TOULOUSE: France wasted its chance to move a step closer to World Cup qualification after a 0-0 home draw with Luxembourg that leaves automatic qualification from Group A wide open with two games to go. There were contrasting emotions afterward.
“We had the chances and didn’t take them,” France coach Didier Deschamps said. “We should have done more.” But Luxembourg counterpart Luc Holtz could barely contain his delight. “It’s a historic result,” he said. “Yes, it’s a glorious day for Luxembourg football.” Belgium overcame stern resistance from Greece to qualify for Russia 2018, winning 2-1 away from home. Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku’s winning goal put the other Red Devils out of reach at the top of Group H.
Sweden moved one point behind France after easing to a 4-0 win away to Belarus, while a selection choice from Netherlands coach Dick Advocaat paid off as midfielder Davy Proepper scored his first two international goals in a 3-1 home win against Bulgaria.
Advocaat’s side is three points behind Sweden with two games remaining and still in with an outside chance of securing a playoff spot. Group B rivals Switzerland and Portugal both won, with the Swiss maintaining a perfect record and three-point lead. An Oct. 10 showdown in Lisbon will likely decide which team qualifies automatically. The two sides have already secured the top two spots.
Only the group winners automatically advance in European qualifying for the World Cup. Elsewhere, defender Domagoj Vida’s header gave Group I leader Croatia a 1-0 win against Kosovo in a match which started Saturday before being called off due to a torrential downpour.
Here is a closer look at the qualifying groups in action Sunday:
While France fluffed countless chances, the Netherlands and Sweden had no problem finding the net. Proepper’s first international goals helped the Dutch keep their slim qualifying hopes alive – albeit four points behind Les Bleus.
Proepper replaced veteran Wesley Sneijder and tapped in from close range in the seventh minute. Veteran winger Arjen Robben doubled the lead in the 67th minute with his 34th international goal. Georgi Kostadinov pulled back a goal just two minutes later before Proepper sealed the win in the 80th.
On a night for firsts, Christoffer Nyman got his first Sweden goal to make it 2-0 midway through the first half. Emil Forsberg scored in the 18th and, after Nyman’s goal, striker Marcus Berg popped up with his 14th for Sweden to put the result beyond doubt at halftime. Center half Andreas Granqvist completed the scoring near the end with a penalty.
Switzerland scored early and twice shortly after halftime to keep its impressive qualifying run going. Forward Haris Seferovic netted his fourth goal in the qualifying campaign with a neat flick from close range, and Blerim Dzemaili and Ricardo Rodriguez added to the lead in the second half.
Portugal remains three points behind the Swiss but kept pace with a seventh straight victory, 1-0 away to Hungary. Newly signed AC Milan striker Andre Silva headed in after a cross by Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo three minutes into the second half in Budapest. It was Silva’s ninth international goal in only his 15th appearance.
“We were always in control,” Portugal coach Fernando Santos said. “But it was a difficult and uncertain match.” Portugal, which lost the opening group game to Switzerland, hosts the Swiss in a table-topper in Lisbon on Oct. 10. Meanwhile, the Faeroe Islands moved up to fourth place after a 1-0 win against fellow struggler Andorra.
A tense match in Greece was goalless until the 70th minute, when Tottenham defender Jan Vertonghen blasted Belgium ahead with a fierce shot. Greece responded three minutes later through Zeca, but Belgium retook the lead thanks to Lukaku’s header one minute later.
Belgium has an unassailable eight-point lead over second-place Bosnia-Herzegovina, making Belgium the first European team confirmed for the World Cup apart from host nation Russia.
“We qualified, but it was not a great game,” Belgium full back Thomas Meunier said. “We found it tough to find our groove.” Two goals from Edin Dzeko helped Bosnia-Herzegovina win 4-0 away at Gibraltar to leapfrog Greece into second place, and taking the Roma striker’s international tally to 52 goals.
Mattias Kait may not be a household name but he is making a name for himself. The 19-year-old Fulham midfielder struck two minutes into injury time as next-to-last Estonia beat fourth-place Cyprus 1-0.
Defender Domagoj Vida headed in a free kick from Real Madrid’s Luka Modric on his 50th international appearance to give Croatia a 1-0 win against Kosovo. The match started on Saturday but was abandoned after about 20 minutes due to a torrential downpour and postponed. It resumed Sunday on 21 minutes.
Croatia leads the group with 16 points, two ahead of Ukraine. Iceland is third on 13 points and Turkey has 11. Ukraine plays Iceland today, while Turkey hosts Croatia. – AP