Mon | Aug 21, 2017

WCup qualifying heating up in Europe

Published:Friday | March 24, 2017 | 3:00 AM
France's Paul Pogba

LONDON (AP):

As World Cup qualifying reaches the midway point in Europe, several of the top teams will be in action this weekend.

In Group A, France coach Didier Deschamps will be without the world's most expensive player against Luxembourg tomorrow. Even without the suspended Paul Pogba, there is little reason for the leaders to be worried.

Deschamps can count on the new crop of French players a gifted generation that includes teenager Kilyan Mbappe. The 18-year-old Monaco striker, who has scored a league goal every 82 minutes this season, is among the five newcomers included in Deschamps' squad, alongside Monaco defender Benjamin Mendy (22), Marseille winger Florian Thauvin (24), Lyon midfielder Corentin Tolisso (22) and Monaco midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko (22).

France have a three-point lead over the Netherlands, who travel to Bulgaria. Level on points with the Dutch, Sweden host Belarus.

In Group B, Portugal could seriously jeopardise the chances of Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal making it to the World Cup if they lose to Hungary tomorrow. It would be some fall for the first-time European champions.

 

Motivation to win

 

"Every team wants to beat the European champions, and that only motivates us to keep doing better," Portugal midfielder Joao Mario said ahead of the home match.

Portugal are only two points ahead of Hungary in second place and are already facing the possibility of having to contest a play-off to make the final tournament in Russia.

Switzerland lead the group, holding a three-point advantage over Portugal heading into tomorrow's game against next-to-last Latvia.

Today's matches: Georgia vs Serbia; Turkey vs Finland; Austria vs Moldova; Croatia vs Ukraine, Ireland vs Wales; Italy vs Albania; Kosovo vs Iceland; Liechtenstein vs Macedonia and Spain vs Israel.