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Rediff.com  » Sports » 2018 WC qualifiers: Swiss stun Portugal; Otamendi equaliser saves Argentina

2018 WC qualifiers: Swiss stun Portugal; Otamendi equaliser saves Argentina

Last updated on: September 07, 2016 11:55 IST

Breel Embolo

IMAGE: Switzerland's Breel Embolo fights for the ball Portugal's William Carvalho and Bernardo Silva. Photograph: Ruben Sprich /Reuters.

Switzerland struck twice in quick succession to stun Euro 2016 champions Portugal 2-0 in a World Cup qualifier on Tuesday and hand them a first competitive defeat in two years under coach Fernando Santos.

Ninteeen-year-old Breel Embolo headed Switzerland ahead in the 23rd minute and Admir Mehmedi doubled the lead six minutes later as Portugal's defence, almost impregnable in France in June, dramatically unravelled.

Portugal, missing talismanic forward and record scorer Cristiano Ronaldo, regained their composure and dominated the rest of the game but were hopelessly ineffective in attack.

Nani was the biggest culprit when he headed Ricardo Quaresma's cross against the post from close range in the 82nd minute.

The Portuguese had 27 attempts on goal to Switzerland's eight but only four were on target. They had 12 efforts blocked and 11 went wide while they also won 11 corners to one for the hosts.

Santos was appointed coach in September 2014 and had not lost in 14 competitive games, seven in Euro 2016 qualifiers and seven in the tournament itself.

Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka was sent off for a second bookable offence in stoppage time as tempers flared.

"In the first 20 minutes, the Swiss were completely over-run but they scored a goal and from then on, used the tactics that Portugal often use and defended well," Santos told reporters.

"Our opponents were more pragmatic and more efficient."

"I am sure we will start winning and winning and winning... and I'm convinced we will be at the World Cup."

In addition to Ronaldo, still recovering from the injury he suffered in the Euro 2106 final, Portugal were missing key midfielder Renato Sanches while the Swiss were without their top forward, Xherdan Shaqiri.

The visitors looked comfortable until Switzerland won a free kick in the 23rd minute.

Ricardo Rodriguez produced a fierce effort which goalkeeper Rui Patricio could only parry and Cameroon-born Embolo nipped in to score from the rebound.

Portugal were still recovering from that shock when Haris Seferovic got free on the right six minutes later and cut the ball back into the middle of the area where Mehmedi, unmarked, placed his shot into the far corner.

Portugal brought on Joao Mario and Andre Silva at halftime and continued to press forward but a series of shots went either over the bar and were fired at Swiss defenders.

Bernardo Silva had a scuffed shot easily saved by Yann Sommer and Raphael Guerreiro sent another over.

Portugal continued to dominate until the end when Quaresma had a shot deflected over the crossbar and Joao Mario fired into the side netting.

Otamendi equaliser saves Argentina from Venezuela defeat

Nicolas Otamendi

IMAGE: Argentina's Nicolas Otamendi, second left, scores a goal.. Photograph: Marco Bello/Reuters.

Defender Nicolas Otamendi sneaked a late equaliser as Argentina, without injured captain Lionel Messi, came back from two goals down for a 2-2 draw away to Venezuela.

The Venezuelans were deserving of their second point in eight qualifiers after goals by young forward Juanpi Anor and striker Josef Martinez had their opponents on the ropes.

But striker Lucas Pratto pulled one back with his maiden goal in his second match for Argentina, putting the visitors' tails up after a sluggish first hour in the wet in Merida.

Uruguay had no such problems with equally damp conditions at home in Montevideo where they crushed Paraguay 4-0 with a Luis Suarez masterclass and an Edinson Cavani brace.

Suarez laid on both goals for Cavani and also converted a penalty on the stroke of halftime after midfielder Cristian Rodriguez had scored Uruguay's second.

Cavani went top of the group's scorers with five goals in eight matches.

Uruguay snatched the lead in the South American group back from Argentina, who went top on Thursday after beating them 1-0 at home thanks to a Messi goal.

Uruguay have 16 points to Argentina's 15 after eight rounds in the 10-nation South American group with two others to be completed later on Tuesday.

South American champions Chile were held 0-0 at home by improving Bolivia and remain in the bottom four while Venezuela prop up the table with two points.

The top four go through to Russia while the fifth-placed team qualify for an intercontinental playoff.

Argentina were stunned when 22-year-old Juanpi skipped between two defenders on the right of the box and curled a superb left-foot shot into the top far corner in the 34th minute.

The best Argentina could muster in the first half was a shot from outside the box that skimmed the post by Ever Banega, who was wearing Messi’s number 10 shirt.

Martinez doubled Venezuela’s lead seven minutes after the break when he scored from a low cross by the ever busy and dangerous Salomon Rondon, who skipped past Otamendi.

