Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal confirmed their spot at the 2018 World Cup by beating Switzerland 2-0 in their final UEFA qualifier on Tuesday.
Anything less than a victory would have seen Portugal forced to go through a two-legged playoff next month, but instead they top Group B on goal difference above the Swiss, who will drop into the playoffs, despite winning all nine of their previous qualifiers.
Portugal took the lead in the 41st minute when Eliseu curled a dangerous cross into the box intended for Joao Mario, who collided with Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer and Johan Djourou. The ball came off the defender and crossed the line for an own goal.
And in the 57th minute Portugal cemented their place in Russia when Bernardo Silva sent a pass through the 6-yard box that Andre Silva controlled before putting the ball into the net.
After scoring 15 times in qualifying to this point, Ronaldo had a quiet game on Tuesday — even being denied by Sommer one-on-one in the second half — and finished one goal behind Poland’s Robert Lewandowski for the most in the European campaign.
France also eased into the World Cup finals by securing top spot in Group A with a 2-1 win at home to Belarus. Les Blues took the lead in the 27th minute when Blaise Matuidi fed Antoine Griezmann through on goal, and the forward made no mistake in slotting home.
The second came six minutes later when Griezmann turned provider, slipping in Olivier Giroud, who got his finish away before two defenders could close in. Belarus pulled a goal back a minute before the break when Anton Saroka sidefooted home, but there was to be no equalizer.
Sweden secured second place and a playoff spot despite losing 2-0 to Netherlands, who needed to win by seven goals to climb above their visitors into second place in Group A.
After finishing third at the 2014 World Cup, the Dutch missed out on a second straight major tournament after also failing to qualify for Euro 2016.
Netherlands came out on the front foot and took the lead in the 16th minute after Victor Lindelof was penalised for handling the ball in the box. Arjen Robben took the resulting spot kick and almost messed up the Panenka finish as the ball dribbled over the line past the outstretched boot of goalkeeper Robin Olsen.
Robben then doubled the advantage five minutes from the break with a spectacular first-time effort from the edge of the box, but Sweden held firm in the second half to move on.
Greece got the win they needed over minnows Gibraltar, 4-0, to secure a playoff spot by finishing second in Group H.
|The Netherlands decline
Vasilios Torosidis headed Zeca’s cross out of goalkeeper Deren Ibrahim’s reach in the 32nd minute, before Kostas Mitroglou scored twice in a three-minute span after the hour mark to seal the victory, and Giannis Gianniotas added a fourth.
The result ensured Slovakia will miss out on the UEFA playoffs as the worst runner-up despite finishing in second place in Group F. The Slovaks needed Gibraltar to earn their first World Cup qualifying point to advance, but it was not to be.
The draw for the November playoffs will take place next Tuesday in Zurich. The two-legged ties will feature four seeded teams based on FIFA rankings — Switzerland, Italy, Croatia and Denmark — against the unseeded Sweden, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and Greece.
Among games with lesser stakes on Tuesday, Eden Hazard scored twice as already-qualified Belgium completed their unbeaten Group H campaign with a 4-0 win at home over Cyprus.
Youri Tielemans dispossessed a Cypriot defender in his own half and Hazard ran onto the loose ball before placing his shot in the corner from 20 yards in the 12th minute.
Eden’s brother Thorgan Hazard slotted home a rebound seven minutes after half-time to double the lead, before the Chelsea star added his second and Belgium’s third from the penalty spot. Romelu Lukaku ran onto a ball over the top and coolly scored to get in on the action in the 78th minute.
Bosnia and Herzegovina had no hope of reaching the playoffs entering the day and finished behind Greece despite a 2-1 win away to Estonia. Izet Hajrovic put the visitors ahead following a defensive miscue in the first half before Ilja Antonov equalized for Estonia in the 75th minute.
But Hajrovic stepped up again to net the winner six minutes from time.
The game was briefly interrupted as the Bosnia fans bombarded the pitch with flares, but it continued once they were cleared away.
Daniel Bode scored in the 81st minute to help Hungary finish third behind Portugal and Switzerland in Group B with a 1-0 home win over Faroe Islands.
Latvia avoided finishing bottom of Group B by winning 4-0 at home over Andorra with a brace each from Davis Ikaunieks and Valerijs Sabala.
The final game in Group A saw Luxembourg finish fifth by claiming a 1-1 draw at home to Bulgaria. Olivier Thill put Luxembourg in front after only three minutes before Ivaylo Chochev equalised midway through the second half.