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England, France ease to Euro qualifying wins as Wales stunned

PARIS (AFP) – England and France cruised to victories over international minnows in Euro 2024 qualifying yesterday, but Wales saw their hopes of reaching next year’s finals in Germany suffer a setback in a 4-2 home defeat by Armenia.

Gareth Southgate’s England scored twice from the penalty spot as they eased to a 4-0 win away to a Malta side ranked 172nd in the world and kept up their perfect record in Group C.

Malta defender Ferdinando Apap turned Bukayo Saka’s cross into his own net to give England an early lead, and Trent Alexander-Arnold made it 2-0 with a superb strike.

Harry Kane, who became England’s all-time top scorer during the last international window in March, made it three goals in three games in this campaign with a penalty to make it 3-0.

Substitute Callum Wilson then completed the scoring late on from another spot-kick awarded for a handball following a VAR check.

“Of course we know we have the quality to win the game and then it’s about the mentality. I thought that was excellent from the start,” said Southgate.

England are six points clear of Ukraine, Italy and North Macedonia, albeit having played one match more. While Italy are currently involved in the Nations League finals, Ukraine got their first points with a stunning comeback to win 3-2 in North Macedonia.

England’s forward Harry Kane celebrates with teammates after scoring a penalty. PHOTO: AFP

An Enis Bardhi penalty and a brilliant curling strike from Napoli’s Eljif Elmas had North Macedonia – who qualified for Euro 2020 – two goals up.

Bournemouth defender Illia Zabarnyi pulled one back for Ukraine just after the hour mark and they then equalised through Yukhym Konoplia.

North Macedonia, who visit England on Tuesday, were reduced to 10 men before Viktor Tsygankov headed in a cross from Chelsea’s Mykhailo Mudryk with seven minutes left to complete the comeback.

Kylian Mbappe put speculation over his future at Paris Saint-Germain to one side as he captained France and scored in their 3-0 win over Group B outsiders Gibraltar in Faro, Portugal.

Olivier Giroud’s early header put France ahead and Mbappe added a penalty awarded for handball in first-half stoppage time.

France got their third late on when Aymen Mouelhi scored an own goal, turning in Mbappe’s low cross.

“The objective was to win and get the job done but we should have scored more goals,” said France coach Didier Deschamps.

The World Cup runners-up are top of Group B with a maximum nine points from three games, leaving them three points clear of Greece, who beat the Republic of Ireland 2-1 in Athens. Captain Tasos Bakasetas gave the hosts the lead from a penalty before Nathan Collins equalised, but Giorgos Masouras got the winner for Greece, who visit France on Tuesday.

Ireland ended the game with 10 men after Matt Doherty’s late sending-off.

Wales have qualified for the last two European Championships and reached the knockout stages both times, but their chances of making Euro 2024 are in the balance after going down to Armenia in Cardiff.

Daniel James put Wales ahead but Argentina-born Lucas Zelarayan and German-born youngster Grant-Leon Ranos both scored twice for Armenia. Harry Wilson pulled another one back for Wales, but they had Kieffer Moore sent off towards the end and are currently third in Group D, two points behind leaders Turkiye, who won 3-2 in Latvia.

Turkiye twice threw away a lead, with Kristers Tobers scoring Latvia’s second goal in the 94th minute. However, Irfan Can Kahveci headed in the winner a minute later.

Denmark edged out Northern Ireland 1-0 in Copenhagen to sit at the top of four teams all on six points in Group H.

Jonas Wind of Wolfsburg scored the winner, although Callum Marshall was denied an injury-time equaliser for Northern Ireland after a lengthy VAR check discovered an offside.

Kazakhstan and Finland also moved onto six points after beating San Marino (3-0) and Slovenia (2-0) respectively.

Switzerland won 2-1 in Andorra to make it three victories out of three in Group I.

They are two points above Romania, who drew 0-0 in Kosovo, while Israel scored two late goals to beat Belarus 2-1 in Budapest.

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