The Netherlands are back in control of their World Cup qualifying group, but hardly in solid style.
The 1-0 win over Latvia with a volley from Davy Klaasen lacked swagger from Turkey’s 6-1 dissolution last month.
Nevertheless, Europe was enough to take a two-point lead at the top of Group G as second-placed Norway, injured striker Erling Haaland, drew 1–1 with Turkey.
Other big teams also had to work for their victory. Germany were one goal down before beating Romania 2–1.
2018 World Cup runners-up, Croatia, left only a one-goal lead over Cyprus with 11 minutes to go and won 3–0.
Only the group winners directly qualify for the World Cup. The second-place finishers face the playoffs.
Belgium are busy this week in the last four of the Nations League, so the focus was on the Czech Republic and Wales fighting for second place.
The Czechs and Welsh are both tied on eight points each, which is half of Belgium’s total after being tied 2-2 on Friday. Aaron Ramsey gave Wales the lead in the 36th minute but Jacob Pesek responded almost immediately by equalizing for the check.
When Wales goalkeeper Danny Ward failed to control the ball and scored one of his own, the hosts took the lead, but Daniel James struck back to equalize Wales. Estonia beat Belarus 2-0.
The Netherlands’ victory over Latvia, sealed by midfielder Klaasen’s eighth international goal, extended the Dutch lead at the top of the group to return to the World Cup after failing to qualify in 2018.
Kerem Akturkoglu gave Turkey the lead in the sixth minute in the first game for new coach Stefan Kuntz since being drafted from the Germany under-21 squad. Kristian Thorstvedt equalized for Norway just before halftime.
Netherlands is two points ahead of Norway, Turkey is two points ahead. Turkey has won just one of its last seven competitive games, and that was against smaller Gibraltar. Montenegro won 3–0 in Gibraltar.
In one of the closest battles in the competition, Croatia and Russia finished neck and neck at the top of the group.
Croatia had to wait until the end of the first half to take the lead via a goal from Ivan Perisic, even though a 3–0 final score suggested a more comfortable result against last-placed Cyprus.
Russia’s new coach Valery Karpin scored four games unbeaten in a 1–0 win over Slovakia, but needed a goal of his own in Kazan from Slovakian defender Milan Skriniar.
Russia has yet to score a goal since Karpin took over after the European Championships, but that is because Slovakia missed good chances. Slovenia defeated Malta 4–0 to finish third in the group.
Germany recorded four wins in four matches under new coach Hansi Flick with a 2–1 victory over Romania, but it was not in its way.
Iannis Hagi, son of Romanian great Gheorghe Hagi, gave Romania the lead before losing several chances to equalize.
Serge Gnabry finally got the German level with a powerful shot at the start of the second half, his fifth goal in seven games in the qualifying group, and Thomas Müller scored his second goal from a corner in the 81st for his 40th international goal.
Flick’s arrival has reunited the larger Bayern Munich contingent in the German squad with the coach, which led them to win the Champions League in 2020. So far, seven of the 14 goals under both goals and flicks on Friday have been scored by players he coached at Bayern.
North Macedonia moved from fourth place to second with a 4–0 win over Liechtenstein, and Armenia drew 1–1 with Iceland.