France edge closer as Sweden, Belgium break records
THE DAY REPLAYED – The latest European qualifiers ended without any fresh names added to the list of 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ participants. Nonetheless, a few dramatic results inched some teams ever closer while leaving others perilously close to missing out.
France, for example, will now qualify with a win over Belarus on Tuesday, while top spot in Group B will – as expected – be decided by the showdown between Portugal and Switzerland. The Netherlands, though, now need a whopping seven-goal win over Sweden to salvage their play-off hopes, while Bosnia and Herzegovina’s hopes were severely dented by a heart-stopping home loss to Belgium.
Match of the day *Bosnia and Herzegovina 3-4 Belgium *A sodden Sarajevo pitch was the stage on which one of the most thrilling and topsy-turvy Russia 2018 qualifiers thus far was played out. The conditions contributed to a dramatic and error-laden encounter in which Belgium led, fell behind, led again and were pegged back before finally snatching victory through Yannick Carrasco’s late winner. It extended to 12 matches the Belgians’ unbeaten run, while Jan Vertonghen – who scored to make up for a calamitous first-half error - equalled Jan Ceulemans' record of 96 caps
Elsewhere *Group A *Sweden 8-0 Luxembourg Belarus 1-3 Netherlands Bulgaria 0-1 France
France remain in pole position in Group A after an Blaide Matuidi goal secured a hard-fought win over a Bulgaria team who were previously unbeaten at home before tonight. Sweden, meanwhile, boosted their play-off chances, and their goal difference, in the section’s early match with an 8-0 demolition of Luxembourg - their biggest-ever World Cup qualifying win. Perhaps deflated by that result, and its impact on their prospects, the Netherlands then limped to an unconvincing 3-1 win over with Belarus. It’s a result that keeps alive the Oranje's faint Russia 2018 hopes, but only just. Group B Faroe Islands 0-0 Latvia Andorra 0–2 Portugal Switzerland 5-2 Hungary
Cristiano Ronaldo came off the bench and came to Portugal’s rescue, scoring one and setting up another after the European champions had struggled to break down a stubborn Andorra side. Switzerland, though, remain three points clear at the top thanks to an impressive 5-2 win over Hungary that featured a six-minute Steven Zuber brace. The result also means La Nati continue their 100 per cent record in Group B.
*Group H *Bosnia and Herzegovina 3-4 Belgium Gibraltar 0-6 Estonia Cyprus 1–2 Greece
Greece were the big winners in Group H, with the combination of their hard-fought win in Cyprus and Bosnia and Herzegovina’s home loss to Belgium leaving Michael Skibbe’s team well placed to finish second. It was a great night too for Estonia, who – having never scored more than twice in an away World Cup qualifier – hit Gibraltar for six, with Joonas Tamm grabbing a hat-trick.
Player of the day Rarely prolific and often in the shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcus Berg had enjoyed a largely unremarkable international career until the Russia 2018 preliminaries began. But now, aged 31, he has been given the chance to make his mark – and is grasping it firmly. Berg has averaged a goal-a-game in these qualifiers and was the Swedes' star man again as they cruised to a record-breaking 8-0 win over Luxembourg. A couple of headers and two classy right-foot finishes saw Berg become the first Swede since, you guessed it, Zlatan to score four times in a single match.