World Cup qualifying begins for four Reading playersIt seems a blink of an eye since we were wrapped up in Euro 2016 – and now already our European international players are getting set to embark on their World Cup 2018 qualifying campaign.
The road to Russia will be another long and arduous journey – and four of our boys begin their group fixtures on Monday in the UEFA section.
Regrettably Deniss Rakels’ injury keeps him out of Latvia’s pool-stage opener away against Andorra, and in the Concacaf confederation Royals winger Garath McCleary and his Jamaican teammates saw their journey come to an end with a 2-0 defeat in Panama. But let’s take a closer look at the three fixtures and the four players who could be involved from the Reading camp on Monday…
Wales vs Moldova – Monday 5th September, 7.45pm – Cardiff City Stadium
Undoubtedly one of the biggest stories to come out of Euro 2016 was Wales’ unlikely route to the semi-final where they were overcome by eventual winners Portugal, with Reading full-back Chris Gunter playing every minute. They defied all the odds to reach that stage – indeed, they had never been to a European Championships finals tournament. But such their stock has risen to the extent that they are now priced at Evens with EFL title partner Sky Bet to reach Russia in 2018, just the second time in their history. Gunter, who was victorious on his last outing at the Cardiff City Stadium (in Reading colours, a week ago!) will now occupy the home dressing room for the Dragons against Moldova – their first game since that last-four meeting with Portugal. The hosts should target a winning side against a nation that won none and drew just two of their 10 qualifiers for Euro 2016.
Ireland vs Serbia – Monday 5th September, 7.45pm – Red Star Stadium, Belgrade
Reading skipper Paul McShane returns to the international fold after missing the cut for the Euro 2016 finals tournament, where he joins fellow Royal Stephen Quinn in the green jersey. Quinn played over an hour in Ireland’s 4-0 friendly win against Oman on Wednesday, with defender McShane manning the bench. But now comes the serious business and the target of reaching consecutive major tournaments following their round-of-16 exploits in France over the summer. Serbia had a miserly qualifying tournament for the Euros – even if they hadn’t been docked three points for the unsavoury brawl with Albania, they would still have fallen well shy of qualifying. Not that that will make the visit to Red Star Stadium any less imposing for the Ireland squad.
Spain vs Liechtenstein – Monday 5th September, 7.45pm – Estadio Reino de León
Liechtenstein and Sandro Wieser, realistically, won’t be making grand plans for the finals tournament in Russia in two years’ time. With Spain and Italy in their qualifying group – boasting five World Cup wins between them – getting out of the group will be near-impossible. Instead, for the second-least populous country in the UEFA qualifying section, it will be about trying to pick up some points wherever possible – and they secured a win and two draws in their impressive Euro 2016 campaign. They opened their home qualifiers with a 0-0 home draw against Montenegro, and Wieser hit the net in their 1-1 draw with Moldova in Vaduz after they had already upset the Moldovans in Chisinau. But their World Cup qualifying opener against star-studded Spain offers a different level of threat, as they meet in the third-tier Estadio Reino de León. Wieser played the majority of the game when Denmark romped to a 5-0 friendly win on Wednesday.