World Cup qualifying: Euro champ Portugal falls to Swiss; Belarus holds France
GENEVA (AP) — European champion Portugal failed to overcome the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo this time, and lost 2-0 to Switzerland in a World Cup qualifying match on Tuesday.
For Portugal's first competitive match since beating France in the Euro 2016 final, Ronaldo was left out of the squad while he recovers from the knee injury sustained in the opening minutes in Paris.
A Swiss team which mostly lacked spark in France fired into life with two goals midway through the first half at Basel. It also had midfielder Granit Xhaka sent off in stoppage time for a second yellow card.
Breel Embolo headed the opening goal in the 23rd minute, reacting fastest to goalkeeper Rui Patricio's parry of a Ricardo Rodriguez free kick.
A fine fast break in the 30th was finished by Admir Mehmedi with a curling shot into the top-right corner of the Portugal goal. Mehmedi had taken a return pass after finding forward Haris Seferovic running deep beyond the defense.
Portugal struck a post in the 82nd when Nani directed a header to bounce slowly back across goal and safely away.
Earlier, Portugal's defenders went close with shots that deflected just wide of goal, by left back Raphael Guerreiro in the 37th and with Jose Fonte's volley in the 75th.
Portugal's loss was its first in 15 competitive matches under coach Fernando Santos, almost two years after he took the job.
Defeat leaves Portugal in a familiar position, after also losing its opening Euro 2016 qualifying match. Two years ago, again without Ronaldo, Portugal lost 1-0 at home to Albania and coach Paulo Bento was fired.
Portugal also failed to win its past two World Cup qualifying groups and advanced to the final tournament each time through the playoffs.
BELARUS 0, FRANCE 0
PARIS (AP) — A little-known goalkeeper from an unheralded club had an inspired night as Belarus held European Championship finalist France to a 0-0 draw in their 2018 World Cup qualifier on Tuesday.
Six years ago, Belarus beat a crisis-hit France team 1-0 in Paris with a late goal in their opening match of qualifying for Euro 2012.
Back then, France was recovering from an embarrassing 2010 World Cup campaign, where it went out without winning a game and shocked the nation by staging a training-ground strike.
France entered this Group A game in great shape and buoyed by its run to the Euro 2016 final, where it lost to Portugal.
France dominated only to be thwarted by Andrei Gorbunov, a 33-year-old 'keeper from Greek club Atromitos making only the ninth international appearance of his career.
The delight on the Belarus bench was matched only by the euphoria of its fans when the final whistle blew, but there were glum faces from the French.
"Their goalkeeper made some good saves, we hit the woodwork and (they had) a bit of luck," France coach Didier Deschamps said. "We came here to win. We had chances in the second half but didn't do what we had to do. Obviously I'm disappointed."
Belarus had one notable chance in the 22nd minute. Veteran midfielder Timofey Kalachev beat Raphael Varane down the right and whipped in a dangerous cross that somehow eluded both forward Nikolai Signevich and midfielder Mikhail Gordejchuk.
After that, it was all France.
Striker Olivier Giroud, who scored his 21st international goal in a 3-1 win against Italy last week, missed a golden opportunity early in the second half created by Antoine Griezmann — the Euro 2016 top scorer with six goals.
Griezmann, who had two opponents next to him some 35 meters out, controlled the ball with one touch and then back-heeled it to send Giroud clean through, only for the Arsenal striker to drag his shot wide.
Gorbunov then sprang into life during a frantic spell that will make him the toast of Borisov.
He saved Griezmann's curling free-kick and, after Giroud then hit the crossbar with a header, palmed away left-back Layvin Kurzawa's glancing header from Dimitri Payet's free-kick.
He was only getting started.
He got his body in the way of Griezmann's neat flick from midfielder Moussa Sissoko's cross and leapt to his left to claw away Griezmann's header in the 73rd.
SWEDEN 1, NETHERLANDS 1
Two teams looking to rebuild canceled each other out.
While Sweden fared poorly at Euro 2016, the Netherlands did not even qualify.
Life after Zlatan Ibrahimovic began well for the Swedes when Marcus Berg struck just before halftime, but Wesley Sneijder equalized midway through the second half.
Ibrahimovic retired from internationals after Euro 2016—where Sweden failed to progress from the group stage—and his record-breaking Sweden career ended with a whopping 62 goals.
There appeared little danger when a Sweden move broke down in the 43rd. But Netherlands midfielder Kevin Strootman trod on the ball and Berg reacted quickly to take it off him and beat goalkeeper Jeroen Zoet with a delightful chip from just inside the penalty area.
It was only his 11th international goal, but one that Ibrahimovic would have been proud of.
Although the Dutch side is rebuilding with young players, the veteran Sneijder rescued matters with a shot into the bottom right corner.
BULGARIA 4, LUXEMBOURG 3
Luxembourg came very close to getting a draw in a thriller decided by midfielder Aleksandar Tonev's goal in the second minute of injury time.
It was particularly cruel on Luxembourg, which equalized only a minute earlier through defender Florian Bohnert.
After veteran forward Dimitar Rangelov put the home side ahead early on, Luxembourg stunned Bulgaria with two quick goals from striker Aurelien Joachim to move 2-1 up after 62 minutes.
Midfielder Marcelinho equalized three minutes later and Bulgaria went 3-2 up through midfielder Ivelin Popov.
But there was more drama to come.
CYPRUS 0, BELGIUM 3
NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — After a disappointing exit from the European Championship, Belgium began its bid to qualify for the 2018 World Cup under new coach Roberto Martinez with a 3-0 victory over Cyprus on Tuesday.
Striker Romelu Lukaku scored a goal in each half as the talent-packed team looked determined to shake off its underachiever tag.
Belgium had gone into Euro 2016 in France as a title favorite, but lost 3-1 to Wales in the quarterfinals. The Red Devils were the favorites on Tuesday, and this time Lukaku delivered.
He headed home the opener in the 13th minute after Cyprus goalkeeper Konstantinos Panagi had parried a low shot from Thomas Meunier. In the 61st, Lukaku netted his second of the night, his 19th international goal.
Yannick Carrasco rounded off the scoring nine minutes from time, before substitute Michy Batshuayi had a last-minute penalty kick saved by Panagi.
GIBRALTAR 1, GREECE 4
Though widely expected to lose, the tiny British overseas territory at least managed to score against the 2004 European champions in its first ever World Cup qualifier.
Gibraltar, which made its competitive debut in the qualifiers for Euro 2016, became a new FIFA member in May together with Kosovo and was fast-tracked into 2018 World Cup qualifying.
Gibraltar played the 'home' game in Faro, Portugal, while its own stadium is being built. Greece didn't waste time and opened the scoring after 10 minutes with a volley by Konstantinos Mitroglou. Gibraltar leveled 16 minutes later with a curling shot by Liam Walker.
But the closing stages of the first half proved calamitous for Gibraltar. Scott Wiseman scored an own-goal in the 44th minute, Konstantinos Fortounis made it 3-1 a minute later and Vasileios Torosidis added Greece's fourth in first-half stoppage time.
BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA 5, ESTONIA 0
Seeking to qualify for a second consecutive World Cup, Bosnia opened its campaign with a comprehensive victory.
Veteran defender Emir Spahic headed the opening goal from close range after seven minutes and captain Emil Dzeko converted from the penalty spot after he was fouled by Estonia captain Ragnar Klavan.
Late in the second half, Bosnia added goals from Haris Medunjanin, Vedad Ibisevic and Spahic again.