France will have a chance to defend its World Cup title, while fellow European power Belgium will look to finally overcome its newfound rival.
Both nations clinched their tickets to Qatar on Saturday with comfortable wins in their respective World Cup qualifiers after their epic UEFA Nations League semifinal last month where France came back from down two goals. The two powerful attacking sides were also the protagonists of a memorable 2018 World Cup semifinal that ended in a 1–0 France win.
Kylian Mbappé, the breakout star of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, led the way in France's 8–0 barrage of Kazakhstan on Saturday with his first-ever hat trick for Les Bleus, which came in the first 32 minutes.
According to Squawka, Mbappé became the first player to score four goals in a game for France since Just Fontaine in 1958 after the PSG star added a late consolation goal. Karim Benzema added two goals in the within four minutes of each other as the two prolific strikers have now scored in France's last three games.
Belgium didn't have quite the lopsided scoreline of their neighbors, but the Red Devils launched 20 shots and held more than 80% possession in a 3–1 win against Estonia.
Despite playing without star striker Romelu Lukaku, Belgium clinched its spot in Qatar thanks to goals from Christian Benteke, Yannick Carrasco and Thorgan Hazard. The Belgian side, whose golden generation is starting to transition into a more youthful squad, has yet to lose in qualifying with six wins and a draw.
The Netherlands, meanwhile, also looked set to qualify, needing just a win over a Montenegro side it beat 4–0 in their last meeting. Despite leading 2–0 in the 54th minute following a Memphis Depay brace, the Oranje blew the lead and its qualifying celebration in the last eight minutes of the match with the hosts scoring in the 82nd and 86th minute.
The Dutch side famously missed out on the 2018 World Cup along with Italy, who also missed a chance to lock up a qualifying spot Friday with a 1–1 draw with Switzerland. Louis van Gaal's side will need a win against an Erling Haaland-less Norway on Tuesday while Italy will face Northern Ireland in its final World Cup group stage qualifier Monday.
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