UEFA World Cup qualifiers

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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

State of play in European qualifying for 2018 World Cup

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European qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia is at the halfway stage.

[ MORE: UEFA WCQ schedule and preview ]

Here’s the state of play in the nine groups heading into the sixth round of games from Friday to Sunday:

GROUP A

France can increase its lead to six points with a win in Sweden on Friday.

Without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sweden has less individual threat but a greater sense of teamwork. Still, its defense faces a stern test against a side boosted by a recent 5-0 home win over Paraguay. France striker Olivier Giroud has five goals in his last three internationals.

If Sweden loses, Bulgaria can move up to second place by beating Belarus. The Netherlands, in fourth place, hosts last-place Luxembourg.

GROUP B

Switzerland will be looking for a sixth straight win and to keep ahead of Portugal when it plays at the Faeroe Islands on Friday.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Pepe arrived late to Portugal’s squad following Real Madrid’s win in the Champions League final last weekend, but they should start at next-to-last Latvia.

Portugal, which trails Switzerland by three points, is coming off four straight victories since the opening 2-0 loss against the Swiss.

Last-place Andorra hosts third-place Hungary, which is five points behind Portugal.

GROUP C

World champion Germany should have little difficultly making it six wins from six matches, even though an understrength team will host San Marino in Nuremberg on Saturday.

Germany coach Joachim Loew has given nearly all of his regulars the summer off, but even an unfamiliar looking German lineup should be too much for a microstate with a population more than 100 times smaller than Berlin’s.

The Germans have already scored 20 goals in qualifying, conceding only one.

Germany leads with 15 points. Northern Ireland (10 points), the Czech Republic (8), and Azerbaijan (7) all maintain hopes of the runner-up spot and a possible playoff place.

Azerbaijan hosts Ireland in Baku, and Norway hosts the Czechs in Oslo.

GROUP D

The chances of Gareth Bale playing at the World Cup will reduce even further if Wales loses to Serbia on Sunday in the biggest game in the group.

The Welsh are in third place, four points behind Serbia and Ireland, after drawing four of their first five qualifiers and failing to reproduce their form from last year’s European Championship, where they reached the semifinals.

Ireland hosts Austria, while Moldova hosts Georgia in a game between two teams already out of contention.

GROUP E

Poland striker Robert Lewandowski, who missed out on being the Bundesliga’s top scorer this season, will look to score in his 11th straight European qualifier in a match against Romania in Warsaw on Saturday.

Poland, with 13 points, comfortably leads the group with the others jostling for the runner-up spot, led by Montenegro and Denmark (both with seven points). Romania and Armenia have six.

Denmark, which drew with Germany in a friendly on Tuesday, travels to last-place Kazakhstan, and Montenegro hosts Armenia in Podgorica.

GROUP F

England takes a four-point lead to Scotland for the latest edition of the world’s oldest international rivalry, 145 years after their first meeting.

Now under coach Gareth Southgate, England has dropped only two points in five games and would pile the pressure on under-fire Scotland coach Gordon Strachan with a fifth win in qualifying.

Second-place Slovakia visits Lithuania and Slovenia, a further point back in third, hosts Malta.

GROUP G

Italy hosts last-place Liechtenstein on Sunday with a chance to improve its goal difference and move closer to leader Spain, which plays at Macedonia.

Liechtenstein has conceded 19 goals in five matches, including eight against Spain. Italy and Spain have 13 points each from five matches.

Italy is coming off a 3-0 win over Uruguay in a friendly on Wednesday, while Spain was held by Colombia to a 2-2 draw.

Third-place Israel, which is four points behind the leaders, hosts Albania.

GROUP H

Friday could be a big day for Belgium on the road to Russia.

Following a 2-1 win over the Czech Republic in a friendly this week, Belgium is a huge favorite to beat 98th-ranked Estonia and reinforce first place. It currently has a two-point lead.

At the same time as the game in Tallinn, Belgium’s closest challenger, Greece, will be in Bosnia-Herzegovina in a game that could be vital in the race for second place and a playoff spot.

The third game, Gibraltar against Cyprus, has no impact on the group.

Belgium has such a wealth of talent that winger Eden Hazard‘s absence because of a broken ankle should have no impact on its creative play. If anything, it should allow Yuri Tielemans, recently picked up from Anderlecht by Monaco, to flaunt his skills.

GROUP I

It looks to be a straight fight between Croatia and Iceland for top spot and the countries meet in Reykjavik on Sunday.

Croatia leads Iceland by three points with five games left.

Ukraine and Turkey are two points further back and face away games against Finland and Kosovo, respectively.

What stamp? Slovakia defender says Skrtel red card shows England fix

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To the layman, and many others, Sunday’s World Cup qualifier between England and Slovakia saw one team pushing the pace while the other bunkered-in before falling to a 1-0 loss at the death.

To Slovakia defender Jan Durica, however, what he saw as a fixed result.

[ MORE: Rooney responds to criticism ]

The Trabzonspor back, 34, was angry with the second yellow card given to his defensive partner Martin Skrtel for a stamp on Harry Kane, and perceivably for the five minutes of stoppage time that allowed Adam Lallana to give Sam Allardyce a win in his first match as England manager.

Durica knows that only the first team in each group qualifies directly for the World Cup, while second-placed teams enter the playoff. And he thinks the authorities want England to finish first.

From The Daily Mail:

“There is only one place at the World Cup. Why should Slovakia go there when we have England in the group?,” said Durica.

“Of course, they will always prefer the stronger team. Probably, the referee exactly knew how to do it.”

Here’s our analysis: