Lukaku sends Belgium to World Cup with 2-1 win in Greece
Belgium became the first European team to qualify for next year’s World Cup when a Romelu Lukaku header gave them a 2-1 win away to Greece on Sunday with the goals coming in a five-minute second-half spell.
Belgium became the sixth team to make sure of their place at the 2018 tournament alongside Brazil, Japan, Iran and Mexico, plus Russia who qualified automatically as hosts.
The win left Belgium with 22 points from eight games at the top of Group H, eight clear of Bosnia who won 4-0 away to Gibraltar. They each have two games to play.
The winners of the nine European groups qualify directly and the best eight runners-up play off for four more places.
Belgium were missing defender Vincent Kompany after he took a knock in the 9-0 win over Gibraltar on Thursday while Eden Hazard started on the bench.
Greece managed to stifle Belgium with a five-man defence in the first half and twice came close to scoring on the break.
Anastasios Donis surged forward from midfield and tested Thibaut Courtois, then Konstantinos Stafylidis produced a thumping drive which was heading for the top corner until the goalkeeper tipped it away.
Propper double boosts Dutch World Cup qualifying hopes
Netherlands’ Davy Propper scored twice and Arjen Robben also got on the scoresheet in a 3-1 home win over Bulgaria on Sunday to boost their country’s hopes of qualifying for the World Cup.
The Dutch are up to third in Group A on 13 points, a point above Bulgaria but still three behind Sweden, who won 4-0 in Belarus, and four off section leaders France after they were surprisingly held 0-0 at home by Luxembourg. Propper, a surprise inclusion in place of playmaker Wesley Sneijder, scored his first international goal after seven minutes in a bright start for the hosts, who had not won in their previous seven matches at the Amsterdam Arena.
Brighton & Hove Albion signing Propper secured a halftime lead when he tucked home a cross from Daley Blind who provided a similar square ball for Robben to net the second goal after 67.
Bulgaria pulled one back within two minutes with Georgi Kostadinov claiming the final touch after a curling free kick by captain Ivelin Popov went straight through the defence. The Dutch restored a two-goal advantage in the 80th minute when Propper headed home Quincy Promes’ cross.
The Netherlands, thrashed 4-0 by France on Thursday, face Belarus away and Sweden at home in their last two qualifiers next month and can still finish in the top two.
The winners of the nine European groups qualify directly for the 2-10 finals in Russia while the best eight of the second-placed teams take part in two-leg playoffs for four more places.
Portugal hang on to win bruising battle with 10-man Hungary
Portugal helped their chances of qualifying directly for next year’s World Cup when Andre Silva’s goal gave them a bruising 1-0 win away to Hungary, who played for an hour with 10 men on Sunday.
Silva headed in Cristiano Ronaldo’s pinpoint cross three minutes after halftime to give Portugal their seventh successive win in Group B, keeping them three points behind Switzerland who won 3-0 in Latvia to maintain their 100 percent record.
Hungary’s Tamas Priskin was shown a straight red card for elbowing Pepe, one of several nasty challenges in the match.
Portugal and Switzerland each have one game to play before a showdown in Lisbon on Oct. 10.
Sweden cruise to easy 4-0 win over Belarus
Sweden cruised to an easy 4-0 away win over Belarus in their World Cup qualifier in Group A on Sunday to narrow the gap at the top to one point behind leaders France.
Sweden, having suffered a shock 3-2 defeat by Bulgaria on Thursday, took an early lead when Emil Forsberg collected a long diagonal pass and rounded the keeper to score.
Six minutes later Belarus defender Mikhail Sivakov tried to dribble his way out of trouble but was robbed of the ball by Christoffer Nyman, who fired home to make it 2-0.
Sweden added a third before halftime, Forsberg turning provider after collecting another long ball and sliding it into the path of the onrushing Marcus Berg, who had the simple task of slotting the ball into an empty net.
Belarus started the second half brightly but could not find a way though the Swedish defence and captain Andreas Granqvist slammed home a second-half penalty for the Swedes to round off the scoring in the 84th minute.
The victory left the Swedes on 16 points behind France, who were held to a 0-0 draw by Luxembourg on Sunday. In June, Sweden defeated the French 2-1 in Stockholm with a stunning late goal from Ola Toivonen.
Netherlands beat Bulgaria 3-1 at home on Sunday to leapfrog their opponents into third place on 13 points, three behind the Swedes with two qualifying games left to play, and the two sides set to meet in their final qualifier on Oct. 10.
Swiss beat Latvia 3-0 for eighth straight qualifying win
Switzerland eased to their eighth straight win in World Cup qualifying, even affording themselves the luxury of a missed penalty, as they won 3-0 away to bottom side Latvia on Sunday.
Haris Seferovic broke the deadlock early on, Blerim Dzemaili missed a penalty but later scored before the Swiss were awarded another spot kick, this time converted by Ricardo Rodriguez.
The Swiss have a maximum 24 points in Group B, three ahead of Portugal although they still have to visit the European champions for a showdown in Lisbon in their final game.
Portugal, who beat 10-man Hungary 1-0 away, have a vastly superior goal difference.
Seferovic opened the scored with an untidy effort in the ninth minute as he turned Stephan Lichtsteiner’s cross towards goal and the ball bounced off the post and then goalkeeper Andris Vanins before trickling over the line.
Switzerland quickly won a penalty when Kaspars Gorkss brought down Admir Mehmedi but Dzemaili missed from the spot.
Dzemaili then squandered another good chance by side-footing wide from Mehmedi’s cross but finally scored when he collected Seferovic’s pass and rounded Vanins in the 55th minute.
Three minutes later, Mehmedi was felled by Aleksandrs Solovjovs and Rodriguez made no mistake with the penalty.
Dzemaili completed an eventful match by hitting the post.