GENEVA – Italy set an international record of 36 games unbeaten on Sunday as Germany and Spain returned to the top of their World Cup qualifying groups.
Though European champions Italy were held 0-0 at Switzerland, Germany and Spain were joined by England and Poland in routing low-ranked opponents.
Top-ranked Belgium was lifted by Romelu Lukaku celebrating his 100th international appearance by scoring his 67th goal to ease past the Czech Republic 3-0.
It all gave an air of normalcy to the World Cup qualifying picture in Europe amid the chaos Sunday in South America. Its signature Brazil-Argentina game was suspended after seven minutes in a dispute over Argentina players following COVID-19 protocols.
Brazil also lost its share of the men’s world record it held jointly with Spain and Italy at 35 games unbeaten. Brazil’s run in 1993-96 included a World Cup title, Spain’s in 2007-09 spanned a European title and Italy’s dates to September 2018.
A rare failure for Italy to score was compounded by penalty specialist Jorginho failing from the spot again in the 53rd minute. He missed in the shootout at the Euro 2020 final against England.
The newly crowned UEFA men’s player of the year’s signature trick of a slow run and jump did not deceive Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer, who quickly stepped to his right then dived to his left to save.
Jorginho joined Kylian Mbappé, in a Euro 2020 shootout in June, and Sergio Ramos, twice in a Nations League game in the same Basel stadium last November, in having penalties saved by Sommer.
Sommer was also captaining Switzerland, which was missing Granit Xhaka, who tested positive for COVID-19 in midweek.
“We‘ve had a chaotic week with lots of absences, with lots of injuries,” said Sommer, who helped extend his country’s unbeaten home record to 20 games.
Spain beat visiting Georgia 4-0 to take top spot back from Sweden which did not play Sunday.
Spain is on 10 points after five games, just one ahead of the Swedes, who have played two games fewer. They meet in Seville in the final round on Nov. 14.
Third-place Kosovo is another five points back after scoring in stoppage-time to draw 1-1 with visiting Greece.
Italy missed a chance to take tighter control of the five-team group by drawing again three days after being held 1-1 at home to Bulgaria.
Italy has 11 points from five games and leads by four from the Swiss, who have played two games fewer. Bulgaria beat Lithuania 1-0 earlier Sunday and trails Italy by six points.
Italy will host the Nations League Finals four-team mini-tournament in October before Switzerland come to Rome on Nov. 12 for a potentially decisive qualifier.
Belgium and Czech Republic were both eliminated in the Euro 2020 quarterfinals though looked in a separate class Sunday.
Lukaku finished with a smart, powerful shot in the eighth minute, another established star Eden Hazard added to it in the 41st and emerging prospect Alexis Saelemaekers of AC Milan got a third in the 65th.
Belgium is six points clear of the Czechs after each has played five of their eight games. Wales trails the Czechs by one point with two games in hand.
On Sunday, the scoring went Bale, Belarus, Belarus, Bale, Bale. In that order. Gareth Bale completed his hat trick in stoppage time, after two earlier penalties, to secure a 3-2 win for the Welsh.
Belarus hosted the game in Kazan, Russia, because of European Union travel restrictions to punish the authoritarian government in Minsk.
England got a fifth straight win in the group by beating Andorra 4-0. It was England's first game at Wembley Stadium since crowd disorder marred the Euro 2020 final against Italy.
Poland is five points back after winning 7-1 in San Marino. Robert Lewandowski scored twice early on and New England Revolution forward Adam Buksa’s second-half hat trick was completed by two goals in stoppage-time.
Albania closed to within a point of Poland by beating Hungary 1-0.
Germany routed Group J leader Armenia 6-0 to take back the top spot surrendered in March when it lost at home to North Macedonia.
Serge Gnabry scored twice and Karim Adeyemi, the Salzburg forward, completed the scoring on his debut as a substitute.
Coach Hansi Flick’s team leads the group by two points, with Romania a point further back after beating Liechtenstein 2-0.
The standings would have been even tighter but North Macedonia wasted a two-goal lead late in the game at Iceland who hit back for a 2-2 draw.
All the teams have played five rounds with five more each to play. Only group winners advance direct to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Runners-up go to a 12-team, two-round playoffs bracket in March.
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