France on brink of 2018 World Cup
Blaise Matuidi’s early goal saw off Bulgaria 1-0 late on Oct. 7 and kept France top of European World Cup qualifying Group A, while the Netherlands’ hopes are hanging by a thread despite a 3-1 win in Belarus.
France took the lead in only the third minute as midfielder Matuidi curled home a fantastic shot from a tight angle into the far top corner.
Bulgaria more than held its own in Sofia, though, as it looked to repeat the famous win over France that sent them to the 1994 World Cup, and Hugo Lloris was forced into a point-blank save to deny Georgi Kostadinov.
But Didier Deschamps’s side closed out the vital win, and three points at home to Belarus on Tuesday would book their ticket to Russia.
“It was a difficult match with lots of mistakes, commitment,” said coach Deschamps.
“We’re still first - that’s important - we’ve got one match left and [qualification] remains in our hands, so we have to win [tomorrow].” The Dutch needed a victory in Barysaw to keep alive any hopes of a top-two finish, but despite a third goal in two games from Brighton and Hove Albion midfielder Davy Propper, Belarus equalised through Maksim Volodjko.
Captain Arjen Robben came to his side’s rescue by netting a penalty with only six minutes remaining, before Memphis Depay added some gloss in injury-time.
The Netherlands is looking to avoid failing to qualify for successive major tournaments for the first time since 1986, having also missed out on Euro 2016.
But it now faces a near impossible task, as Sweden thrashed Luxembourg 8-0 earlier on Oct. 7, with forward Marcus Berg scoring four goals, to extend their advantage over Dick Advocaat’s men on goal difference to 12.
Trailing the Scandinavians by three points, only a massive victory over Sweden in Amsterdam next week will save the three-time World Cup runners-up.
Portugal struggled for long periods in Andorra, needing the rested Cristiano Ronaldo to come on as a half-time substitute and help them stumble to a 2-0 win and set up a winner-takes-all showdown with Switzerland in Lisbon tomorrow.
The European champion had to wait until the 63rd minute for Ronaldo to break the deadlock on the artificial pitch, before Andre Silva finally put their nerves to bed.
Turkey misses out again
Turkey’s dreams of participating in 2018 World Cup, meanwhile, were crushed after they suffered a 3-0 defeat against Iceland in the northwestern city of Eskişehir on Oct. 6.
Iceland had a 2-0 lead at halftime, thanks to goals from Johann Gudmundsson and Birkir Bjarnason.
Iceland scored another goal in the 49th minute from a corner kick to secure a 3-0 lead. Kari Arnason was the scorer.
Turkey will now miss its fourth World Cup in a row.
Mirca Luscesu’s team will play against a hopeless Finland today. Ukraine revived its World Cup hopes and set up a pivotal tie with Croatia in the Group I when it defied rain-soaked conditions to win 2-0 away to bottom side Kosovo the same day. With leader Iceland (19 points) hosting Kosovo on Oct. 9 and set to top the group, Ukraine’s meeting with Croatia in Kiev is likely to decide who earns second place and a possible spot in the European playoff round