Ronaldo still grapples and Grealish became the main man… things we learned from World Cup qualifiers
The hectic pace of the European Championship this summer has come to an end and all focus is now on qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Qatar.
After the disappointment of England’s final defeat to Italy at Euro 2020, they recovered in spectacular style with a 4-0 win over Hungary in front of a hostile crowd in Budapest.
Sportsmail looks at the main talking points of the World Cup qualifiers.
England bounced back from disappointment Euro 2020 with a nice win against Hungary
Cristiano Ronaldo shows he’s still ahead of Manchester United’s return
Expectations were high that Cristiano Ronaldo would break Ali Daei’s 15-year international scoring record against the Republic of Ireland and he did not disappoint.
The 36-year-old is notorious for putting in spectacular performances throughout his career, although it didn’t look like it had his way after he missed a penalty in the first half and Portugal were minutes away from a shocking defeat.
But you should never rule out Ronaldo keeping it up and he did that by netting a record-breaking 110th international goal and leveling the game after 89 minutes.
And there was another twist, when he extended his new record with a dramatic late winner in the 96th minute, another salmon-like jump and the exact same result.
Ronaldo may be 12 years older since he last played at Manchester United, but he continues to prove that he is just as good at age 36 as he is at 24.
Cristiano Ronaldo rose when he scored two late goals to sink the Republic of Ireland
England’s team spirit shines through in the fight against adversity
After England’s final loss at Euro 2020 on penalties, many wondered how the Three Lions would recover from such a heartbreaking defeat.
Their return to action was not ideal as the game against Hungary was marred by sickening racist slurs against the Three Lions stars.
Raheem Sterling and Jude Bellingham were the target of monkey chants, while the former was pelted by a number of plastic cups thrown from part of the home crowd after the first goal.
Despite a hostile crowd in Budapest and after their defeat to Italy, England showed defiance and were back on their rhythm as they hammered the hosts in the second half to take a 4-0 win.
Their celebrations were the perfect response to the negativity that came their way, including Declan Rice and Jack Grealish pretending to drink from the cups being thrown.
On a night of shame, England’s team spirit shone through and they remain a group the country can be proud of.
England showed defiance to the adversity thrown at them by a hostile crowd in Budapest
Jack Grealish could be the last piece of the puzzle for England
There was a call for Jack Grealish to play for England at Euro 2020 and his performance against Hungary showed why.
The Manchester City star was Gareth Southgate’s go-to man to impress from the bench in the summer, but he started on the left during the World Cup qualifier in Budapest.
And he was instrumental in the opening goal as he shot down the left wing after Declan Rice took possession, before releasing the overlapping Mason Mount to set up Raheem Sterling.
Grealish became the key man as he was able to drive England onto the pitch, as the Three Lions had more control of the ball and ultimately took advantage of their dominance.
For so long Grealish and Mount have been seen as rivals, but with the Manchester City star on the left and the Chelsea man in midfield, it showed they could be a powerful combination in the future.
Jack Grealish showed he could be the missing link to move England forward
Erling Haaland’s duel with Virgil van Dijk shows that he is ready for the Premier League
The main talking point in the Netherlands’ confrontation against Norway was the duel between Virgil van Dijk and Erling Haaland – and it did not disappoint.
Van Dijk made his first international appearance since returning from injury, but Haaland’s erratic combination of speed and power prevented the Dutchman from making an easy comeback.
Haaland’s move caused all sorts of problems for the Dutch defence, as evidenced by his quick dart off the shoulder and falling behind Van Dijk who was napping, which was almost penalized just because his shot was saved.
The Borussia Dortmund striker did get his goal when Van Dijk was unable to tackle him in time when a ball was cut over time for the Norwegian to finish.
Haaland revealed he broke Van Dijk’s finger during the match, but his performance against the Dutchman, arguably the best defender in the world, showed he would be more than ready for the Premier League.
He is widely expected to leave Dortmund next season and there is no doubt that several Premier League teams will be interested.
Erling Haaland and Virgil van Dijk embrace after an exciting duel between the two players
Kylian Mbappe and Karim Benzema collaboration still needs time
There was a chance Kylian Mbappe could have been Karim Benzema’s team-mates had Paris Saint-Germain accepted Real Madrid’s offer at the end of the summer transfer window.
It’s likely they’ll be teammates next summer, but in their first few games together for France, there are still signs that their partnership is taking some time to work.
France were the firm favorites at Euro 2020 and although Benzema scored four goals in the championships, the pair were unable to form the deadly combination many had expected.
They again struggled to impress when they drew 1-1 in their World Cup qualifier against Bosnia.
Jules Kounde’s red card in the second half made it more difficult for France, but it is the latest disappointing result after failing to beat Hungary and Switzerland at the European Championship.
Mbappe has only scored once in seven games since Benzema’s return to international football and France are eager to let him go again with the Real Madrid man.
Karim Benzema’s partnership with Kylian Mbappe has yet to take off for France
Alexander Isak is a striker that Premier League teams should watch
Speaking of strikers, Swede Alexander Isak impressed again when they took a stunning 2-1 win against Spain.
The 21-year-old who lit up the Euros showed what a deadly attacker he can be by penalizing a mistake by Spain before shooting straight home from the edge of the penalty area.
Isak is gaining fame across Europe after a season in which he scored 17 goals for Real Sociedad last season.
While all the focus is on Erling Haaland, Alexander Isak is someone top teams should consider as a potential alternative.
He would be a cheaper option and is the same age as Haaland, so he still has many years to develop his talents.
Alexander Isak caused all kinds of problems for Spain and rightly deserved his goal for Sweden
The dilemma of Andrew Robertson and Kieran Tierney from Scotland continues
One of the most difficult parts of Steve Clarke’s job seems to be the never-ending question of how to fit two brilliant left-backs into his team.
The manager seemed to have found a solution by playing Tierney as left-back and Robertson as left-back.
However, the shortage of right-backs in the squad prompted Clarke to move Robertson to an unknown role as a right-back against Denmark.
Robertson looked uneasy on his weaker side and the manager returned to his more familiar line-up in the second half with Denmark already leading 2-0.
Tierney has previously played on the right for Scotland and would probably have been the better choice for that position, but Clarke would probably want one of the two to be a right-back.
Scotland captain Andy Robertson didn’t look comfortable as right-back against Denmark
It will be hard to get Italy off their stick
Italy’s 1-1 draw against Bulgaria was certainly nothing to write home about, especially after their brilliant Euro 2020 campaign.
Nevertheless, Italy saw the European record of 35 unbeaten matches set between 2007 and 2009.
It is an incredible performance from Roberto Mancini’s side, who will be brimming with confidence after winning the European Championship in July.
They don’t have the star players that other countries have, but their team spirit and chemistry is not matched by many in international football.
It will be difficult for any team to get them off their top spot and they will try to continue this run into Qatar.