Kylian Mbappe shines as France qualify for Euro 2024 with Portugal and Belgium
PARIS – France, Belgium and Portugal all blinked with a Euro 2024 place in their grasps but clung on for one-goal victories on Friday night, which made them the first sides to qualify for the tournament.
Belgium led by three goals in Vienna and won 3-2 with 10 men to ensure a top-two finish in Group F and a ticket to the finals in Germany.
France led by two Kylian Mbappe goals in Amsterdam and beat the depleted Dutch 2-1.
“When he’s like that, France has a much better chance of winning,” said Les Bleus coach Didier Deschamps of his star striker.
Cristiano Ronaldo was another to score twice but Portugal also wobbled with a two-goal lead before beating Slovakia 3-2 in Porto in Group J.
In Amsterdam, Mbappe leapt to hook home a volley after seven minutes and then added a second in the 53rd minute with a sumptuous curler.
It was his 42nd international goal, overtaking French legend Michel Platini and putting him fourth in the all-time list. Olivier Giroud is top with 54 goals.
Quilindschy Hartman replied on his Dutch debut but Mbappe almost clinched his hat-trick, when his late drive hit the crossbar.
“We mustn’t get carried away, but we must appreciate and not trivialise things,” said Deschamps.
“To qualify with two games to go, with six wins, 13 goals scored and just one conceded, I’m very proud of what the group has achieved, both in terms of spirit and on the pitch.”
“We got the result we wanted, we achieved our objective.”
The Dutch play away against Greece on Monday, in what looks like a must-win game. “If we want to go to the European Championships, we have to win there,” said Dutch captain Virgil van Dijk.
Referring to Friday’s match, van Dijk said: “We fought and played good football in parts. But you’re playing tonight against a top country with top players.
“If you are at all sloppy, France will take advantage.”
Greece won 2-0 in Dublin to eliminate Ireland and pull clear of the Dutch.
Giorgos Giakoumakis and Giorgos Masouras scored in the first half for the 2004 European champions, who moved three points ahead of the Dutch.
Konrad Laimer replied with a long-range drive.
With Belgium reduced to 10 men when Amadou Onana collected a second yellow card, Arthur Theate handled in his own box with six minutes left. Marcel Sabitzer converted the penalty to make it an anxious last few minutes for the Belgians.
But they held out to secure a third straight trip to the Euro.
The Red Devils’ last Euro qualifying loss was a 1-0 setback in Wales in June 2015.
Said Lukebakio: “I was waiting for these goals for a long time.
“I could not have thought of a better moment for my first Belgium goals.
“In the end, we showed great mentality. I am very proud of my team. We have a new generation, we are hungry.”
Belgium coach Domenico Tedesco added: “I am very proud of all the young players. Some played for the first time.
“I have a lot of ideas with these players. This success is very important for the whole of Belgium.”
Austria remain seven points clear of the idle Sweden, who have a game in hand.
Cristiano Ronaldo moved to 125 international goals, as the Portuguese made it seven wins from seven matches in Group J.
They have 21 points, which ensures them a top-two finish.
Goncalo Ramos had opened the scoring for Portugal. Ronaldo then converted a penalty.
David Hancko’s deflected strike gave Slovakia hope – the first goal Portugal had conceded in qualifying – but Ronaldo soon tapped in a Bruno Fernandes cross.
Stanislav Lobotka’s long-range strike made for a nervy finale but Portugal held on.
“Cristiano Ronaldo is having a great time, playing a lot of minutes and scoring a lot of goals for his club,” said Portugal coach Roberto Martinez.
“He has a lot of experience with the national team and he’s a reference point for young players.”
Slovakia stayed second in the group eight points back but the pursuers inched closer.
Third-placed Luxembourg drew 1-1 in Iceland to close to two points behind Slovakia, who visit the duchy on Monday.
Bosnia and Herzegovina are a further two points back after beating Liechtenstein 2-0 with first-half goals from Amar Rahmanovic and Miroslav Stevanovic. - REUTERS, AFP