A look at the issues facing the major European nations after the first round of World Cup qualifiers and looking ahead to the European Championships:
Just when Germany seemed back on track, calamity. On Wednesday, a 2-1 loss to North Macedonia was Germany’s first defeat in the World Cup, qualifying for 20 years. That cast into doubt all the work Joachim Löw has done to rebuild the team and the decision to let him stay until the European Championship following last year’s 6-0 humbling in Spain. A formidable group including France and Portugal awaits Germany at the delayed Euro 2020. It’s worth remembering that the last time Germany lost a World Cup qualifier, it reached the final the following year, finishing runner-up to Brazil in 2002. The Germans are still favorites to qualify from their group this time, given Iceland and Romania have also had troubled starts with losses to surprise leader Armenia.
At least France coach Didier Deschamps won’t have to worry about his goalkeeper. Hugo Lloris underlined his status with a remarkable point-blank save against Bosnia-Herzegovina that was among the best of his career. Raphael Varane remains a commanding figure in central defense, while the fleet-footed Antoine Griezmann still links midfield and attack skillfully. But the fact Deschamps needed Griezmann’s goals also highlights issues in attack. Olivier Giroud’s lack of games for Chelsea is hurting his sharpness and Kylian Mbappe has been bizarrely lackluster. Mbappe has not scored in his past four games for France, including a missed penalty. Encouragingly, though, winger Ousmane Dembele made a scoring return and looks full of confidence.
Diogo Jota has broken up Liverpool’s long-established front three in an impressive – if injury-affected – first season at Anfield and he is starting to look the part at international level, too. Over the past week, OTA was the bright spot for Portugal to score three goals over the three games to outshine Cristiano Ronaldo. Going into the European Championship, Jota looks to have forced his way into what has fast become Portugal’s most talented team in years, with Ronaldo supported by the skill and vision of playmakers Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes and João Félix, and now the incisiveness and pace of Jota. All eyes, naturally, remain trained on Ronaldo, who continues his quest toward the all-time scoring record for a men’s national team. His goal against Luxembourg left him six away from tying the 109 scored by Iran’s Ali Daei.
England coach Gareth Southgate is inching closer to his preferred team, certainly in attack where Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane and Phil Foden look to be his ideal trio. The most significant question marks hang over who is first-choice left-back out of Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell, whether Trent Alexander-Arnold can force his way back into the squad despite a raft of solid right-back alternatives, and who joins the blossoming Declan Rice in central midfield. The biggest winner from the past week might be Mason Mount, who now appears to be a lock in the attacking midfield role like he is at Chelsea.