Best World Football Moments of the Weekend
Thanks to the magic of international football, the majority of this weekend's action took place on Friday night. National teams across the world were fighting for the right to appear at the World Cup Finals in Brazil next summer, and some were more successful than others.
This week, we consider the best goals, action and talking points from UEFA and CONCACAF qualifying, which included success for England, Mexico and Belgium. There's also some friendly fire from France, a brilliant long-ranger from a young Irishman, an old Italian making A-League defences look bad and a sublime free kick from League One.
Raul Jimenez's Overhead Kick Kept Mexico World Cup Hopes Alive
Failure to qualify for the World Cup would be nothing short of disastrous for Mexico, and things were not going to plan up to the 85th minute of Friday's CONCACAF qualifier with Panama.
El Tri were being held 1-1 by their visitors at the Azteca—which was once an impenetrable fortress—until 22-year-old striker Raul Jimenez pulled off a superb bicycle kick on the edge of the area.
The Club America forward's goal kept Mexico in fourth place in the Hex, meaning they need at least a point in the final game against already-qualified Costa Rica on Tuesday to earn a playoff match with New Zealand.
Clearly, the press in Panama were not impressed with the result.
Romelu Lukaku Led Belgium to Brazil
Romelu Lukaku continued to make us wonder why Jose Mourinho let him go out on loan on Friday when he scored both Belgian goals in their 2-1 win over Croatia.
Each of the Everton forward's strikes were superb individual efforts, which helped the Diables Rouges qualify for their first World Cup finals since 2002.
Belgium are undefeated in qualifying, having earned 25 points from nine matches, and are clearly a dark-horse contender for the tournament next summer. If you haven't already nonchalantly tipped the Belgians to cause some upsets in Brazil, then you are probably in the minority.
England Earned a Vital Win over Montenegro
England went into Friday's UEFA Group H qualifier with Montenegro desperately needing a win: Anything less would have made qualification for Brazil unlikely.
The final scoreline flattered a wasteful England side who were unable to make their chances in the first half, but positives can be drawn from the team's resilience under pressure and a very fine debut from Andros Townsend. The Spurs winger scored in the 78th minute before being replaced by last week's No. 1 world football talking point and non-smoker, Jack Wilshere.
England are now guaranteed at least a playoff spot and can secure automatic qualification with a win against Poland at Wembley on Tuesday.
Olivier Giroud Scored a Cheeky Chip Against Australia
France were given the night off from World Cup qualification on Friday, so they spent the evening dismantling the already-qualified antipodeans of Australia.
Les Bleus won the friendly 6-0—which is the same scoreline the Socceroos recently suffered at the hands of Brazil—and the best of the lot was France's third and Olivier Giroud's second. The Arsenal forward received a pass from Franck Ribery and chipped the ball over Mitchell Langerak in a manner that encapsulated the ease of the win.
Australia have now conceded 19 times in the past four matches, which isn't ideal preparation for next summer.
Cristiano Ronaldo May or May Not Have Earned a Deliberate Booking
Portugal are now guaranteed a UEFA playoff spot following a nervy 1-1 draw with Lisbon on Friday night, but Cristiano Ronaldo and Pepe will miss the final group game against Luxembourg on Tuesday due to suspension.
Ronaldo earned a yellow card in the dying minuted for arguing in the dying minutes, leading some to believe he sought a deliberate booking to ensure he is available for the playoff game. After the match, the Madrid forward was cryptic when he told reporters (via The Guardian): "I can't talk about that [booking]. Fifa is always very attentive to those situations."
C-Ron was lucky to still be on the pitch at the end of the game, as the video above shows he kicked out at an Israeli opponent in the 13th minute, right in front of the referee. The petulant behaviour would surely have earned a red card had it been spotted. Which begs another question: How was it not spotted?
Alessandro Del Piero Made the Newcastle Jets Look Silly
Away from the World Cup qualifying action, but also on Friday evening, Sydney FC opened the new Australian A-League season with a visit from the Newcastle Jets. The home side won 2-0, but the star of the show was 38-year-old Italian Alessandro Del Piero, who is continuing to show his class in the autumn years of his career.
The World Cup-winning striker made the Jets defenders look like lost schoolchildren as he weaved past several and performed a nutmeg and a spinning move before slotting home for the opener.
Ireland Youngster Liam Kelly Scored Beckham-Esque Goal from the Halfway Line
The Republic of Ireland's World Cup dream may have died a while ago, but their U19 side are now top of their UEFA U19 European Championship qualifier group after a 1-0 victory over Sweden on Saturday.
The man of the moment was Reading youth team prospect Liam Kelly, who scored the 83rd-minute winner from near the halfway line. Manager Paul Doolin likened it to the 1996 strike that launched David Beckham's career. "For a guy of his size he has great technique," he told RTE.
Spurs Youth Prospect Alex Pritchard Scored Another Great Free Kick for Swindon
[Skip to 0.40 for the best goal]
Despite the international excitement, it would be remiss to neglect the fact that most non-top flight clubs in Europe played over the weekend.
One of the best goals from the Football League took place at Rotherham's New York Stadium, where Swindon demolished the home side with four unanswered goals.
Midfielder Alex Pritchard opened the scoring with an unstoppable free kick. The 20-year-old, who is on loan from Tottenham, is something of a free kick specialist, having already put away a fantastic dead ball finish against MK Dons earlier this season.