France, Portugal Qualify For 2018 World Cup

France and Portugal have clinched qualification for the World Cup, joining 17 other countries that have booked spots in the Russia FIFA World Cup train.

France qualified Tuesday night, thanks to goals from Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud in a hard-fought 2-1 win over Belarus on Tuesday.

Didier Deschamps’s side successfully completed their tricky challenge of beating Bulgaria and Belarus in their final two qualifiers.

The victory at the Stade de France meant they avoided the tension of the playoffs that they had to endure to reach the last two finals.

But although they finished top of Group A, Deschamps’s team were less than convincing as already-eliminated Belarus repeatedly penetrated their rearguard.

“We are happy, even if qualifying is logical given the quality of the players I have,” said Deschamps, who also paid tribute to the French supporters.

“We now have an atmosphere that we haven’t had for a while and people are coming and getting fully behind the team,” he said.

Giroud said he was delighted to have avoided the playoffs.

“We chased this game and it wasn’t easy because they were strong and efficient in attack until the final whistle and we had to roll up our sleeves,” the Arsenal forward said.

“We’re all relieved tonight to have ended the campaign with automatic qualification.”

In Lisbon, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal defeated Switzerland 2-0 to earn a place in Russia and consign their opponents to next month’s play-offs.

An own goal from Johan Djourou handed Portugal the lead on 41 minutes and Andre Silva netted a second before the hour as the hosts finished top of Group B ahead of Switzerland on goal difference.

Switzerland, who beat Portugal 2-0 at home last year, had won all nine previous qualifiers but must overcome a two-legged play-off in November to earn a fourth straight World Cup appearance.

Ronaldo, who was injured for the opening qualifying defeat in Basel, returned to the Portugal line-up after coming off the bench to notch the opening goal in a lacklustre 2-0 win in Andorra on Saturday.

Switzerland were attempting to join defending champions Germany — and Spain ahead of the 2010 finals — as the only nations to complete a European World Cup qualifying campaign with a perfect record.

But AC Milan striker Andre Silva forced Yann Sommer into a smart early save from his deflected shot, with the Swiss goalkeeper then forced to make a terrific stop to tip over Bernardo Silva’s venomous effort.

NAN

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