PARIS: Belgium hammered Estonia 8-1 to go clear in Group H, while Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice as Portugal survived a scare before overcoming Latvia 4-1 in World Cup qualifying on Sunday. There were braces from Romelu Lukaku and Dries Mertens as Belgium ran rampant with further goals from Thomas Meunier, Eden Hazard, Yannick Carrasco and an own goal to make it four wins from four.
In the same group Greece scored a 95thminute equaliser through Giorgos Tzavellas after a free-kick had given Bosnia the lead as the ball rebounded back off the post and in off goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis. The point for Greece means they have 10 from four games in Group H, two behind the Belgians. Gibraltar made a piece of history and were level for a while in Cyprus before going down agonisingly 3-1. But they had cause to celebrate a significant consolation with Lee Casciaro’s 51st-minute equaliser-their first ever World Cup qualifier away goal. Ronaldo scored twice and even missed a spot-kick as European champions Portugal recovered from a second-half wobble in Lisbon to remain three points adrift of Group B leaders Switzerland. Ronaldo converted a first-half spot kick to open the scores but then missed a second one which hit the post.
Within a minute Latvia were level as substitute Arturs Zjuzins pounced on the loose ball following a goalmouth scramble to fire home on 67 minutes. But headers from Willian and Bruno Alves and a spectacular scissor-kick from Ronaldo assured Portugal of the three points. Earlier in Group B, the Faroe Islands were similarly plucky in soggy Lucerne, where Switzerland scored seven minutes from the end through Stephan Lichtsteiner to grind out a 2-0 victory and maintain their 100 percent record. In the same group Hungary hammered Andorra 4-0 at home.
DEPAY SPARES DUTCH BLUSHES
Out-of-favour Manchester United winger Memphis Depay came off the bench to score twice and save the Netherlands’ blushes in Luxembourg. Depay gave United manager Jose Mourinho a reminder of his worth just as the Dutch were sliding to an embarrassing draw.
The 3-1 victory over Luxembourg keeps the misfiring Dutch in the hunt for a place at Russia 2018, but they will need to play better if they are to trump the twin threats of table-toppers France and Sweden in Group A. Arjen Robben had a chance after a quarter of an hour for the Dutch, but should have done better than firing at Ralph Schon in the Luxembourg goal, as the Dutch tightened the screw.
The home stopper was finally beaten on 36 minutes when Robben moved the ball onto his favourite left foot to slot home for a deserved Dutch lead. But a minute before the break the minnows grabbed a leveller after Joshua Brenet felled Daniel da Mota in the box and Maxime Chanot punished the visitors from the penalty spot. Robben, whose brilliant career has been blighted by injury, failed to make it out for the second half. Wesley Sneijder was also hooked at the break. It was Depay, one of the replacements, who struck soon afterwards to break home hearts. And the 22-year-old, strongly linked with a move away from Old Trafford to Everton, sealed the match with his second goal in the final minutes. Also in Group A Bulgaria edged Belarus 1-0 in Sofia. —AFP