PARIS: The Netherlands slumped to a dramatic 4-2 defeat by Turkey in their opening 2022 World Cup qualifier on Wednesday, while reigning champions France were held by Ukraine despite a brilliant Antoine Griezmann goal and Belgium came from behind to beat Wales. European champions Portugal battled to a 1-0 victory over Azerbaijan, but 2018 World Cup runners-up Croatia lost 1-0 in Slovenia as they started their bid to reach the finals in Qatar.
In Istanbul, Turkey led 3-0 shortly after half-time through two Burak Yilmaz goals and a Hakan Calhanoglu strike, but substitutes Davy Klaassen and Luuk de Jong gave Frank de Boer’s Dutchmen hope. Yilmaz’s wonderful free-kick sealed him a hat-trick and Turkey a crucial win, though, in a match between the two favorites to qualify from Group G. “Very disappointing result, and also the way that result came about,” De Boer told NOS TV.
The defeat was a dreadful start to the campaign for the Netherlands, who failed to qualify for either Euro 2016 or the 2018 World Cup, but are one of the fancied sides ahead of the delayed Euro 2020 finals this year. France kicked off their title defense with a 1-1 draw against Ukraine at the Stade de France.
Griezmann curled a fine finish from outside the box into the top corner in the 19th minute to draw level with David Trezeguet in fourth place on France’s all-time goalscoring list, with 34. But Presnel Kimpembe put through his own net before the hour mark to draw Ukraine level. The Paris Saint-Germain defender had a late chance to make amends, but headed too close to away goalkeeper Georgiy Bushchan.
“We need more accuracy and movement against these opponents,” France coach Didier Deschamps told TF1. “Qualifying is a long haul and not a long, quiet river, it never has been.” The other game in Group D saw Finland and Bosnia and Herzegovina draw 2-2, with Teemu Pukki netting twice for the Finns in Helsinki. “It left a bad taste in my mouth,” said Pukki. “I’m a bit gutted we couldn’t get the three points.”
Belgium see off Wales
Belgium, the world’s number-one-ranked side, fell behind early against Wales but fought back to outclass their opponents 3-1. Harry Wilson scored an excellent 10th-minute opener for Wales in Leuven, but Kevin De Bruyne and Thorgan Hazard netted in the space of six minutes to put the hosts ahead before the half-hour mark. Belgium’s record goalscorer Romelu Lukaku wrapped up the points with a penalty 17 minutes from time, gaining the Red Devils a measure of revenge for their Euro 2016 quarter-final loss to Wales.
“It was important to start with a victory at home,” said winger Thorgan Hazard. “It’s always important to start qualifying well. We were a little scared during the first 15 minutes.” Roberto Martinez’s men sit second in the early Group E table behind the Czech Republic, who thrashed Estonia 6-2 on neutral ground in Poland, with West Ham midfielder Tomas Soucek scoring a hat-trick.
Portugal, who defend the title at Euro 2020 later this year, struggled in their Group A opener against Azerbaijan in Turin. But Maksim Medvedev’s own goal nine minutes before half-time was enough, despite Cristiano Ronaldo, on 102 international goals, failing to close the gap to Iranian Ali Daei’s all-time record of 109.
“The game was under control. We needed to improve the finishing, but we ended up winning – with an own goal, but maybe we deserved to have scored more,” said Portugal coach Fernando Santos, after his 50th win in charge from 80 games. Portugal’s group rivals Serbia battled back to beat the Republic of Ireland 3-2, as Aleksandar Mitrovic came off the bench to grab a second-half double.
‘Human rights, on and off pitch’
Norway stars Erling Braut Haaland and Martin Odegaard donned t-shirts with the slogan ‘Human rights, on and off the pitch’ in support of migrant workers building World Cup venues in Qatar for the 2022 finals. Haaland, national captain Odegaard, as well as teammates, wore the shirts when the national anthems were played before their 3-0 success in Gibraltar. The Scandinavians sit ahead of Turkey in Group G. Elsewhere, Russia, 2018 quarter-finalists on home soil, stuttered to a 3-1 win in Malta. Also in Group H, Croatia were beaten by Sandi Lovric’s early goal for Slovenia. – AFP