Berlin – Former champions France prevailed 3-1 in Luxembourg and Euro 2016 winners Portugal beat Hungary 3-0 in World Cup qualifying on Saturday while the Netherlands crashed 2-0 in Bulgaria and risk missing another big tournament.
An early double from Spas Delev sealed the affair in Sofia as the Dutch, who had failed to qualify for last year’s Euro, plunged to fourth place in Group A at the half-way mark of the campaign.
“This a nightmare,” winger Arjen Robben told Dutch broadcasters NOS. “We came here with good intentions, and I was optimistic before the match. But the first half level of play was dismal.”
The third-place finishers from the 2014 World Cup are six points behind France, three off Sweden, who crushed Belarus 4-0, and also trail Bulgaria by two points.
Only the nine group winners qualify directly for the 2018 finals in Russia, and the eight best second-placed teams determine four further berths in play-off ties.
Elsewhere, Switzerland maintained their perfect record with a 1-0 victory over Latvia, while Begium dropped its first points in a 1-1 home draw with Greece; and tiny Andorra ended a run of 58 straight competitive defeats with a 0-0 draw against the Faroe Islands.
The Dutch fielded 17-year-old debutant Mattijs de Ligt in defence, and he did not look good when Delev opened the scoring five minutes into the game.
Delev struck again in the 20th from long range to add to the woes of the Dutch who saw Bas Dost miss narrowly shortly before half-time.
De Light was taken out of the game at intermission, and veteran Wesley Snijder was one of the new players but the Dutch failed to create a turnaround as the pressure mounts on coach Danny Blind who is in charge since 2015 and failed to qualify for the Euro tournament.
Les Bleus, the beaten Euro 2016 finalists on home soil, were also far from glorious in Luxembourg but retained their three-point lead with victory.
Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud opened the scoring in the 28th. Aurelien Joachim levelled with a 34th-minute penalty but Antoine Griezmann restored the lead two minutes later with another spot kick on the other end before Giroud wrapped up matters in the 77th.
Sweden meanwhile beat Latvia from Emil Forsberg’s double, Marcus Berg and Isaac Kiese Thelin.
In Group B, Switzerland are one of only two teams in Europe with full points – Germany being the other ahead of a Sunday date in Azerbaijan.
Borussia Moenchengladbach’s Josip Drmic headed the 66th-minute winner in Geneva, two minutes after coming on, and after the hosts had wasted several chances and were frustrated by goalkeeper Andris Vanins.
“The three points are the most important thing, but we need to improve in many areas,” coach Vladimir Petkovic told Swiss TV.
It all could come down to a showdown with Portugal at the end of the campaign, as the Euro champions remained three points behind with the win over Hungary in Lisbon.
The two sides drew 3-3 in the group stage in France last year but this time around superstar Cristiano Ronaldo struck in the 36th and with a 65th-minute free-kick after Andre Silva had opened the scoring in the 32nd.
Andorra meanwhile could celebrate their first point since a 0-0 World Cup qualifying draw with Finland in September 2005, ending the long run of defeats, but remain last in the group.
Belgium retained first place in group H two points ahead of Greece and three clear of Bosnia-Herzegovina but it took an 89th-minute equalizer from Everton’s Romelu Lukaku to stay top.
Benfica striker Konstantinos Mitroglou poked Greece ahead less than a minute into the second half in Brussels but the visitors then lost Panagiotis Tachtsidis over a second bookable offence 19 minutes later which helped Belgium come back.
Bosnia crushed Gibraltar 5-0 from Vedad Ibisevic’s double, Ardije Vrsajevic, Edin Visca and Ermin Bicakcic. Cyprus and Estonia drew 0-0 in the other game.
The fifth matchday ends Sunday with nine games in groups C, E and F, which apart from Azerbaijan v Germany include England v Lithuania.