Pratto struck six minutes later and Argentina piled on the pressure in the final stages with Venezuela’s goalkeeper Daniel Hernandez forced into a fine save to deny Angel Di Maria and keep his side ahead.

However, Otamendi made amends in the 83rd minute for his poor performance at the back by steering in a corner from the right at the near post to save Argentina's blushes.

Neymar goal gives Brazil 2-1 win over Colombia

Neymar

IMAGE: Neymar player of Brazil battles for the ball with a player of Colombia during 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia qualification match at Arena da Amazonia, in Manaus, Brazil. Photograph: Bruno Zanardo/Getty Images.

Neymar's second-half goal gave Brazil a 2-1 victory over Colombia as the five-times world champions registered their second consecutive win to take the second place in the South American qualifying group for Russia 2018.

The home side got the perfect start when Miranda rose after just 80 seconds to head home a corner and score his first goal in 33 appearances for the national side.

Brazil, playing just their second game under new coach Tite, dominated the first half with a high-pace pressing game but struggled to make clear cut chances and paid the price in 35 minutes when Colombia equalised against the run of play.

James Rodriguez floated in a free kick from 35 yards out and Brazilian defender Marquinhos headed the ball into his own net.

Neymar took a pass just inside the box with 73 minutes gone and his angled drive was well placed into the far corner to beat Colombian goalkeeper David Ospina.

It was his 48th goal in 72 international games and takes the Barcelona striker equal to Zico on Brazil's all-time goal-scoring list.

The result in the humid heat of Manaus marked the first time that Brazil have won two consecutive games in what has until now been a stuttering qualifying campaign.

"We've been very consistent the last two games," said goalkeeper Allison. "We've become tougher and we deserve congratulations for taking the lead again after the pegged us back. We reacted well."The result lifts Brazil to 15 points, ahead of Argentina, who came from behind to draw 2-2 against bottom-placed team Venezuela, on goal difference.

Colombia sit two points behind them in fourth place in the 10-team South American group.

Uruguay, who beat Paraguay 4-0 earlier in the evening, top the table with 16 points.Ecuador remain in fifth after going down 2-1 to Peru in Lima.

A penalty from Christian Cueva for the home side after 20 minutes was cancelled out by Gabriel Achilier 10 minutes later but Renato Tapia got his first international goal 12 minutes from time to give Peru only their second win in eight games.Chile could only draw 0-0 with Bolivia and sit in seventh place in the 10-team table.

The top four qualify automatically for Russia 2018 and the fifth place side goes into an intercontinental play off with a team from Oceania.

Cahill strikes again to put Australia in driving seat for Russia

Tim Cahill

IMAGE: Tim Cahill of Australia celebrates after scoring his teams first goal during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifier match aainst UAE at Mohamed Bin Zayed Stadium, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Photograph: Francois Nel/Getty Images.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. With 15 minutes left on the clock in the stifling Abu Dhabi heat, Tim Cahill shoved his marker aside, got himself on the end of a sublime Brad Smith cross and scored Australia's winner with his first touch.

The only surprise, perhaps, was that the substitute striker did not find the back of the net with a trademark header, choosing instead to guide the ball across the line with his right foot for his 48th goal in his 92nd international.

Cahill has scored more spectacular goals for Australia - his stunning volley against the Netherlands at the 2014 World Cup comes to mind - but few have been more important.

The United Arab Emirates were riding high after beating Japan in their opening match of the decisive third stage of Asian qualifying and would have fancied their chances of a second win in the 30 degrees Celsius temperatures on Tuesday.

Instead, it is Australia who return atop Group B with Saudi Arabia after two rounds as they chase one of the two tickets to Russia in 2018.

"It was an important goal, the UAE played really well, we have a lot of respect for this team," Cahill said in a sideline interview, his shirt drenched with sweat.

"But our team tired them out, we kept pressing, we kept pushing, we were patient and (it was a) disciplined performance.

"In the end, I got the reward but it's about the team. I'm so glad happy we got the points, it means so much to our country."

The 1-0 victory, which came on the back of a 2-0 win over Iraq in Perth last week, was all the more impressive for the way the Asian champions kept up the pace of the game despite the conditions.

"We said were going to play our way and we did," coach Ange Postecoglou told Fox Sports.

"They just couldn't keep up and we got the goal we deserved and probably could have got a couple more. The boys were fantastic.

"I said before the game they'll sit back and that's what they did. And if they want to come at us, good luck to them but not many teams have. And there's more growth in this team to come."

The Socceroos next travel to Saudi Arabia on Oct. 6 before returning to Melbourne to take on Japan five days later in a match that could go a long way to deciding whether Australia reach a fourth straight World Cup.

With Cahill having scored five of Australia's 11 goals at World Cup finals, Postecoglou will not be alone in hoping the 36-year-old's legs hold out for another couple of years.

