Tomas Soucek scores

International round-up: Nine Hammers play on action-packed evening

The talents of West Ham United’s collective squad came to the fore on a night when nine Irons featured for their respective national sides.

Three Hammers were involved in non-competitive fixtures, with one playing in African qualification for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, four Academy of Football products involved in UEFA U21 European Championship qualifiers, and another featuring in a U20 Elite League fixture.

In non-competitive action at Cardiff City Stadium, Tomáš Souček netted his ninth international goal for Czech Republic in a 1-1 draw against Wales.

Bouncing back from the disappointment of defeat to Sweden in the 2022 FIFA World Cup play-offs on Thursday night, the 27-year-old national team captain opened the scoring in the Welsh capital with an immaculate swivel and hit on the half half-volley after 32 minutes.

Just moments later, however, Wales equalised in Cardiff, a long ball catching the visitors out and allowing Rubin Colwill to place home a finish two minutes later.

That goal seemed to inspire the hosts and they had the better of the play thereafter, but Souček – who made one particularly important block in the second half – and his teammates held out to earn a respectable result in Cardiff.

Declan Rice also enjoyed a successful outing on his 29th cap for England, playing the full 90 minutes as the Three Lions dominated Ivory Coast in a 3-0 friendly win at Wembley.

The visitors enjoyed just one shot on target all evening as Rice screened his defence impeccably, also displaying a fine range of passing as Gareth Southgate’s side enjoyed 61 per cent possession overall.

Having seen two efforts denied early on at Wembley, the West Ham vice-captain was once again an important figure in a composed performance from England, who were good value for the margin of their win.

First-half goals from close range for Ollie Watkins and Raheem Sterling, plus an injury-time Tyrone Mings header, ultimately did the damage for Ivory Coast, who were reduced to ten men shortly before half-time when former Tottenham defender Serge Aurier saw red for two bookable offences.

Declan Rice vs Ivory Coast

Nikola Vlašić was another Hammer to taste victory in non-competitive action, the attacking midfielder making his 35th cap for Croatia in a 2-1 win over Bulgaria at Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar.

Having already qualified directly for this winter’s World Cup Finals in the same country, Croatia largely dominated proceedings in their newfound climate, Vlašić having one effort from outside the box blocked early on.

The 24-year-old also had a clever through-ball for Lovro Majer denied by the offside flag, before Andrej Kramarić replaced the West Ham man with an hour on the clock.

All of the goals in the game came in the final 21 minutes of the game as Kiril Despodov gave Bulgaria the lead on 69 minutes after Croatia defender Duje Ćaleta-Car had been dismissed, only for Despodov himself to be red carded and Luka Modrić (from the penalty spot) and Kramarić to turn the result around.

Nikola Vlašić

Alphonse Areola was not given an outing by France manager Didier Deschamps in their 5-0 win over South Africa at Stade Pierre-Mauroy, remaining among the substitutes.

In World Cup qualifying action, meanwhile, Arthur Masuaku and DR Congo failed to reach the 2022 Finals after falling to a 4-1 third-round defeat at Morocco’s Stade Mohammed V.

Pegged back late on in a 1-1 draw in the first leg on Friday, there remained all to play for in the return leg, but Morocco dominated and managed to go four goals to the good early in the second half.

Masuaku’s 12th appearance for his country ended in the disappointment of a 5-2 defeat on aggregate, putting to an end DR Congo’s hopes of reaching world football’s showpiece event this year.

Meanwhile, Saïd Benrahma and Algeria also suffered World Cup heartbreak as The Greens slipped to a second-leg defeat to Cameroon on away goals after extra-time.

Benrahma, a late call-up for his national side, did not come off the bench during the course of the 120 minutes, with Eric Maxim Chuopo-Moting's 22nd-minute goal for the visitors to Mustapha Tchaker Stadium cancelling out Algeria's advantage from last week's first leg.

Algeria thought qualification was theirs when Ahmed Touba restored the hosts' lead with two minutes of extra-time to play, only for Karl Toko Ekambi to strike for Cameroon in the 124th minute and snatch a place at the World Cup Finals from their grasp. 

Ben Johnson for England U20s

In the race to seal U21 European Championship qualification, Ben Johnson made his England U21s debut with an assured display in a 3-0 win over Albania at Elbasan Arena.

Lining up on the left of a back four, Johnson was rewarded for his fine form at Club level this season with his first-ever taste of international action as the Young Lions kept up the pressure on Group G leaders Czech Republic.

The defender ventured forwards often but was rarely tested defensively, in truth, and could be considered unfortunate for collecting a yellow card towards the end of the first half when appearing to slip and accidentally catch an Albania attacker near the halfway line.

Nevertheless, Johnson completed the 90 minutes as a brace from Folarin Balogun and a goal from Curtis Jones in the second half ensured the Young Lions moved six points behind the group leaders with three games in hand – and a crucial clash in June still to come.

Odubeko vs Sweden

Mipo Odubeko also made his U21s international debut for the Republic of Ireland alongside Academy teammate Conor Coventry, the Boys in Green recording an outstanding 2-0 win in Sweden to keep alive their hopes of reaching the 2023 European U21 Championship finals.

With games running out in their qualification campaign, Jim Crawford’s youngsters knew a positive result was required at Borås Arena on Tuesday night to give themselves any hope of overhauling the second-placed Swedes and snatching the play-off spot.

And that is exactly what they achieved, captain Coventry marshalling a diligent defensive display from the heart of midfield and Odubeko looking lively as goals at either end of the game from Ross Tierney and Tyreik Wright moved Ireland to within one point of their opponents with a game in hand.

Goalkeeper Krisztián Hegyi saw his and Hungary U21s' qualification hopes all but mathematically extinguished after a 95th equaliser from Poland denied the Magyars three points at Arena Zabrze.

The 19-year-old looked set to record his second clean sheet of the international break in the must-win game, following a 4-0 win over San Marino last week, but was denied deep into injury time in a 1-1 draw.

Finally, fellow Academy product Aji Alese played the final ten minutes of England U20s’ 3-1 win over Germany in the 2021/22 U20 Elite League.

Featuring in the closing stages of the victory at the JobServe Community Stadium, home of Colchester United, the Hammers’ U23s captain helped see out the Young Lions’ third win in six games in the friendly competition, winning his fourth U20s cap in the process.