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Euro qualifiers PICS: England, France win big; Portugal held

Last updated on: March 23, 2019 16:10 IST

Raheem Sterling scores hat-trick in a 5-0 thrashing of a sorry Czech Republic

Raheem Sterling

IMAGE: Raheem Sterling scores England's third goal against the Czech Republic in Friday's Euro 2020 Qualifier - Group A - at Wembley stadium, London. Photograph: Carl Recine/Reuters

England made a hugely impressive start to their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign as Raheem Sterling scored a hat-trick in a 5-0 thrashing of a sorry Czech Republic side on Friday.

A mood of optimism swept around a large Wembley crowd before the Group A game kicked off and England's hungry young lions responded with a display full of pace and panache.

 

In Friday's other Group A match, Bulgaria drew 1-1 at home with Montenegro.

Sterling opened the scoring from Jadon Sancho's cross in the 23rd minute and Harry Kane's penalty put England in complete control on the stroke of half-time.

There was a brief flurry from the Czechs at the start of the second half but normal service was soon resumed as Sterling curled home his second of the night just past the hour.

The Manchester City forward was unstoppable and he completed his first hat-trick for England seven minutes later with a deflected drive past Czech keeper Jiri Pavlenka.

Sterling was substituted to huge applause soon after as manager Gareth Southgate gave Chelsea teenager Callum Hudson-Odoi his first senior cap -- at 18 years 135 days the youngest player to make his England debut in a competitive match.

West Ham United midfielder Declan Rice also came off the bench to win his first England cap, weeks after switching allegiance from Ireland with whom he earned three senior caps.

The Czechs' misery was complete when Tomas Kalas bundled in an own goal in the 84th minute.

"It was a brilliant team performance, we pressed, we made it difficult for them, got the goals and were clinical," captain Kane said.

"We're playing good football, everyone is expressing themselves, we have young, hungry players and it showed tonight."

Apart from an early hip injury to Eric Dier, who will miss Monday's trip to Montenegro, it was a blemish-free night for Southgate and his zestful squad who this June will aim for silverware in the climax to the inaugural Nations League.

A starting lineup with an average age of 24 were simply too good for the lumbering Czechs, for whom the likes of world class players such as Pavel Nedved and Tomas Rosicky must now seem a distant memory.

The memories of the days when England often laboured against mediocre opposition are also fading fast with Southgate spoiled for choice with technically-gifted young talents.

They ended the match with two players (Sancho and Hudson-Odoi) aged 18 or under on the field -- the first time that has happened for 138 years.

Portugal draw blank against Ukraine on Ronaldo's return

Cristiano Ronaldo

IMAGE: Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo reacts after being brought down in Friday's Euro 2020 Qualifier - Group B - against Ukraine at the Estadio da Luz, in Lisbon. Photograph: Rafael Marchante/Reuters

European champions Portugal were held to a 0-0 draw by Ukraine in their opening Euro 2020 qualifier on Friday as Cristiano Ronaldo returned for the first time since the World Cup.

Ukraine's veteran goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov kept Portugal at bay with several fine saves in the first hour before the hosts ran out of ideas in the Group B game.

"The team had some good moments and some difficult moments, we failed to take three or four chances in the first half," said Portugal coach Fernando Santos, whose side have a tough match at home to Serbia on Monday.

"Now we have to unwind and think about Serbia. It's a bit of a blow to our morale but the players will get over it."

Portugal had an early goal chalked off when William Carvalho's header was ruled offside and defender Pepe then produced an impressive volley which the 34-year-old Pyatov did well to turn over.

Ronaldo, left out of the Nations Cup matches in the autumn by mutual consent with Santos, then sprang into action as he twice got free on the left.

First he cut inside his marker and produced a snapshot which Pyatov saved with his legs and shortly afterwards he opted to go outside Serhiy Kryvtsov and fired in a low, left-foot shot which the goalkeeper again stopped.