Altidore fires US to 4-0 rout of Trinidad & Tobago

Jozy Altidore

IMAGE: Jozy Altidore of the United States attempts a shot during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier against Trinidad & Tobago at EverBank Field, in Jacksonville, Florida. Photograph: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images.

Jozy Altidore scored a second half brace as the United States routed Trinidad & Tobago 4-0 at home to win Group C in World Cup qualifying.

With the Americans nursing a 1-0 lead in an initially tight contest, Altidore put the match away with a flurry, striking home in the 59th minute and adding a second just four minutes later in Jacksonville, Florida.

The 26-year-old striker reached 16 career goals in World Cup qualifying, moving two past Clint Dempsey to own the US record.

The US, who blasted St. Vincent and the Grenadines 6-0 on Friday, will bring confidence into the next round of qualifying which begins with a match against Mexico in November.

Guatemala also thrashed St. Vincent 9-3 onTuesday but finished third in Group C, a point behind Trinidad & Tobago.

Sacha Kljestan put the Americans on the scoreboard in the 44th minute while Paul Arriola added a late goal to cap the demolition. The U.S. enjoyed timely performance from veterans and youngplayers alike. Captain Michael Bradley returned from his suspension with a solid effort.

Kljestan was active all night, while 17-year-old playmaker Christian Pulisic, the US's youngest debutant at a World Cup qualifier, proved worthy of the big stage and repeatedly created offensive chances.

It was Altidore who took the spotlight to continue his roller coaster year.

In May, Altidore suffered his fourth hamstring injury in two years and was sidelined for two months.

Altidore, who missed most of the 2014 World Cup with a hamstring strain, has also endured a rocky relationship with coach Jurgen Klinsmann and was sent home from last summer’s Gold Cup over fitness concerns.

After his latest display, it is safe to say Altidore is back in Klinsmann’s good graces.

France held to frustrating stalemate in Belarus

France got their World Cup qualifying campaign off to a poor start as they were held to a goalless draw in Belarus in Group A.

France, runners-up at this year's European Championship, dominated the match but could find no way through with Olivier Giroud wasting their best opportunities.

Giroud pulled an effort wide when through on goal early in the second half and rattled the crossbar with a header.

In the group's other games, Sweden and the Netherlands drew 0-0 while Bulgaria came out on top 4-3 in a seven-goal thriller against Luxembourg.

Sneijder on target as Dutch draw in Swede

Wesley Sneijder rifled home a second-half equaliser to cancel out Marcus Berg's cool chip as the Netherlands claimed a point in their opening World Cup qualifier away to Sweden.

The Dutch, who came third at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil but failed to qualify for this year's European Championship, struggled for long periods against a resolute Sweden side coming to terms with the departure of record goalscorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Having last played at a World Cup finals in 2006, Sweden have recalled former Iceland manager Lars Lagerback as an advisor to new boss Janne Andersson, and the Scandinavians looked compact and organised, if occasionally a little shaky, in defence.

With Sneijder and Kevin Strootman pulling the strings in midfield for the Dutch, Sweden keeper Robin Olsen was called into action early, twice saving smartly from Davy Klaassen before putting in a man-of-the-match performance.

Sweden allowed the Dutch to control possession for much of the first half, seeking to hit them in transition when the opportunity presented itself, and they took the lead just before halftime.

The Swedes howled in vain for a free kick in a good position in the 43rd minute, but the danger was not over for the Dutch as Kevin Strootman then inexplicably gave the ball away to Berg on the edge of the box, and he chipped it over Jeroen Zoet to open the scoring.

The Dutch struggled in front of goal throughout but when Olsen could only parry Daryl Janmaat's shot from distance, Sneijder made no mistake, hammering home the rebound.

Netherlands substitute Bas Dost had the ball in the net again in the final minute but the goal was ruled out after the referee spotted him pushing Victor Nilsson Lindelof in the penalty area, and the game finished in a draw.

Elsewhere in Group A France could only manage a goalless draw away to Belarus, while Bulgaria got the better of Luxembourg 4-3 in a thriller.

Lukaku double gives Martinez first Belgium win

Romelu Lukaku scored two headers to set Belgium on their way to a 3-0 win in Cyprus on Tuesday and a first victory for new coach Roberto Martinez at the start of their qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup finals.

Yannick Carrasco added the third as Belgium underlined their status as group favourites despite a change of manager following a disappointing Euro 2016 campaign in which they reached the quarter-finals.

Lukaku, who played under the Martinez at Everton, put Belgium ahead after 13 minutes with a diving header after a shot from Thomas Meunier had been touched on to the crossbar by Cyprus goalkeeperConstantinos Panayi and bounced back into the path of the striker. The second goal came in the 61st minute as the promising keeper saved Carrasco’s effort but the ball ballooned up in the air and Lukaku easily converted with a simple header.

