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UEFA Qualifying Wrap: France held by Luxembourg as Group A gets interesting

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Croatia 1-0 Kosovo

After the match on Saturday was called off just 22 minutes in thanks to an unplayable pitch following torrential rain, the game was resumed on Sunday. Real Madrid star Luka Modric fed a free-kick into the box in the 74th minute, and Dynamo Kiev defender Domagoj Vida was there to head it home and give Croatia a narrow victory under dubious circumstances.

Netherlands 3-1 Bulgaria

The Netherlands bounced back from their brutal defeat to France as Davy Propper poached a pair of goals against Bulgaria, with Arjen Robben adding one more. Propper touched home Daley Blind‘s low rifled cross just seven minutes in, and while that was it for a while, Blind fed Robben in the 67th minute from almost exactly the same spot at the left edge of the box. Bulgaria responded just two minutes later through Georgi Kostadinov, but Propper bagged his second to put the game away with 10 minutes to go, heading to the far post off a cross by Spartak Moscow winger Quincy Promes.

The three points is critical for the Netherlands, especially considering the other results around Group A that keep them alive. Robben’s goal was his 34th for country, moving him ahead of Johan Cruyff on the Netherlands scoring charts.

France 0-0 Luxembourg

Easily the most stunning result of the day, a full-strength France squad was held at home by Group A basement-dwellers Luxembourg in a result that not only keeps the Netherlands alive, but also releases France’s chokehold on Group A, leaving them just one point in front of Sweden and four ahead of the Netherlands.

France held 74% possession and mustered 34 shots, nine of them on target, but they couldn’t find a way through goalkeeper Jonathan Joubert. Olivier Giroud, Kylian Mbappe, and Antoine Griezmann all started the game for France, and Alexandre Lacazette played a half-hour off the bench, but none of them had any answers.

Greece 1-2 Belgium

Romelu Lukaku celebrates with Belgium teammate Thorgan Hazard (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images).

A wild finish at Karaiskaki Stadium in Athens saw three total goals pour in across a four-minute span, the decider scored by Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku as Belgium became the first European country to confirm qualification to the 2018 World Cup. Tottenham defender Jan Vertonghen scored a fabulous strike from distance in the 70th minute, but the Spurs man lost Portuguese-born midfielder Zeca who flicked home a cross just two minutes after the opener, just the third goal Belgium has conceded all qualifying. With it all kicking off, Lukaku took a cross from Thomas Meunier and deposited a glancing header inside the far post.

Belarus 0-4 Sweden

Sweden took care of business as they went on the road and torched Belarus 4-0. Emil Forsberg scored the opener in the 18th minute and assisted the second, to Christoffer Nyman. Marcus Berg added a third just before halftime and Andreas Granqvist finished off the scoresheet with a late penalty.

Gibraltar 0-4 Bosnia and Herzegovina

With Belgium clinching Group H, that leaves four other countries to fight for the playoff spot, and Bosnia & Herzegovina took control with a comprehensive victory over point-less Gibraltar. Edin Dzeko scored a pair while Kenan Kodro and Senad Lulic each added one of their own. Bosnia & Herzegovina jumped Greece with the win into the playoff spot, with 14 points to Greece’s 13 and Cyprus’s 10. Estonia remains mathematically alive with eight points.

 

Hungary 0-1 Portugal

Andre Silva celebrates with Cristiano Ronaldo and other Portugal teammates (Tamas Kovacs//MTI via AP).

A red card to Hungary’s Tamas Priskin for elbowing Pepe in the face a half-hour in saw Portugal grab a man advantage, and Andre Silva provided the breakthrough heading in Cristiano Ronaldo’s cross minutes after the halftime break. The win allows Portugal to keep pace with perfect Switzerland, just three points back with the two teams set to meet in the final match of the group stage.

Latvia 0-3 Switzerland

Switzerland remained perfect in the group stage, picking up their eighth win in as many tries with a comprehensive victory over Latvia. An own-goal put Switzerland ahead nine minutes in, and while Blerim Dzemaili missed a penalty past the half-hour mark, he made amends just after halftime for a 2-0 lead, and Ricardo Rodriguez wrapped things up from the spot before an hour had gone by.

 

Faroe Islands 1-0 Andorra

These two sides have already been eliminated, but the Faroe Islands picked up their second win of qualification thanks to a goal by Norwegian top-flight winger Gilli Sorensen in the 31st minute.

Estonia 1-0 Cyprus

Estonia kept its hopes barely alive and dented those of Cyprus in dramatic fashion, with a stoppage-time half-volley from Fulham youth product Mattias Kait two minutes past the 90.

Another tournament without the Dutch? WC hopes all but gone

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It was just about inconceivable that the Dutch could qualify for EURO 2016, denying fans the world over an entire month of what is arguably the most iconic aesthetic in world football — the Oranje.

[ MORE: Rooney insists he won’t come out of retirement for World Cup ]

Despite securing a 3-1 victory over Bulgaria on Sunday, the 2010 World Cup runners-up and 2014 third-place finishers find themselves on the brink of missing a second straight major tournament, the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Sweden’s simultaneous 4-0 dismantling of Belarus proved the day’s far bigger result.

Current Group A standings

1. Sweden — 16 points (+11 GD)
2.
 France — 16 points (+10 GD) — still to play their 8th fixture
3. Netherlands — 13 points (+5 GD)

That’s not so bad, so they just need Sweden to drop points and to beat them head-to-head on the final matchday, you say.

To which reality replies, Sweden’s next game is against Luxembourg, who have four points from their first seven games, prior to playing France later on Sunday, and a -10 goal differential.

