France, Netherlands and Portugal stroll to convincing wins
There were no big surprises in the World Cup qualifiers across Europe on Friday night. Bulgaria and Belarus were easily dispatched in Paris and Rotterdam while Cristiano Ronaldo hit four for Portugal.
France produced a scintillating display of football to crush Bulgaria 4-1 at St. Denis, the site of their painful Euro 2016 final defeat to Portugal only a few months ago. Les Bleus had not hosted Bulgaria since an infamous qualifier in November 1993 when they conceded a late goal to lose 2-1, a defeat that meant they missed out on a place at the 1994 World Cup in the United States.
The home side trailed again at the Stade de France on Friday after conceding an early penalty but bounced back by taking control of the midfield and breaching a porous defence almost at will. Goals from Kevin Gameiro, Dimitri Payet and Antoine Griezmann put them 3-1 up at the break. Gameiro, stylishly celebrating his first international appearance for five years, completed the scoring with his second goal of the night on 59 minutes.
Netherlands 4-1 Belarus
The Netherlands, France’s next rivals, brushed aside Belarus 4-1 in Rotterdam to snap a miserable run of five successive home defeats, a record that stretched back over 16 months.
Quincy Promes scored two early goals – his first for his country – to set the Netherlands on their way before Davy Klaassen and Vincent Janssen added two more in the second half, the latter with a superb thunderous left-foot shot. Aleksey Rios scored for Belarus just after the break but a comeback did not materialize but was unable to spark a comeback.
Portugal 6-0 Andorra
Over in Portugal, a four-goal haul from Real Madrid man Cristiano Ronaldo led the European champions to a crushing 6-0 win over nine-man Andorra. It was the Portugal captain's fourth hat-trick for his country and the first time he has scored four in a match, taking his tally to 65 goals in 134 internationals. He scored his first after just 73 seconds, driving the ball home after Andorra failed to clear a corner, and headed home Ricardo Quaresma's cross for his second in the fourth minute.
Joao Cancelo added Portugal's third just ahead of half-time before Ronaldo completed his hat-trick two minutes after the re-start when he volleyed in Andre Gomes' cross. The captain’s fourth came in the 68th minute after Jose Fonte headed Quaresma's cross into his path while Andre Silva added the sixth with a deflected shot with just five minutes to go.
The win got Portugal off the mark in Group B after a shock 2-0 defeat to Switzerland in their opening game last month – a game which Ronaldo missed through injury.