Hammers Nikola Vlašić and Arthur Masuaku both secured must-win games for their countries in Sunday’s FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
Vlašić and Croatia went into Sunday evening’s final group game at home to Russia knowing nothing other than three points would secure automatic progress to the tournament; otherwise, their opponents would top Group H. The Hammers’ No11 started the game at Stadion Poljud, like his team, brightly, helping the 2018 World Cup finalists dominate the possession and shot count from wide on the right, producing several good crosses.
Masuaku and DR Congo subsequently secured a 2-0 win over Benin and leapfrogged their opponents at the top of Group J in the second round of qualifying in Africa. With only the top team in each pool advancing, nothing less than a win would have done for Masuaku in Kinshasa.
But his side got off to a good start when Dieumerci Mbokani converted a penalty kick in the tenth minute, after Masuaku’s low cross saw a Benin defender penalised for holding.Benin came within inches of equalising on the stroke of half-time as a bending free-kick almost bounced into the top corner, but the points were DR Congo’s with a quarter-of-an-hour to go as Ben Malango won a towering header at the far post.
DR Congo now advance to the third and final round of African qualification for the 2022 World Cup, which sees the ten group winners from the second round compete in home-and-away ties to reach the finals.