What to watch for in Sunday’s World Cup qualifiers

Group C
San Marino look to turn promise into goals
In five competitive matches at their new San Marino Stadium the home side have yet to score, though their UEFA EURO 2016 campaign saw some promise with a 0-0 draw against Estonia and only narrow defeats by Lithuania and Slovenia. Then again Azerbaijan have just a sole competitive away victory to their name, 2-0 in Liechtenstein on 10 October 2009.
San Marino v Azerbaijan, 18:00CEST

Can Northern Ireland do it again?
Only one of these teams made it out of their UEFA EURO 2016 group, and it wasn’t the Czech Republic. After making such an impact in their first major tournament for 30 years, Northern Ireland now hope to prove it was no fluke against a Czech side with a new coach in ‎Karel Jarolím but without retired goalkeeper Petr Čech. The enthusiasm was manifest this week when an estimated 40,000 fans applied for just 3,000 ‘campaign cards’ allowing Northern Ireland supporters access to all five of their home qualifiers. However, fans may be disappointed that France 2016 cult hero Will Grigg is not in the squad for Sunday for personal reasons.
Czech Republic v Northern Ireland, 20:45CEST

Germany players celebrateBastian Schweinsteiger bowed out on a high on Wednesday©Getty Images

Germany aim for repeat
Ever since Italy retained the FIFA World Cup in 1938, no European team have managed to win the trophy twice in a row, (West) Germany themselves failing in their title defences of 1958, 1978 and 1994. Now they will bid to put that right as Joachim Löw begins his second decade in charge by drawing level with Helmut Schön’s tally of 139 matches as national coach. Bastian Schweinsteiger’s retirement after Wednesday’s 2-0 friendly win against Finland means all 17 players ‘Jogi’ fielded in his debut game against Sweden in August 2006 are not available in Norway.
Norway v Germany, 20:45CEST

Group E
Denmark’s new era
Having missed out on UEFA EURO 2016, Denmark are seeking a fresh start and they symbolised that in literal fashion in Wednesday’s 5-0 friendly thrashing of Liechtenstein by wearing one-off all-white shirts (to be auctioned for charity). Now Denmark face their first competitive fixture without Morten Olsen at the helm since UEFA EURO 2000, and replacement Åge Hareide is looking long-term. “You cannot say that a national team should be a development team, but I think this team is going to be really strong for the next European Championship in four years when they have worked together more,” he said. “We will stick to the goal, though, and we have a very strong belief we can get to the World Cup.”
Denmark v Armenia, 18:00CEST

See Poland’s path to the quarter-finalsPoland’s path to the EURO quarters

Polish stock is rising
Before this summer the record fee for a Polish player remained the estimated €7.1m Jerzy Dudek cost Liverpool 15 years ago. Since Poland’s heart-breaking UEFA EURO 2016 exit by Portugal that mark has been smashed at least four times. Grzegorz Krychowiak (Paris), Kamil Glik (Monaco), Bartosz Kapustka (Leicester), Arkadiusz Milik and Piotr Zieliński (Napoli) all made high-profile moves, underlining the talent at Adam Nawałka’s disposal at the moment. Add in-form Robert Lewandowski into the mix and Poland’s time could well be now.
Kazakhstan v Poland, 18:00CEST

Daum ready for Romania
They may have been the only squad at UEFA EURO 2016 with no players that could have been eligible for another country, but Romania begin life under their first foreign coach on Sunday as Christoph Daum takes the reins at Cluj Arena. However, he has suffered an early blow with defender Vlad Chiricheş ruled out by injury.
Romania v Montenegro, 20:45CEST

Michail Antonio (West Ham)England newcomer Michail Antonio©Getty Images

Group F
England regroup

Seventy days after arguably one of the most ignominious results in their history, the 2-1 loss to Iceland at UEFA EURO 2016, England return to action against one of the teams they met in the group stage in France, Slovakia. They do so with a new manager in Sam Allardyce, who replaced Roy Hodgson on an initial two-year deal in July. Allardyce could give a debut to versatile West Ham man Michail Antonio, the only uncapped player in his first squad.
Slovakia v England, 18:00CEST

Familiar opponents
Also set for a quick rematch are Lithuania and Slovenia, who were rivals during 2016 qualifying. Lithuania were beaten 2-0 at home before a 1-1 draw in Slovenia last October when both sides scored from a penalty. That result ended Slovenia’s hopes of pipping Switzerland to automatic qualfying behind England, and was followed by a play-off exit against Ukraine.
Lithuania v Slovenia, 18:00CEST

Strachan wants tougher Scotland
Scotland were forced to watch as British neighbours England, Wales and Northern Ireland competed at UEFA EURO 2016 but now the Tartan Army will target a first major finals since 1998. During the Olympics, manager Gordon Strachan compared Scottish footballers unfavourably with their nation’s successful gold-medallists in other sports. “As a national side we struggle because we’re not athletic enough, we don’t push ourselves enough as a team sport,” he said. “The quicker we get back to character-building, athletes that are being pushed – the cyclists have got it, I’ve watched them training, so do the swimmers – we don’t have it in team sport.”
Malta v Scotland, 20:45CEST

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