Images from the football World Cup qualifying matches on Thursday.
Ronaldo grabs hat-trick as Portugal beat Faroes 5-1
Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo struck his fifth international hat-trick, including a spectacular volleyed opener, to lead the European champions to a 5-1 win over the Faroe Islands in their World Cup qualifier on Thursday.
The 32-year-old, Portugal’s record scorer, took his haul in the current qualifying campaign to 14 goals in seven games and his overall tally to 78 in 144 international appearances.
The win left the Portuguese in second place with 18 points from seven games in Group B. Leaders Switzerland are three points clear after beating Andorra 3-0 in a game interrupted by rain. Third-placed Hungary beat Latvia 3-1 to reach 10 points.
The group winners qualify for Russia while the eight best second-placed teams in the nine groups go into a playoff round, with the Swiss having guaranteed at least runners-up spot.
Ronaldo needed three minutes to open his account when he met Bernardo Silva’s cross with an acrobatic volley at the far post.
"I’ve been looking to score a goal like that for a while,” he said. “That sort of goal was missing from my career and now I’ve done it. It was a nice move."
Ronaldo doubled the lead in the 29th, sending Gunnar Nielsen the wrong way with a penalty after Joao Mario was tripped by Roaldur Jakobsen, and nearly completed a hat-trick when his low shot was turned away by the Faroes’ goalkeeper.
Portugal then eased up and the Faroes, who had already forced an early save from Rui Patricio, pulled one back with the simplest of goals as a long throw-in was headed on at the near post and volleyed home by Rogvi Baldvinsson.
That angered Portugal coach Fernando Santos. “We lost concentration and they scored from a move that we had studied,” he said. “I don’t like us to concede goals that way, in a loss of concentration.”
Midfielder William Carvalho gave Portugal some breathing space by heading in from Ronaldo’s cross in the 58th minute.
Carvalho returned the compliment seven minutes later when he slipped the ball to Ronaldo who dummied and fired a left foot shot past Nielsen.
Portugal substitute Nelson Oliveira completed the scoring with an easy goal in the 85th minute after the Faroes defence failed to clear a Ronaldo cross.
Ronaldo’s other hat-tricks were against Northern Ireland, Armenia, Sweden and Andorra.
Belgium thump Gibraltar 9-0
Belgium stayed firmly on course to reach the 2018 World Cup after midfielder Thomas Meunier scored three goals and delivered as many assists in their 9-0 Group H qualifying demolition of Gibraltar on Thursday.
Romelu Lukaku also scored a hat-trick as the Belgians remained in the group’s driving seat with 19 points from seven games, six more than second-placed Greece who were held to a 0-0 home draw by Estonia.
Belgium’s victory matched their biggest competitive margin -- a 10-1 mauling of San Marino in a 2002 World Cup qualifier.
And they might have made history but for a moment of madness from their midfielder Axel Witsel, who was sent off for a wild lunge on San Marino’s Jamie Bosio near the centre circle after scoring the game’s most spectacular goal.
Witsel netted the home side’s fourth in the 27th minute with an acrobatic overhead kick after a pinpoint cross by the outstanding Meunier, but 14 minutes later he received his marching orders from Irish referee Neil Doyle.
Visiting goalkeeper Deren Ibrahim made several good saves eary on as Belgium predictably besieged Gibraltar’s goal, but the floodgates opened after he spilled a tame Dries Mertens cross through his legs and the ball trickled over the line.
The hosts were 6-0 up at halftime, with Lukaku bagging two goals and Eden Hazard, who made his first competitive start of the season after shaking off an ankle injury, also scoring.
Although outnumbered on the pitch, Belgium rarely let the visitors out of their own half and missed a string of chances either side of Meunier’s double, which made the score 8-0.
A record-breaking win seemed to be on the cards after Lukaku scored an 84th-minute penalty, with Gibraltar defender Erin Barnett sent off for a professional foul, but the home side missed another pair of sitters in the closing stages.
Brazil down Ecuador 2-0
Second half goals from Paulinho and substitute Philippe Coutinho saved Brazil’s blushes after a poor first half and gave them a deserved 2-0 win over Ecuador in Thursday’s World Cup qualifier in Porto Alegre.
With 23 minutes gone in the second period, Paulinho found himself unmarked at a corner and he had enough time to bring the ball down and hammer it into the roof of the net from eight metres out.
