European champions Portugal got the victory they required over Switzerland to book their place in next year’s World Cup in Russia.
The Swiss required just a point in Lisbon to avoid a play-off and it seemed their game-plan was based on that target as Vladimir Petkovic operated a counter-attack approach.
Classy Portugal, with Cristiano Ronaldo back in the starting team, carried too much quality and scored in each half to seal a 2-0 win. They may have clinched the group on goal difference, but proved to be the far superior team at the Stadium of Light.
Pop singer Madonna, these days residing in Lisbon, watched on as the Portuguese found their groove four minutes before the interval when a cross intended for Joao Mario rolled off the shin of Swiss defender Johan Djourou past goalkeeper Yann Sommer.
There was nothing fluky about their second, 12 minutes after the restart. When Joao Moutinho slipped Bernardo Silva into the box, he picked out Andre Silva at the back post for a tap-in.
In the other Group B fixtures, Hungary beat the Faroe Islands 1-0, while Latvia prevailed 4-0 over Andorra.
Group H was full of intrigue as Greece needed to beat Gibraltar to heed off the challenge of Bosnia-Herzegovina for the runners-up and play-off slot.
Though Vasilis Torosidis put the Greeks ahead on the half hour mark at the Karaiskakis Stadium, there were plenty of nervy moments when word came through that Izet Hajrovic had fired Bosnia-Herzegovina into the lead away to Estonia.
Both games saw plenty more action, with the Greeks upping the tempo in the final 30 minutes to run out 4-0 victors. Bosnia-Herzegovina did all they could by winning 2-1, thanks to Hajrovic’s winner, yet it wasn’t enough to usurp Greece.
Belgium had already secured their passage to Russia, but concluded the group by brushing aside Cyprus 4-0, aided by Eden Hazard’s brace.
Martin O’Neill has always talked up the competitive nature of Ireland’s Group D but they were fortunate to avoid Group A in which France, Sweden and the Netherlands were pooled together.
The French needed victory against Belarus last night to ensure Sweden couldn’t catch them for top spot and they achieved their mission by labouring to a 2-1 win in Paris.
Despite Antoine Griezemann and Olivier Giroud bagging goals seven minutes apart in the first half, the classic French frailties appeared as the interval loomed when Anton Saroka was afforded the freedom to pull one back.
They would also have heard by then that their safety net of a Swedish slip-in was going to plan. The Dutch required a seven-goal victory to dislodge the Swedes for second spot and they began ablaze by charging into a 2-0 interval lead. Arjen Robben snatched both goals, the first from the penalty spot on 16 minutes, but the necessary goalrush didn’t transpire after the break to accomplish their objective.
In the other game last night, Luxembourg and Bulgaria played out a 1-1 draw.
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