The third followed 20 minutes later when Panayi parried a stinging effort from Kevin de Bruyne, Eden Hazard picking up the rebound and unselfishly squaring for an easy tap-in for Carrasco. Hazard was brought down in the last minute to allow substitute Michy Batshuayi the chance to score from a penalty but Panayi saved his spot-kick.

Belgium, jeered off by their own supporters when they lost a friendly to Spain in Brussels last Thursday, next play Bosnia at home while Cyprus travel to Greece.

Syrians stifle Korea, Japan back on track

South Korea were held to a surprise 0-0 draw by Syria in 2018 World Cup qualifying on Tuesday, while Japan got their campaign back on track with a 2-0 win over Thailand and Australia beat United Arab Emirates 1-0 to top their group.

The Koreans, bidding for a ninth consecutive appearance at the World Cup finals, were lucky to hang on for a 3-2 win over China in their Group A opener last week and again failed to shine against Syria, ranked 57 places below them at No. 105.

With Son Heung-min returning to England to fight for his place at Tottenham Hotspur, Korea had little sharpness about them up front and had few clear cut chances in a match played in Malaysia as Syria's civil war means they have to play "home" games at neutral venues.

Ki Sung-yueng and Lee Chung-yong both went close for South Korea, who could easily have been down to 10 men when defender Oh Jae-suk 'clotheslined' Mahmoud Al Mawas as he broke clear on goal. Referee Chris Beath opted for leniency and showed a yellow card.

South Korea coach Uli Stielike was unhappy with the way Syria tried to slow the game down but said his side had to shoulder the blame for failing to break them down.

"It was tough to deal with the time-wasting," he said. "But in the end it was our fault for failing to score."

There was late drama as Uzbekistan edged Qatar 1-0 to top Group A with six points. Egor Krimets' powerful header from a Alexander Geynrikh corner in the 86th minute handed the visitors victory.

In the next round of group matches in October, Uzbekistan will face second-placed Iran, who drew 0-0 with China. South Korea, third on four points, will host Qatar, while China will play second-from bottom Syria.

In Group B, South Korea's neighbours Japan scored an important victory over Thailand to steady the ship after their shock 2-1 loss to UAE in Saitama last week. Genki Haraguchi (17th minute) and Takuma Asano (75th) got the goals.

"This game was very difficult psychologically," Kyodo news quoted Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic as saying. "After our first match we were under so much pressure and we had to get out from under that."

In the other Group B games, Saudi Arabia fought back from a goal down to beat Iraq 2-1 thanks to two late penalties from Nawaf Al Abid.

Australia's record goal scorer Tim Cahill came off the bench in the second half to hand his side all three points against UAE, after he tapped in a Brad Smith cross which deceived the hosts' defence.

The Socceroos, missing Mile Jedinak through injury, dominated the game which was low on clear-cut chances.

Australia top Group B on goal difference and will face second-placed Saudi Arabia in a mouth-watering clash in Jeddah on Oct. 6, when third-placed Japan host Iraq. Thailand, bottom of the group, will travel to Abu Dhabi to face UAE.

The top two in Groups A and B qualify for the World Cup in Russia while the third-placed teams meet to decide, who goes into a CONCACAF-Asian Zone playoff for a place at the finals.

Honduras hold Mexico to qualify for final stage

Honduras held Mexico to a 0-0 draw at the Azteca stadium to claim a place in the final stage of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying along with the hosts.

Canada beat El Salvador 3-1 in Vancouver but that was only enough for third place in Group One a point behind Honduras and their hopes of progressing were ended.

Mexico and Honduras will join the United States, Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica and Panama in the six-team 'Hexagonal' stage that starts in November.

The top three teams from the final phase of home and away matches will qualify automatically for Russia 2018, while the fourth-placed side will go into an playoff with an Asian team.

Mexico were the better team at the Azteca stadium but an obdurate Honduras fought them all the way and the home side were booed off the pitch despite having lost just one of 14 matches under Colombian coach Juan Carlos Osorio.

Canada needed a big win to keep their hopes alive but could only manage three goals at BC Place even after El Salvador's Darwin Ceren was sent off 35 minutes from time.

Cyle Larin, Nikolas Ledgerwood and David Edgar scored for the Canadians, with skipper Nelson Bonilla replying for the Salvadorans.

Costa Rica guaranteed top spot in Group Two with a 3-1 win over Panama, who were also already guaranteed a place in the next round.

Haiti got their first win of the round when they beat Jamaica 2-0 in Kingston to leapfrog their rivals into third place.

The United States topped Group Three earlier in the evening with a 4-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago, who nevertheless qualified in second spot.

Third place Guatemala thrashed St. Vincent and the Grenadines 9-3.

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