Coutinho, who had replaced Renato Augusto a few moments earlier, grabbed a fine second after 75 minutes when he darted forward and exchanged passes with Gabriel Jesus before firing home from close range.
The result means that Brazil, who became the first South American side to qualify for Russia earlier this year, sit atop the group with 36 points after 15 games, 11 points clear of second-placed Colombia.
“It was another important result, the run we’re on is very good,” winger Willian said after the game. “The first half was difficult, we couldn’t find space but in the second half we got the ball moving faster and found the way to goal.”
The win was coach Tite’s ninth consecutive victory in competitive matches since he took over as coach in June last year. His revamped side have scored 26 goals and conceded only two in the process.
Opponents Ecuador, meanwhile, have stumbled badly after winning all four of their opening qualifiers. The Andean side have picked up maximum points in only two of the 11 since, and tonight’s result means they fall to seventh place in the South American qualifying table.
The top four teams qualify automatically for Russia 2018 and the fifth-placed side goes into a play-off against a rival from the Oceania confederation.
Brazil have never lost a World Cup qualifier at home and they never looked in danger against their limited rivals.
Neymar produced some flashes of individual brilliance but was not as influential as in the past, and it was the introduction of Coutinho 13 minutes into the second half that turned the game in favour of the home side.
France thrash 10-man Dutch
Thomas Lemar got his first two goals for France while Kylian Mbappe also scored in a 4-0 demolition of 10-man Netherlands in a World Cup qualifier on Thursday that left the Dutch with a huge task to reach the 2018 finals in Russia.
New Paris St Germain signing Kylian Mbappe, who joined the capital club earlier on Thursday, wrapped up the victory in added time after the teenager came on as a late substitute.
Antoine Griezmann had put the home side in front after 14 minutes, beating goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen with a left-foot shot from inside the area after a quick one-two with fellow striker Olivier Giroud.
Midfielder Lemar, arguably the best player on the pitch, doubled the advantage by firing a superb half-volley into the top corner of the net from 20 metres after 73 minutes before adding a third from close range in the 88th.
The Dutch, who hardly created a chance, played the last 30 minutes with 10 men after midfielder Kevin Strootman was sent off for two yellow cards in quick succession.
France now top Group A on 16 points from seven matches, three points ahead of Sweden, who lost 3-2 in Bulgaria. The Dutch are six points off the top in fourth place, two points behind third-placed Bulgaria.
The winners of the nine groups qualify directly for Russia while the best eight of the second-placed teams take part in two-leg playoffs for four more places.
France, who had looked sluggish until Griezmann showed them the way, then stepped up a gear and thrilled their fans, notably with fine midfield moves by Lemar and blistering runs from winger Kingsley Coman.
The visitors, who have now lost their last four games against France, looked clumsy at the back, short of ideas in midfield and toothless up front.
They threatened only once, when a header from close range by veteran winger Arjen Robben was headed out by France defender Samuel Umtiti 20 minutes from time.
The 18-year-old Mbappe, whose move to PSG from Monaco on loan with an option for a permanent deal was concluded shortly before kickoff, made the most of his few minutes on the pitch, concluding one his trademark, zippy runs with his first goal for France on his fifth appearance.
Uruguay battle Argentina to predictable stalemate
Uruguay and Argentina drew 0-0 in an uninspiring but hotly contested World Cup qualifier in Montevideo on Thursday, a result that leaves both sides still needing points to guarantee a place at Russia 2018.
The home side had the better of the first half and Argentina were on top during the second period but neither team posed much of a goal threat in a typically tense encounter.
Uruguay’s Diego Rodin had a goal chalked off for offside in the first half and Luis Suarez saw his 45-yard attempt to lob keeper Sergio Romero sail narrowly over.
At the other end, Lucas Biglia had a 30-yard strike deflected just wide and Lionel Messi saw a shot turned around the post after a brilliant, jinking run and one-two with Paulo Dybala.
Suarez, who recovered from a right knee injury just in time to play, limped off with eight minutes left but said on Twitter that he had just suffered a cramp.
“An important point to keep us going and dreaming of the World Cup,” he wrote on Twitter.
Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli made his disappointment clear with the result.
“We played against a side that was always trying to shut us down ... It’s a bitter taste not winning,” he told reporters, adding that his side must be “more aggressive” in the final third of the field when they play last-placed Venezuela next week.
The draw means Argentina lie in fifth place in the South American qualifying table with 23 points, behind Chile on goal difference.