Portugal humbled by Switzerland, France held by Belarus in World Cup qualifiers
By Tom Robinson
Last Updated: 07/09/16 4:24pm
European champions Portugal were humbled by Switzerland, while France were held by Belarus in their opening World Cup qualifiers on Tuesday.
Portugal were brought crashing back down to earth, losing 2-0 to Switzerland in Basel.
Breel Embolo, 19, headed Switzerland in front after Rui Patricio had saved Ricardo Rodriguez's initial free-kick, before Admir Mehmedi doubled the Swiss' advantage six minutes later by finishing off a slick counter-attack with a shot into the top corner.
Missing the inspirational presence of captain Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal spurned a golden opportunity when Nani headed against the post and, despite Switzerland finishing the game with 10 men after Granit Xhaka was sent off, were unable to get back into the game.
Meanwhile, France were held to a 0-0 draw by Belarus at the Borisov Arena as they began their World Cup qualification campaign in inauspicious fashion.
A star-studded line-up including Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud were frustrated time and time again by a resolute Belarus defence.
Giroud hit the woodwork, while Griezmann came close with a free-kick that was well saved by Andrey Gorbunov but despite being camped in their opponent's half throughout the second half, France were unable to make the breakthrough and had to settle for a draw.
The Netherlands were also unable to get off to a winning start and take advantage of France's slip-up, drawing 1-1 with Sweden in Solna.
Marcus Berg capitalised on a Kevin Strootman mistake to give Sweden the lead shortly before half time with an effortless, clipped finish, but Wesley Sneijder equalised with a slotted strike after Daryl Janmaat's initial shot was saved.
Those two draws means Bulgaria top Group A after the opening round of fixtures following their 4-3 victory over Luxembourg in Sofia.
Bulgaria were made to sweat for their three points though as twice they were pegged back by a plucky Luxembourg side and ultimately needed a spectacular last-gasp goal from Aleksandar Tonev to win the tie.
Dimitar Rangelov gave Bulgaria the lead in the 16th minute before two quick-fire goals from Luxembourg saw them ahead thanks to a Aurelien Joachim double.
Marcelo Nascimento da Costa then got the hosts level before Ivelin Popov fire them ahead, with Florian Bohnert equalising in added time only for Tonev to snatch a late winner.
In Group H, Belgium made easy work of Cyprus, winning 3-0 with a double from Romelu Lukaku and one from Yannick Carrasco Ferreira. Michy Batshuayi missed a late penalty but it was a positive start for Roberto Martinez's men.
There was also a big win for Bosnia and Herzegovina as they easily dispatched Estonia with a 5-0 win. Veteran centre-back Emir Spahic book-ended the game with a goal in either half and former Manchester City man Edin Dzeko was also on target.
Gibraltar threatened to upset the odds against Greece when a Liam Walker wonder-strike gave them brief hope of a historic draw but a goals from Kostas Mitroglou, Kostas Fortounis, Vasilis Torosidis and an own goal from Scott Wiseman saw them run out comfortable 4-1 winners. The result sees them join Bosnia and Belgium with three points at the top of Group H.
Despite impressing at Euro 2016, Hungary were held to a 0-0 draw by the Faroe Islands in Torshavn. It was a commendable draw for the Faroes and they almost snatched all three points when Hallur Hansson hit the post with less than five minutes remaining.
Making up Group B, Latvia recorded a tight 1-0 win away in Andorra, thanks to a sole strike from 21-year-old Valerjis Sabala at the start of the second half.