Ronaldo puts Portugal back on track; France also wins
AVEIRO, Portugal (AP) — Cristiano Ronaldo needed only four minutes to put European champion Portugal back on track in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, while France’s recovery came thanks to a pair of goals by forward Kevin Gameiro.
Ronaldo, who missed Portugal’s opening loss to Switzerland because of a knee injury in the final of Euro 2016, returned to action on Friday by scoring two of his four goals less than five minutes into the 6-0 rout of nine-man Andorra in Group B.
Switzerland earned a late 3-2 win at Hungary to stay in the group lead, ahead of the surprising Faeroe Islands.
Euro 2016 runner-up France conceded early but got back in contention in Group A with a 4-1 win over Bulgaria, with Gameiro scoring his first goals for the national team in more than five years.
The Netherlands and Sweden also claimed their first victories, and all three teams were atop the group after two rounds.
Belgium and Greece won their second in a row to take command of Group H.
Only the group winners automatically qualify.
Here is a look at Friday’s games:
France, Sweden and the Netherlands earned their first victories and are level on points after two games.
France trailed Bulgaria after conceding an early penalty kick but recovered to earn a comfortable win with two goals by Gameiro, one by Dimitri Payet, and another by Antoine Griezmann.
“I’m 29 years old now, I’m more experienced, and I understand that there are times when one needs to perform. I did it tonight,” Gameiro said.
The Netherlands defeated Belarus 4-1 as Quincy Promes scored his first two international goals and Vincent Janssen and Davy Klaassen netted one each in Rotterdam.
Sweden remained unbeaten after defender Mikael Lustig scored the winner at Luxembourg with a half-volley from Marcus Berg’s corner in the second half.
Bulgaria has three points, one behind the group leaders, while Belarus has one point and Luxembourg zero.
Ronaldo couldn’t play in Portugal’s group opener but made his presence felt early against Andorra with goals in the second and fourth minutes, then added two others in the second half to lead the hosts to 6-0.
He also caused both red cards to Andorra players in the final part of the game in the western Portuguese city of Aveiro.
“We knew the first goal was important because they play with 11 men behind the ball,” Ronaldo said. “We got off to a good start and it was positive because we wanted to win again.”
The victory left Portugal three points behind Switzerland, which twice relinquished leads but held on after Valentin Stocker’s 89th-minute goal in Budapest, earning its second win in a row and securing the group lead. The Swiss have six points, two more than the surprising Faeroe Islands, which followed its opening draw at Hungary with a 2-0 victory over Latvia behind goals by Sonni Nattestad and Joan Edmundsson.
Belgium and Greece won again to take control of the group, with the Belgians routing Bosnia 4-0 at home and Greece topping Cyprus 2-0.
The Belgians got two goals in each half to get past a Bosnian team that started its campaign with a 5-0 win over Estonia.
“We played with intensity that denied the Bosnians possession even when they tried to change up their game,” Belgium coach Roberto Martinez said.
Greece defeated a hard-working Cyprus to continue its recovery under new coach Michael Skibbe.
Kostas Mitroglou needed one touch to find the net early, and Petros Mantalos added the second goal just before the break.
“We expected this to be a tricky match and it was,” Skibbe said. “We scored good goals but at times lacked composure. That’s something we need to work on. But we’re improving with every game and with every win.”
Bosnia and Estonia, which beat Gibraltar 4-0 at home with two goals by Mattias Kait, have three points each.