Euro 2016 finalists Portugal, France open World Cup tamely
GENEVA, Switzerland (AP):
European Championship finalists Portugal and France came down from their summer highs with tame starts to World Cup qualifying yesterday.
Without Cristiano Ronaldo again, still recovering from his Euro 2016-final injury, newly crowned Portugal slumped to a 2-0 loss away to Switzerland.
France failed to score in 120 minutes against Portugal in Paris, and two months later got only a 0-0 draw at unheralded Belarus.
Also in France's group, the post-Zlatan Ibrahimovic era began for Sweden with a 1-1 draw at home to the Netherlands.
Heavily favoured to win Group H, No. 2-ranked Belgium began with a routine 3-0 win at Cyprus as they seek to repair a recent reputation as tournament underachievers.
After Iceland's popular run to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, the search for the next Cinderella story could lead to Luxembourg.
The tiny principality team lost 4-3 at Bulgaria after leading in the second half and levelling in stoppage time. Bulgaria, the 1994 World Cup semi-finalist, scored the decisive goal in the second minute of time added on.
While European Championship runner-up France were held to a frustrating 0-0 draw at Belarus, the Netherlands and Sweden did find the target as they began their rebuilding process with a 1-1 draw.
European champions Portugal had to leave Cristiano Ronaldo out of their squad to face Switzerland and were deservedly beaten 2-0 in Basel.
A Swiss team which mostly lacked spark in France fired into life with two goals in the first half hour. Breel Embolo reacted fastest in the 23rd minute to head low past Rui Patricio's dive after the goalkeeper parried a Ricardo Rodriguez free kick. Admir Mehmedi finished a fast break in the 30th with a curling shot into the top-right corner of the Portugal goal.
Portugal struck a post in the 82nd from Nani's slow, bouncing header.
Switzerland will have Granit Xhaka suspended for the trip to Hungary next month after the midfielder was sent off in stoppage time. His second yellow card was for a reckless tackle through the back of Joao Mario's legs.
Hungary were lucky to get a 0-0 draw with the Faeroe Islands on a windswept evening in the north Atlantic and Latvia won 1-0 at Andorra.