MADRID (AP) France’s 4-0 win over Netherlands has the Dutch on the brink of missing the World Cup, while Cristiano Ronaldo’s three goals helped keep Portugal in contention in European qualifying and moved him ahead of Pele on the list of all-time international scorers.
Belgium trounced Gibraltar 9-0 among the other games Thursday, when Switzerland stayed perfect with a 3-0 win over Andorra in heavy rain.
The Netherlands, who finished third at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, dropped to fourth place in Group A, six points behind France, three behind Sweden and two behind Bulgaria.
Only the group winners in Europe automatically qualify for next year’s World Cup in Russia. The runner-up has to go through a playoff.
Ronaldo increased his international tally to 78 goals during Portugal’s 5-1 rout of the Faeroe Islands in Group B, surpassing Pele in the process. Among European goal scorers, he’s is now in second place only six behind Hungary great Ferenc Puskas.
”Things are going well for me with Portugal,” Ronaldo said. ”The team is playing well and we are still alive. We gained confidence after this victory and we will keep focused to make sure we can make it to the World Cup.”
Here is a closer look at the qualifying groups in action Thursday:
France regained control of its World Cup destiny with a comfortable victory that started with a goal from Antoine Griezmann and ended with the first international goals by promising youngsters Thomas Lemar and Kylian Mbappe.
After Griezmann’s opener, Lemar netted twice and Mbappe – newly signed by Paris Saint-Germain – added another to give Les Bleus a three-points lead over Sweden, which lost 3-2 at Bulgaria.
”We had no chance against a France side that was very strong,” Netherlands coach Dick Advocaat said. ”Maybe in the first half we resisted a little bit, but overall we didn’t play well and France largely deserved to win.”
France can all but secure a World Cup berth with a win against Luxembourg, while the Dutch need to beat Bulgaria at home to keep its hopes alive.
Portugal easily defeated the Faeroe Islands to stay close to leader Switzerland.
Ronaldo scored twice in the first half – including a neat side-volley from inside the area – and once after the break to increase his haul to 14 goals in seven Group B matches.
Switzerland overcame poor pitch conditions to defeat Andorra for its seventh straight victory, maintaining a three-point gap over the European champions. The match in St. Gallen was interrupted in each half as workers entered the pitch to clear standing water. The second half also was delayed.
Hungary kept pace in third spot with a routine 3-1 win over last-place Latvia, but it remains eight points behind Portugal.
With a commanding performance orchestrated by Thomas Meunier against part-timers from Gibraltar, Belgium produced a 9-0 victory to bring next year’s World Cup finals ever closer.
Paris Saint-Germain’s Meunier had three goals and three assists and Romelu Lukaku added three goals of his own in an overall demonstration of flicks, backheels and superior moves.
The easy victory gave Belgium a six-point lead over second-placed Greece, which was held to a 0-0 draw by Estonia.
Bosnia-Herzegovina lost 3-2 to Cyprus, staying two points behind Greece.
Associated Press writers Jerome Pugmire and Raf Casert contributed to this report.
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