» Sports » PHOTOS: Substitute Ronaldo rescues Portugal; Matuidi puts France in control

PHOTOS: Substitute Ronaldo rescues Portugal; Matuidi puts France in control

October 08, 2017 12:50 IST
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Images from the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying matches played on Saturday:

Substitute Ronaldo rescues Portugal

Cristiano Ronaldo

IMAGE: Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates with his Portugal team mates after scoring a goal. Photograph: Vincent West/Reuters

Cristiano Ronaldo came off the bench and scored an opportunist goal which set Portugal on the way to a 2-0 win in Andorra on Saturday that maintained their chances of qualifying directly for the World Cup.

Ronaldo's 63rd-minute goal, his 15th of the campaign, rescued Portugal as they struggled to break down Andorra and, followed by a second from Andre Silva, set up a mouth-watering showdown with Group B leaders Switzerland in Lisbon on Tuesday.


That match will decide who wins the group and goes straight to Russia and who has to go into the playoffs.

Switzerland, 5-2 winners over Hungary, lead with a maximum 27 points from nine games and need only a draw while Portugal, on 24 but with a goal difference which is better by eight, will top the group if they win.

The winners of the nine European groups qualify directly for the World Cup and the best eight of the runners-up go into a playoff round for four more places. Whoever finishes second in Group B is assured of a playoff place.

The European champions were desperately short of inspiration as they struggled for more than an hour to break physical, ultra-defensive opponents on an artificial pitch that appeared to have taken a battering and was not in a fit state for a World Cup qualifier.

Cristiano Ronaldo

IMAGE: Cristiano Ronaldo scores the first goal for Portugal. Photograph: Vincent West/Reuters

Coach Fernando Santos decided to leave Ronaldo on the bench for the start as Portugal's record scorer was carrying a yellow card and another would have ruled him out of the Switzerland game.

Ricardo Quaresma wasted Portugal's first real chance when he got a free header at the far post but sent the ball into the side-netting.

The flamboyant winger brought a flying save from Andorra goalkeeper Josep Gomes who also parried a powerful Pepe drive while Silva volleyed over from close range, but it was a laboured display from Portugal.

Ronaldo gave coach Santos a knowing look as the two left the pitch at halftime and started the second half.

He did not make an immediate impact, but when Joao Mario's cross was deflected into his path Portugal's record scorer reacted in a flash, bringing the ball down and driving his shot past Gomes.

Ronaldo's goal was his 79th in 144 appearances and only his second scored as a substitute. Silva added the second with four minutes left, slipping the ball in from close range after Danilo headed down Ronaldo’s cross.

Ruthless Belgium beat Bosnia 4-3 in rollercoaster

IMAGE: Belgium's players celebrate after Jan Vertonghen scored the third goal. Photograph: Dado Ruvic/Reuters

Belgium kept their unbeaten World Cup qualifying record intact after they took the lead and then came from behind in a 4-3 win at Bosnia on Saturday which dented the Balkan nation's hopes of reaching next year's finals.

The outcome also sent Italy through to the playoffs as one of the eight best runners-up.

The result left the Belgians, who had already qualified for the 32-team tournament in Russia as winners of Group H, with 25 points from nine games, 11 ahead of second-placed Bosnia who now have only a slim chance of clinching a play-off berth.

Third-placed Greece, who have 13 points from eight games, can move above the Bosnians into the runners-up spot when they visit Cyprus later on Saturday.

Wing-back Thomas Meunier fired Belgium ahead in the fourth minute with his fifth goal in six games, sweeping in a fine cut-back by Eden Hazard on a muddy pitch at Grbavica stadium.

The Bosnians piled on the pressure after falling behind and hit back through midfielder Haris Medunjanin and winger Edin Visca to turn the tables before halftime.

Medunjanin equalised on the half-hour with a close-range finish after he was set up Edin Dzeko and Visca rifled in a fierce shot from 14 metres nine minutes later after a calamitous error by Belgium defender Jan Verthongen.

Striker Michy Batshuayi equalised from three metres after Bosnia goalkeeper Asmir Begovic could only parry a sizzling low shot by Yannick Carrasco on the hour before Verthongen made amends for his mistake with a simple finish.

The centre back volled home at the far post after a corner was driven into his path by Carrasco, silencing the passionate home crowd on a rainy night.

Defender Dario Djumic rekindled Bosnia's hopes with a thumping 82nd-minute header, only for Carrasco to score less than a minute later, when he took advantage of sloppy defending to steer the ball past Begovic.

Bosnia must beat Estonia away in their final game on Tuesday and hope that other results go their way in order to keep alive any hopes of progressing.

Europe's nine group winners qualify automatically for the World Cup while the eight best runners-up enter a two-leg playoff for the remaining four berths.

Matuidi puts France in control

Blaise Matuidi

IMAGE: France's Blaise Matuidi celebrates scoring their first goal. Photograph: Stringer/Reuters

Blaise Matuidi's early goal was enough to take France to the brink of the World Cup finals as they secured a 1-0 away win against Bulgaria on Saturday.

Les Bleus top Group A with 20 points, one ahead of Sweden who crushed Luxembourg 8-0, and they will qualify directly for next year's World Cup in Russia if they beat Belarus at home in their final game on Tuesday.

Sweden next travel to the Netherlands.

France are assured of at least a playoff place, with the best eight second-placed teams going through to the two-legged playoffs.

Matuidi struck after three minutes with a fine angled shot and Bulgaria had their best chance denied by Hugo Lloris before halftime.

"It was a complicated game with a lot of fouls and aggression. We did not play a good second half as we did not get an opportunity," said France coach Didier Deschamps.

"The essential is there but we are able to do better. However, I was confident (that we would qualify for the World Cup) before the game, and I am even more confident now."

"We knew that Sweden were ahead of us before the start since they played earlier so we knew what we had to do. We did not always play well but we were solid," added France captain Lloris.

With Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann in support of Alexandre Lacazette up front but three defensive midfielders behind them, France lacked creativity throughout.

Les Bleus, however, got off to a dream start with Griezmann setting up Matuidi inside the box, allowing the Juventus midfielder to fire home from an acute angle. It was his ninth goal in 59 games for France.

N'Golo Kante limped off the pitch shortly after the half-hour with an apparent thigh injury and was replaced by Adrien Rabiot.

Bulgaria threatened in the 37th minute after some clever play on the right flank but Lloris parried away Georgi Kostadinov's point-blank-range header with a superb save.

Bulgaria pushed harder in the second half but France were always in control as they snatched their first away win against Bulgaria since 1932.

The victory was the 42nd for Deschamps since he took over the national team from Laurent Blanc in 2012 -- the most wins by any France coach.

Sweden hammer Luxembourg 8-0

IMAGE: Marcus Berg, centre, scores a goal for Sweden. Photograph: Soren Andersson/TT News Agency/Reuters

Striker Marcus Berg scored four goals and Andreas Granqvist netted two penalties as Sweden ran riot in front of a record crowd of 50,022 at the Friends Arena, hammering Luxembourg 8-0 to replace France as leaders of World Cup qualifying Group A.

The Swedes now have 19 points and will secure second place if Bulgaria fail to beat the French and Netherlands don't get a victory over Belarus later on Saturday. France can reclaim top spot if they beat the Bulgarians.

Striker Ola Toivonen was hacked down making a clever spin move in the box, and Sweden captain Granqvist slammed home the resulting spot-kick to give the Swedes the lead in the 10th minute.

Berg made it 2-0 eight minutes later, sweeping the ball home after Mikael Lustig, Emil Forsberg and Toivonen all combined to set him up.

He made it three before half-time, collecting Toivonen's sublime pass, chipping the ball over goalkeeper Jonathan Joubert and nodding it into an empty net, and he completed his hat-trick nine minutes into the second half with a curling shot.

Lustig headed home a free kick on the hour mark with what proved to be his last touch of the game, running to celebrate with Emil Krafth who was waiting on the sideline to replace him, and Granqvist added a second penalty in the 67th minute.

Berg netted his fourth goal of the night with a looping header in the 71st minute, and Toivonen scored Sweden's eighth with a stunning side-footed volley six minutes later after a superb long ball by Krafth.

The Swedes now travel to Amsterdam to face Netherlands in their final group game, while France host Belarus and Luxembourg are at home to Bulgaria.

Costa Rica qualify for World Cup

Costa Rica qualified for the 2018 World Cup finals on Saturday after Kendall Waston's goal in the fifth minute of stoppage time in San Jose gave them a 1-1 draw against Honduras and the point they needed to seal their spot in Russia.

The last-gasp draw means that Costa Rica, who reached the quarter-finals in 2014, join Mexico as the second representative from the North, Central American and Caribbean region (CONCACAF).

The top three teams qualify automatically for Russia with the fourth-placed side going into a playoff with a team from the Asian confederation.

A lethargic Costa Rica looked as if they were playing for a draw from the outset of a match held over from Friday due to torrential rain in the capital city.

Honduras, however, took the lead after 66 minutes when Eddie Hernandez powered home a header from nine yards out.

The home side were on the verge of missing out on the point they needed but grabbed the equaliser in the dying seconds when Waston headed home a cross from Bryan Ruiz.

In the remaining fixtures of the round, Honduras host Mexico on Tuesday, while Costa Rica go to Panama and the United States travel to bottom side Trinidad and Tobago.

The United States have 12 points and are favourites to take the third automatic spot but Panama and Honduras, both on 10, are still in with a chance.

Nigeria first African country to qualify for Russia

Alex Iwobi’s second-half winner ensured Nigeria became the first African nation to qualify for the 2018 World Cup when their 1-0 home victory over Zambia on Saturday moved them into an unassailable lead in their group.

Egypt can become the second country to book their trip to Russia next year if they beat Congo at home on Sunday and Tunisia stand on the brink of a place as they maintained their three-point lead at the top of their group with one match left to play.

The other two groups remain in the balance and will be settled on the last match day in November. The African qualifiers come from the five group winners.

Iwobi netted with a neat finish inside the box in the 73rd minute of an open contest in Uyo after both Wilfred Ndidi and Moses Simon had squandered earlier chances.

Zambia were the only country still capable of catching Nigeria in Group B but needed an unlikely away win against the Super Eagles, who have now qualified for six of the last seven World Cup finals, missing out only in 2006.

Nigeria advanced to 13 points with Zambia on seven, one ahead of third-placed Cameroon, who beat Algeria 2-0 in Yaounde earlier on Saturday.

Egypt will return to the finals for the first time since 1990 if they beat the bottom-placed Congolese in Alexandria after their closest rivals in Group E, Uganda, were held at home to a goalless draw by Ghana in Kampala on Saturday.

Victory would see the Egyptians move into an unassailable four-point lead and render their last match away in Ghana of academic interest only.

Youssef Msakni’s hat-trick saw Tunisia come from a goal down to beat Guinea 4-1 away in Conakry and stay three points ahead of the Democratic Republic of Congo in Group A.

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