Belgium qualified after a dream week, Cristiano Ronaldo swept up a few more records but there were mixed fortunes for France and Italy: the story of September's qualifiers.
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- The results: Thursday to Saturday, Sunday to Tuesday
- The highlights
- The group standings
- Who need what to qualify
- Next matches from 5 October
Key numbers ...
Most points: Germany, Switzerland 24 (i.e. 100% record)
Unbeaten: Belgium, England, Germany, Serbia, Spain, Switzerland, Wales
Most goals: Belgium, Germany 35
Fewest conceded: Germany, Northern Ireland 2
Most goals: Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) 14
Most assists: Joshua Kimmich (Germany), Dries Martens (Belgium), Miralem Pjanić (Bosnia and Herzegovina) Dušan Tadić (Serbia) 7
Most saves: Aldo Simoncini (San Marino) 52
Cristiano Ronaldo in setting new record shock!
Ronaldo's first goal against the Faroe Islands on Thursday took him clear of Sándor Kocsis in second place in the list of all-time European international scorers. By the time he completed his hat-trick Ronaldo was not only ahead of Pelé on 78 international goals (and in the worldwide all-time top five), but up to 14 in this qualifying campaign, the most ever scored in a UEFA group.
Predrag Mijatović did also get 14 for Yugoslavia in 1998 FIFA World Cup qualifying, but that included seven in the play-offs. Ronaldo is now one ahead of two players who managed 13 in UEFA EURO qualifying groups – David Healy (2008) and Robert Lewandowski (2016).
Not only that, but Ronaldo is now the outright all-time top scorer in European World Cup qualifying (29, three clear of Andriy Shevchenko) and in career World Cup goals including finals among Europeans (32, three clear of Miroslav Klose). He is one away from reaching 50 in all qualifiers.
Belgium's decent week ...
When you have been playing for 113 years, opportunities to set team records do not come around that often. But on Thursday Belgium managed just that, defeating Gibraltar 9-0 to equal their record margin of victory (9-0 v Zambia in 1994 and 10-1 v San Marino in 2001). Remarkably, they played over half the game with ten men following a red card for Axel Witsel.
A win in Greece on Sunday made Belgium the first (and so far only) European team to join Russia in the finals, Romelu Lukaku clinching it 16 minutes from time.
... France's mixed week
Thursday could not have gone much better for France. Not only did they overwhelm the Netherlands 4-0, but the team that had led Les Bleus on goal difference at kick-off, Sweden, lost 3-2 in Bulgaria. Now automatic qualification was back in French hands. What they did not expect when they travelled from Paris to Toulouse to face Luxembourg on Sunday was to be held 0-0.
France had 32 attempts on goal to Luxembourg's three and 74% of possession but it did not prevent them from failing to beat their neighbours for the first time since 1914 as their lead over Sweden was cut to a single point. Visiting coach Luc Holtz, whose team are off the bottom of Group A after also beating Belarus 1-0 on Thursday, said: "It's a day of glory for Luxembourg football."
Wales wonder at Woodburn
Having reached the UEFA EURO 2016 semi-finals, Wales started this campaign hopeful of making a first World Cup since 1958. Five straight draws had left them four points adrift of the top two in Group D, and 69 minutes into Saturday's home game with Austria not even the returning Gareth Bale could break the deadlock as they headed for a sixth.
So manager Chris Coleman turned to his bench and introduced 17-year-old Ben Woodburn for his debut. Five minutes later the Liverpool forward received the ball for the first time outside the box and let fly for a spectacular winner. Only Bale himself was younger when he first scored for Wales.
Three days later Woodburn showed that was no fluke, coming off the bench to set up Hal Robson-Kanu's opener as Wales left it late against Moldova.
Italy runs ends
On 6 September 2006, in UEFA EURO 2008 qualifying, Italy lost 3-1 in Saint-Denis to the France side they had beaten in the World Cup final a couple of months earlier. The Azzurri topped the group, though, and did not lose another major qualifier until Saturday when, up against Spain, they were beaten 3-0 in Madrid.
So ended an unbeaten run that had lasted nearly 11 years and spanned 56 qualifiers in all. However, Spain's own impressive streak remains: Tuesday's win in Liechtenstein means they have not lost in 61 World Cup qualifiers, dating back to a 1-0 defeat in Denmark in November 1993.
Four into one
Eight of the ten matchdays have been played but three groups (A, F and I) still have four sides able to clinch the one automatic qualifying slot (in fact the top four in Group I are split by just two points). Belgium can be relieved they have got the job done.
What do you think of our choices? What stood out for you? Let us know using #WCQ on @EuroQualifiers.