No Ronaldo, no goals: In absence of Real Madrid star, Portugal beaten by Switzerland
With Cristiano Ronaldo still missing due to injury, European champions Portugal began their bid to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia with a disappointing 2-0 defeat in Switzerland on Tuesday.
Goals seven minutes apart in the first half from teenager Breel Embolo and Admir Mehmedi gave Switzerland the points at the St Jakob-Park in Basel as they got off to the ideal start in Group B.
Elsewhere on Tuesday, Euro 2016 runners-up France also showed signs of a hangover from their summer exertions when they were held to a 0-0 draw in Belarus in Group A, while the Netherlands came from behind to draw 1-1 in Sweden.
In Nicosia, former Everton manager Roberto Martinez’s first competitive match with Belgium ended in a 3-0 win against Cyprus.
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Ronaldo was one of three Portuguese players to have started the 1-0 extra-time triumph against France on July 10 who was absent from the away starting line-up in Basel, with Renato Sanches also sidelined and Joao Mario only on the bench.
Portugal were undone as Switzerland went in front midway through the first half, Schalke striker Embolo heading home the loose ball after Rui Patricio parried a Ricardo Rodriguez free-kick.
The Swiss doubled their lead on the half-hour mark when Haris Seferovic cut the ball back for Mehmedi, who took a touch and finished high into the net.
In the same section, Hungary were held to a 0-0 draw in the Faroe Islands while Valerijs Sabala’s second-half goal gave Latvia a 1-0 victory in Andorra.
In the same group as France, the Netherlands began their attempt to bounce back from their failure to qualify for Euro 2016 by facing Sweden at the Friends Arena.
It is the beginning of a new era for Sweden, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic now retired from international football and Janne Andersson having replaced Erik Hamren as manager.
Sweden went in front two minutes before half-time when Kevin Strootman was caught in possession just outside the Dutch box and Marcus Berg, who used to play in Holland for Groningen and PSV Eindhoven, beat Jeroen Zoet with a superb chip from 20 yards.
However, Wesley Sneijder followed in to convert the rebound and make it 1-1 midway through the second half after Robin Olsen had saved from Daryl Janmaat.
Also in Group A, Bulgaria beat Luxembourg 4-3 in a frantic finish in Sofia, with Aleksandar Tonev netting a stoppage-time winner.
Martinez’s Belgium got off to a fine start against Cyprus in Group H with Romelu Lukaku scoring a brace and Yannick Carrasco also on target.
In the same group, Bosnia and Herzegovina trounced Estonia 5-0 with veteran defender Emir Spahic scoring twice, while Greece won 4-1 against Gibraltar in the minnows’ first ever World Cup match. Liam Walker scored to briefly have Gibraltar level in the first half in Faro, Portugal.
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Published: September 7, 2016 04:00 AM