The Ukraine captain saved his best for the 56th minute when he brilliantly turned away Andre Silva's goal-bound shot with a one-handed save.

With Bernardo Silva repeatedly dribbling into dead-ends, Portugal began to lose composure as both Joao Cancelo and Ronaldo sent wayward crosses straight into touch.

Portugal then had a let off when goalkeeper Rui Patricio blocked Yevhen Konoplyanka's shot -- Ukraine's only effort on target in the match -- and Ukraine debutant Junior Moraes saw his shot from the rebound blocked.

A late chance went begging for Portugal when substitute Rafa Silva missed his kick after a low Ronaldo cross found him in the area.

Luxemburg rally to beat Lithuania

In the other Group B game, Luxemburg came from behind to claim a surprise 2-1 win over Lithuania.

Fiodor Cernych got behind the Luxemburg defence to open the scoring from a narrow angle in the 14th minute and Lithuania looked comfortable until Leandro Barreiro latched on to Vincent Thill's pass to level on the stroke of halftime.

Ten minutes after the break, Gerson Rodrigues netted with a curling, long-range shot to allow Luxemburg to spend at least a few days on top of the group.

France start campaign with easy win over Moldova

Antoinne Griezmann

IMAGE: Antoine Griezmann scores France's opening goal against Moldova in Friday's Euro 2020 Qualifier - Group H - at the Zimbru Stadium, in Chisinau, Moldova. Photograph: Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters

World champions France launched their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign with a no-nonsense 4-1 away win thanks to four different scorers against Moldova in Group H on Friday.

Antoine Griezmann, Raphael Varane and Olivier Giroud scored in the opening half and Kylian Mbappe struck late to put France top of the group ahead of Monday's home game against Iceland.

The Moldova fans erupted one minute from time when second-half substitute Vladimir Ambros got a consolation goal.

"The goal conceded does not take anything from our good game. It was a potentially tricky match but we di what we had to," said France coach Didier Deschamps.

In the other Group H matches, Iceland won 2-0 in Andorra thanks to Birkir Bjarnason and Vidar Kjartansson while Turkey beat Albania 2-0 through Burak Yilmaz and Hakan Calhanoglu.

Kingsley Coman was meant to win his first France cap since November 2017 but he picked up a back injury in the warm-up and was replaced by Blaise Matuidi, who started on the left wing.

France got off to a slow start, but Paul Pogba flicked the ball over the Moldova defence and Griezmann volleyed the ball under the bar from point-blank range after 24 minutes.

Varane headed home from Griezmann's corner kick three minutes later as the home side started to become totally overwhelmed in their first meeting with France.

Giroud netted his 34th goal for Les Bleus with an angled volley from Blaise Matuidi's cross nine minutes from halftime, joining David Trezeguet in third place on the list of France's all-time top scorers.

Mbappe, who was having a frustrating night, netted from close range in the 87th to round off the victory.

France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris did not have a save to make until he was beaten by Ambros, who fired home with one minute left after some confusion in the French defence.

Controversial penalty earns Bulgaria draw against Montenegro

Bulgaria midfielder Todor Nedelev scored a dubious late penalty to help them earn a 1-1 home draw in their opening Euro 2020 Group A qualifier against Montenegro on Friday.

The penalty was awarded in the 82nd minute for a foul by Montenegro substitute Vladimir Jovovic on Stanislav Kostov but television replays showed the incident happened outside the penalty area.

Stefan Mugosa opened the scoring when he curled in a brilliant left-foot shot five minutes after the break that gave Bulgaria keeper Nikolay Mihaylov no chance having beaten Vasil Bozhikov and Petar Zanev by putting the ball through their legs.

Bulgaria were unable to get into their stride for most of the second half but 17-year-old debutant Martin Minchev almost secured a late win when he shot just wide.

Bulgaria visit Kosovo on Monday when Montenegro will host England. Gareth Southgate's side face CzechRepublic later on Friday.

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