Goals galore as Belgium take giant step towards Russia

  • France move to the top of Group A with a stunning win over the Netherlands

  • Switzerland make it seven victories out of seven

  • Belgium are now within touching distance of Russia 2018

THE DAY REPLAYED – Thursday’s European qualifying matches for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ saw nets bulge continuously all over the continent, with 37 goals registered in just nine scheduled matches.

The largest win of the night came in Liege, where Belgium moved closer to securing an automatic qualifying slot with a 9-0 destruction of Gibraltar. France did not rack up quite as many goals, but their 4-0 triumph over the Netherlands was as ruthless as it was impressive. In Group B, Cristiano Ronaldo recorded a memorable hat-trick, but a rampant Switzerland continue to dominate the pool.

FIFA.com runs the rule over all of the day’s qualifiers.

Results 31 August Group A: Bulgaria 3-2 Sweden, France 4-0 Netherlands, Luxembourg 1-0 Belarus Group B: Switzerland 3-0 Andorra, Portugal 5-1 Faroe Islands, Hungary 3-1 Latvia Group H: Belgium 9-0 Gibraltar, Greece 0-0 Estonia, Cyprus 3-2 Bosnia-Herzegovina

Match of the day France 4-0 Netherlands With France’s confidence having been dealt a blow following their 2-1 defeat in Sweden last time out, and the Netherlands looking reinvigorated since the return of Dick Advocaat to the helm, the Group A clash between the two nations in Paris promised to be a tight encounter.

In the end, it was nothing of the sort, as Les Bleus proceeded to dominate the game from start to finish. After breaking the deadlock via a well-worked Antoine Griezmann goal, the home side missed a number of chances, but they finally put the result beyond any doubt halfway through the second half courtesy of a scintillating Thomas Lemar strike.

The Monaco star then helped himself to his second of the night, before his former club team-mate Kylian Mbappe notched an excellent individual effort – his first goal for his country.

Elsewhere Group A Bulgaria’s 3-2 victory over Sweden improved France’s night even further, as Didier Deschamps’ men now move clear at the top of Group A. The result continued the Bulgarians’ fine run at home during this campaign; they have yet to drop points in front of their own fans. Luxembourg, meanwhile, pocketed three points for the first time in the section with a remarkable 1-0 win versus Belarus.

Group B Switzerland continued their all-conquering march at the top of Group B, their 3-0 success over Andorra making it seven out of seven in these qualifiers. Portugal are still in with a shout, however, after a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick helped the Lusitanians to see off the plucky challenge posed by the Faroe Islands (5-1). It was the fourth successive qualifying match in which the Real Madrid man has scored at least a brace. Hungary remain a distant third, despite their 3-1 victory over Latvia in Budapest.

Group H Following an astonishingly clinical performance against Gibraltar (9-0), Belgium now need just one more win to guarantee themselves a place in Russia next year. Both of their closest pursuers within the chasing pack slipped up: Greece could only draw at home to Estonia, while Bosnia-Herzegovina suffered a shock 3-2 reverse in Cyprus, despite leading 2-0 at one point.

Player of the day Fans in the Stade du Sclessin in Liege witnessed a festival of goals on Thursday evening, with one player in particular raising eyebrows. Right-back Thomas Meunier enjoyed a night to remember, scoring a fantastic hat-trick and setting up another three goals. The Paris Saint-Germain defender has, over the past year, developed into a key player for Les Diables Rouges, and with performances like this one, it is easy to see why.**   **

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