EURO finalists disappoint as Belgium and Greece dominate
THE DAY REPLAYED – On Tuesday evening, several of the final ten matches in the first round of European qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ – including the abandoned game between Albania and FYR Macedonia – kept fans on the edge of their seats well into stoppage time. While traditional outsiders such as Belarus, Luxembourg and Andorra gave a particularly good account of themselves against more established teams, UEFA EURO 2016 finalists Portugal and France made a disappointing start on the road to Russia.
Results Group A: Sweden 1-1 Netherlands, Bulgaria 4-3 Luxembourg, Belarus 0-0 France Group B: Faroe Islands 0-0 Hungary, Switzerland 2-0 Portugal, Andorra 0-1 Latvia Group G: Albania 2-1 FYR Macedonia Group H: Gibraltar 1-4 Greece, Cyprus 0-3 Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina 5-0 Estonia
Match of the day Switzerland 2-0 Portugal Embolo 23’, Mehmedi 30’ Despite travelling to Basel full of confidence, newly-crowned European champions Portugal were brought down to earth with a bump within half an hour of kick-off as Breel Embolo and Admir Mehmedi put Die Eidgenossen on track for victory. While the Selecção das Quinas threw everything forward in the second half despite the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo and Renato Sanches, they were unable to overcome the staunch Swiss defence.
Elsewhere Switzerland’s victory leaves them at the top of Group B ahead of Latvia, who won 1-0 in Andorra, while the Faroe Islands and Hungary played out a goalless draw.
Bulgaria are the surprise leaders in Group A after the first round of matches as favourites France and the Netherlands had to be content with 0-0 and 1-1 stalemates against Belarus and Sweden respectively.
After being abandoned due to bad weather at 1-1 on Monday evening, the match between Albania and FYR Macedonia in Group G ended 2-1 to the hosts on Tuesday afternoon, with Bekim Bala scoring the winner shortly before the final whistle.
Group H boasted the most goals in the opening round of European qualifying with a total of 13 strikes in three matches as Greece beat FIFA newcomers Gibraltar 4-1. Meanwhile Belgium, previously ranked first in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, eased past Cyprus 3-0 thanks to a brace from Romelu Lukaku in the 13th and 61st minutes and an 81st-minute goal from Yannick Carrasco. Bosnia and Herzegovina recorded the round’s second highest win by thrashing Estonia 5-0, with only Spain finding the target more often in their 8-0 triumph over Liechtenstein.
Player of the day Gibraltar midfielder Liam Walker made history when he scored an equaliser at 1-1 in the match against Greece, netting his country’s first-ever goal in a competitive FIFA match. Unfortunately his joy was short-lived, as the Ethniki scored three times in three minutes to reach their eventual winning scoreline of 4-1 by the end of the first half.
The number 60 – Luxembourg were just 60 seconds away from securing their first point in 13 matches against Bulgaria when Alexsandar Tonev scored in the 92nd minute to hand the Eastern European hosts a 4-3 win. Dimitar Rangelov opened the scoring for Bulgaria after 16 minutes before Luxembourg’s Aurelien Joachim turned the match in the Red Lions' favour with a brace in the 60th and 62nd minutes, only for Marcelinho to level the scores three minutes later. Although Florian Bohnert appeared to seal a precious point for Luxembourg in the 91st minute, Tonev soon dashed their hopes once and for all.
Did you know? Any teams facing Belgium in their opening World Cup qualifier could be forgiven for being nervous, as the Red Devils are now unbeaten in 14 opening matches on the road to major international tournaments. Their last false start was a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Sweden back in 1960.