rashford as England labour to win
Southgate showed faith in Marcus Rashford, despite just one club goal this season.
His three goals and two assists in his last five appearances for his country were used to support his manager’s case for inclusion, but here Rashford cut a frustrated figure as he has done for much of the campaign with Manchester United.
After being on the fringes of the game in the opening half, things improved in the second but a poor touch and a bit of hesitation meant he couldn’t get a shot away on one occasion.
An accidental collision with Alexander-Arnold led to his premature withdrawal. It compounded his night, and epitomised his season.
“We think he’s OK,” Southgate said afterwards. “It was just the nature of the collision, but it was a chance to get Cole [Palmer] involved. But we think he’s OK.”