Belgium seals WC spot, France held by Luxembourg

A late goal from Romelu Lukaku sealed Belgium's spot in the 2018 World Cup, while France was held to a frustrating goal-less draw by Luxembourg.

Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku headed in a Thomas Meunier cross in the 74th minute in to lead his side to a 2-1 win that guaranteed it the top spot in European qualifying Group H.   -  Getty Images

Romelu Lukaku's goal allowed Belgium to become the first European nation to clinch qualification for the 2018 World Cup on Sunday as much-fancied France was held to an embarrassing goalless draw by Luxembourg.

Manchester United striker Lukaku headed in a Thomas Meunier cross in the 74th minute in Piraeus for the decisive goal in a 2-1 Belgium win that guaranteed it the top spot in European qualifying Group H.

All the goals came in a frantic five-minute spell, with a low drive by Jan Vertonghen putting Roberto Martinez's side ahead in the 70th minute.

Portuguese-born midfielder Zeca equalised for Greece only for Lukaku to grab the decisive goal -- his 10th in seven qualifiers -- a minute later.

With just two matches remaining, Belgium enjoys an unassailable eight-point lead over second-placed Bosnia and Herzegovina, for whom Edin Dzeko netted twice in a 4-0 win over Gibraltar.

Belgium joins Brazil, Iran, Japan, Mexico and host Russia in guaranteeing a place at next year's final.

In the battle for second and a spot in November's play-offs, Bosnia is now a point ahead of Greece and four clear of Cyprus, beaten 1-0 in Estonia.

Luxembourg defies odds to hold France to a draw
Three days after a 4-0 destruction of the Netherlands in which it showcased its frightening array of attacking talent, France proved itself unable to break down minnow Luxembourg, which is ranked a lowly 136th in the world.

Didier Deschamps' side, with Kylian Mbappe starting after coming off the bench to score against the Dutch, had more than 70 percent possession and over 30 attempts on goal in Toulouse but failed to find a way through and the final whistle was greeted with a chorus of boos.

Antoine Griezmann smacked a 30-yard free-kick off the bar five minutes before half-time while Paul Pogba saw a header rebound off the frame of the goal late on.

It could have been worse for Les Bleus, though, as Luxembourg substitute Gerson Rodrigues outpaced Laurent Koscielny in the 79th minute before seeing his shot strike an upright.

It is the first time France has failed to win against Luxembourg since 1914 and the only consolation for France is that it remains a point clear of Sweden at the top of Group A with two games remaining.

"Thursday's result was important but so was getting three points today, so we'll need to fight to the end," said Deschamps after the game. "The last two games will be decisive. We are in a better situation than we were in June, although we are disappointed tonight."

Sweden, who beat France 2-1 in June, is second after a resounding 4-0 win in Belarus with goals from Emil Forsberg, Christoffer Nyman, Marcus Berg and an Andreas Granqvist penalty.

 

 

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