THE DAY REPLAYED — Remember me? That’s what not one, but two Dutchmen bellowed a short distance south. Their goals extinguished the threat of an upset, which is something another heavyweight avoided as their talisman continued his relentless ascent towards the top of international football’s goal ladder. Shocks were never on the cards, however, as goals poured down in Brussels and Budapest. FIFA.com recaps the latest happenings in Europe’s race to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.
Group A: Bulgaria 1-0 Belarus, Luxembourg 1-3 Netherlands
Group B: Hungary 4-0 Andorra, Switzerland 2-0 Faroe Islands, Portugal 4-1 Latvia
Group H: Cyprus 3-1 Gibraltar, Belgium 8-1 Estonia, Greece 1-1 Bosnia and Herzegovina
Match of the day
Portugal 4-1 Latvia
Goals: Ronaldo (28' pen, 85'), Carvalho (70'), Alves (92'); Zjuzins (67')
With their two chief rivals cruising, the continental kings could ill-afford a slip-up at home to lowly Latvia. And that looked a million miles away when Ronaldo, who had put them ahead from the spot at the Estadio Algarve, strolled up to take his second penalty of the night on the stroke of the hour. The 31-year-old nevertheless hit the post. Minutes later Arturs Zjuzins lashed Latvia level. But champions are made from stern stuff, and goals from William Carvalho, Ronaldo and Bruno Alves ensured Portugal remained three points behind Switzerland.
Stephan Lichtsteiner played in a more adventurous position than he arguably ever has done for Switzerland, and it allowed him to score a predator’s goal that helped them make it maximum points from four outings in Group B. Hungary remain five points off the pace after goals from Zoltan Gera, Adam Lang, Adam Gyurcso and Adam Szalai earned a 4-0 reverse of Andorra.
Arjen Robben, back in the Netherlands line-up for the first time in over a year, broke the deadlock in Luxembourg, only for Maxime Chanot to equalise with a penalty just before half-time. Memphis Depay came on for Wesley Sneijder at the start of the second half, and his double grabbed Danny Blind’s team a victory that kept them three points behind Group A frontrunners France. Ivelin Popov’s early goal was enough for Bulgaria to edge Belarus in the section’s other game.
Roberto Martinez rued a series of missed chances in their recent friendly draw with the Netherlands. His Belgium players paid heed, with braces from Dries Mertens and Romelu Lukaku thrusting them to an 8-1 thrashing of Estonia that left them with 12 points from 12, 21 goals scored and just one conceded. The result, coupled with Greece’s inability to beat Bosnia and Herzegovina, left Belgium two points clear at the Group H summit.
Player of the day
A year-and-a-half ago Memphis Depay moved to Manchester United for mega-money, was billed by others as ‘the next Cristiano Ronaldo’ and himself as the future best player in the world. Thereafter, he has spent far too much time warming benches and had not scored for the Netherlands. The 22-year-old bounced back in style in Luxembourg, heading the Oranje ahead and sealing victory with a superb free-kick. He needed that performance. His country needed those points.
Did you know?
Ronaldo’s double took him on to 68 goals for Portugal, making him the joint-fourth-highest European marksman in international football alongside West Germany’s Gerd Muller and Republic of Ireland’s Robbie Keane. The Portugal No7 trails only Ferenc Puskas (84), Sandor Kocsis (75) and Miroslav Klose (71).
What they said
“We were totally dominating the game when they scored. Other teams could have collapsed, but we gave a rapid response. It was an excellent response, it showed our spirit," Nani, Portugal winger.