The World Game Wrap-Up

France edge Spain to claim Nations League silverware

There was plenty of young talent on show in the UEFA Nations League final but it was a veteran who kick-started France’s fight back against Spain.

Karim Benzema, who at 33 should be the wrong side of his best years, blasted home from just inside the box to cancel out Mikel Oyarzabal’s opener for Spain.

And just as World Cup holders France had stormed back from a deficit to beat Belgium in the semi-final last week, they did so again when Kylian Mbappe fired home the winner after a controversial VAR check for offside.

It was tough on a young Spain side featuring 17-year-old Gavi, a player who made his national team debut in last week’s semi-final victory over Italy, which ended the Azzurri’s record 37-match unbeaten run.

Having become Spain’s youngest ever international, the Barcelona midfielder again belied his years with another energetic performance.

History-making Socceroos face Samurai test

Australia will head into Tuesday’s World Cup qualifying match against Japan high on confidence after creating history in their last outing.

The Socceroos became the first team to win 11 successive qualifying matches in a single campaign when they beat Oman 3-1 in Doha last week.

This surpassed the 10-straight wins of Mexico on their way to the 2006 World Cup, Spain during their charge to the 2010 tournament and Germany’s streak enroute to the 2018 finals.

There are no big scalps in Australia’s wake but they have overcome the unusual challenge of playing all but one of their matches on foreign soil due to Australia’s strict quarantine conditions.

Since kicking off the third round of qualifying, Australia have won all three matches (3-0 v China, 1-0 v Vietnam, 3-1 v Oman), while Japan have lost to Oman and Saudi Arabia and beaten China.

However, the Samurai Blue have never lost to Australia in Japan and are in desperate need of a victory to reignite their qualifying campaign.

Will Newcastle make it a “Big Seven”?

A controversial change of owners at Newcastle United has created the distinct prospect of England’s so-called “big six” clubs accepting a new member.

Aside from discussions around the character of Newcastle’s new bosses, fans have been speculating about which players will be lured by the mega-rich owners and just how quickly things can be turned around.

Players such as Gareth Bale (Real Madrid), Philippe Coutinho (Barcelona) and Aaron Ramsey (Juventus) are among the many to have been mentioned.

But Newcastle, who are second bottom on the table, must wait for the January transfer window to sign new players, by which time the task of staying in English Premier League might be a whole lot harder.

If they stay up, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal, who are England’s unofficial “big six”, might need to be renamed the “big seven.”

McTominay scores dramatic first Scotland goal

Scott McTominay won’t be too concerned about the quality of his first goal for Scotland but it’s importance won’t be lost on the 24-year-old.

In his 27th appearance for his country, McTominay finally got on the scoresheet – and in the most dramatic fashion – as Scotland beat Israel 3-2 at a pulsating Hampden Park.

In a game that swung wildly, the Manchester United midfielder had the final say, bundling the ball home in stoppage time.

Scotland now have a four-point buffer over third-placed Israel in Group F, which is headed by Denmark. The Danes have been relentless in qualification, winning all seven matches, scoring 26 goals in the process and conceding none.

Scotland take on the Faroe Islands on Wednesday morning (WA time), while Israel face winless Moldova and Denmark host Austria.

Kerr in contention for world award

Sam Kerr won’t be getting carried away with her nomination for the Women’s Ballon d’Or – the award for the world’s best player – because she’s been there before.

Kerr was also nominated in 2018 and 2019, while her career was bouncing between Perth Glory and Chicago Red Stars.

But her switch to Chelsea in the Women’s Super League has given Kerr a more prominent place in the spotlight and her best chance yet of taking out the coveted prize.

Kerr lit up the competition in her first full season with Chelsea, claiming the golden boot as the top scorer with 21 goals. The Australian national team captain also scored six times in the Matildas Olympic tournament in Tokyo.

But the 28-year-old Western Australian is up against stiff competition with 20 players nominated, including five stars of the Barcelona side that won the Champions League last season and four of Kerr’s own Chelsea teammates.

Top talent nominated for world football award

Could 2021 provide another rare occasion when neither Lionel Messi nor Cristiano Ronaldo win the Ballon d’Or? Don’t count on it.

In the past 12 years, Messi, who moved to Paris St Germain this season, has won it six times and Ronaldo, a now a leading figure at Manchester United, has earned top recognition on five occasions. Only Croatia’s Luka Modric, in 2018, has interrupted their game of pass the parcel.

But despite finishing as the top scorer in Italy’s Serie A with 29 goals for Juventus and claiming the Euro 2020 golden boot with five goals and one assist for Portugal, Ronaldo is a long shot to win this year.

Messi, though, was instrumental in Argentina’s Copa America success, earning the award as the tournament’s best player with four goals and five assists, while scoring 38 goals in club competitions for Barcelona.

Thirty players have been nominated with the winner to be announced on November 29.

Hungary next for Southgate’s England

England warmed up for Wednesday morning’s (WA time) clash with Hungary by sweeping aside lowly Andorra 5-0 in a World Cup qualifier.

Five different goal scorers, and a super performance from Phil Foden, gave England manager Gareth Southgate plenty to think about ahead of the match against a Hungary side desperate for three points.

Hungary are five points adrift of second-placed Albania in Group I and need a maximum return from their remaining three games to keep alive their World Cup qualifying hopes.

England were expected to make light work of Andorra and did so thanks to goals from Ben Chilwell, Bukayo Saka, Tammy Abraham, James Ward-Prowse and Jack Grealish.

Fabianski hangs up his international gloves

West Ham United goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski made an emotional farewell to international football in Poland’s 5-0 World Cup qualifying victory over San Marino.

Fabianski announced his intention to retire from international football and was given a fitting send-off when he was replaced by Radoslaw Majecki in the 58th minute.

A guard of honour and standing ovation reduced Fabianski to tears.

While his international teammates travel to Tirana to take on Albania on Wednesday (WA time), Fabianski will return to London in preparation for the Hammers’ English Premier League clash against Everton on Sunday.