[ MORE: David Villa injured on Spain duty, doubtful for next game ]

Sweden’s already-superior goal differential will further improve (perhaps drastically) before facing the Dutch on Oct. 10, leaving Dick Advocaat’s side would need something in the neighborhood of a 4-0, or 5-0, or maybe even 6-0, victory to overturn the deficit just to get into the qualification playoffs.

To think of the Wesley Sneijder (133 caps), Arjen Robben (93) and Robin Van Persie (101) era ending without a proper tournament send-off almost seems criminal, given everything they’ve accomplished during their 14-, 14- and 12-year international careers, respectively.

Dutch disaster: 4-0 loss to France compounded by RvP injury

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) Robin Van Persie‘s return to the Netherlands squad lasted a half hour.

[ MORE: Grading the summer transfer window of all 20 PL clubs ]

The country’s all-time leading scorer was a 64th-minute substitute in his team’s 4-0 loss to France on Thursday in World Cup qualifying. On Friday, he pulled out of the national team because of injury.

The Dutch soccer association says Van Persie, recalled for the France match after nearly two years on the sidelines, injured his knee at the Stade de France and will not be available for Sunday’s Group A qualifier against Bulgaria in Amsterdam.

[ MORE: Wayne Rooney arrested, charged with drunk driving ]

The loss to France left the Netherlands in fourth place in Group A and struggling to earn a possible playoff to reach next year’s World Cup in Russia.

Midfielder Kevin Strootman will be suspended after getting a red card on Thursday.

UEFA World Cup qualifying: Ronaldo tops Pele; Netherlands crushed (video)

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Deadline Day has dominated the headlines, but a megastar and several potential superstars are burying goals in UEFA World Cup qualifying.

Kylian Mbappe has scored.

Thomas Lemar has two.

[ STREAM: Deadline Day show ]

Romelu Lukaku and Thomas Meunier have three.

So does Cristiano Ronaldo, who rode his hat trick past Pele of all people.

Toss in a massive shot to the Netherlands’ World Cup hopes and a major surprise in Cyprus, and you’ve got one wild day of qualifying.

France 4-0 Netherlands

Antoine Griezmann scored a 14th minute goal, then leapt into the air to get Kevin Strootman sent off for a second half second yellow, and Les Bleus took advantage of the man advantage to the tune of a Thomas Lemar brace and Kylian Mbappe blast.

The Dutch World Cup qualifying hopes are very slim now. With three matches to play, the Netherlands are six points back of the automatic qualifying spot from Group A, three back of the playoff spot held by Sweden, and two points behind third place Bulgaria. Chances to make up three points on Sweden and Bulgaria remain, as well as a match against Belarus.

Back to Lemar, who reportedly turned down a massive dollar deal to join Arsenal because he wants to play in the UEFA Champions League, well, this:

Bulgaria 3-2 Sweden

Sweden entered the day leading Group A, and twice answered Bulgarian goals to leave the match 2-2 at the break. Ivaylo Chochev scored in the 79th minute to spring Bulgaria into third place, within a point of now second-place Sweden.

Portugal 5-1 Faroe Islands

If you’re going to pass Pele on a record list, do it in style. Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat trick to land him on 78 international goals, one ahead of Pele for seventh all-time. That’s second in European history to legendary Hungarian finisher Ferenc Puskas (84 goals) but 45 goals behind the all-time leader, Kuwait’s Bashar Abdullah.

Portugal is three points behind first-placed Switzerland, and their Oct. 10 finale could decide which team goes directly to Russia, and who needs a playoff win to move on.

Cyprus 3-2 Bosnia and Herzegovina

A 2-0 halftime lead on the road was not enough for BNH, which allowed three goals in 11 second-half minutes. Recording goals were Dimitris Christofi (65th minute), Vincent Laban (67′), and Pieros Sotiriou (76′) giving a surprise win to the hosts.

Cyprus is a point behind third-placed BNH and still plays second-place Greece and leaders Belgium, as well as Estonia.

Belgium 9-0 Gibraltar

Thomas Meunier and Romelu Lukaku both recorded hat tricks for the Red Devils, and Axel Witsel, Dries Mertens, and Eden Hazard also scored in the blowout. Belgium can clinch a World Cup berth with a win over second-placed Greece on Sept. 3.

Elsewhere
Switzerland 3-0 Andorra — Swiss will finish no worse than 2nd.
Luxembourg 1-0 Belarus
Hungary 3-1 Latvia
Greece 0-0 Estonia

Van Persie called into Dutch squad

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David Villa isn’t the only former national team great to get a recall this international break.

Former Arsenal and Manchester United striker Robin Van Persie was called in by Netherlands manager Dick Advocaat, marking his return to international play, where he last made an appearance back in October of 2015.

The 34-year-old currently plays for Turkish club Fenerbahce, where he’s made a pair of league starts to little impact. He played 67 minutes in a 2-2 season opening draw against Goztepe, and then was yanked at halftime of Fenerbahce’s 2-2 draw with Trabzonspor, failing to register a goal or assist in both games.

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Despite his struggles with form and fitness, Advocaat said Van Persie may the best the Netherlands has got.

“I still think he is one of the best strikers we have,” Advocaat said in the squad announcement. “He can make a very important contribution to the Dutch team.”

The Netherlands is in significant trouble in European qualification Group A, where they sit in an elimination position of third place with 10 points, three points back of both Sweden and France. The top team in the group automatically qualifies for the 2018 World Cup, while the second-place group must traverse a playoff game, or even risk straight elimination if enough points are not obtained.

Other forwards on the squad include Memphis Depay (Olympique Lyon), Bas Dost (Sporting Lisbon), Vincent Janssen (Tottenham Hotspur), Quincy Promes (Spartak Moscow), and Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich).

Since the 2014 World Cup, Van Persie has three goals for the Dutch national team in 10 appearances. He made his national team debut in 2005, garnering 101 appearances and 50 goals.