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Kylian Mbappe leads French onslaught

Defending champions France reached next year’s World Cup along with victorious Belgium but the Netherlands failed to join them after conceding two late goals
Kylian Mbappe
Kylian Mbappe
File picture

Agencies   |   Paris   |   Published 15.11.21, 12:51 AM

Kylian Mbappe’s four goals in an 8-0 rout of Kazakhstan ensured defending champions France reached next year’s World Cup along with victorious Belgium but the Netherlands failed to join them after conceding two late goals.

Belgium were less spectacular beating Estonia 3-1 at home but has an unassailable five point-lead over second-placed Wales, who beat Belarus 5-1 in Cardiff, and has a three-point lead over the Czech Republic for a playoff spot.

After missing out on the last World Cup, the Dutch looked set to go through after leading 2-0 at Montenegro with goals from Memphis Depay. Yet Montenegro struck twice in the last eight minutes to make it 2-2, and that gives Turkey and Norway a chance for top spot since they are two points behind with one game left.

“I don’t know what to say. Unbelievable,” Netherlands captain Virgil van Dijk said. “It’s scandalous how we played in the second half.”

First since Fontaine

France were playing away from its usual home venue Stade de France and took the field at Parc des Princes, where Mbappe stars for Paris Saint-Germain. He became the first France player since Just Fontaine at the 1958 World Cup to score four times in one game.

“The most important thing was qualifying, and we have players in our squad who have never played in the World Cup,” said Mbappe, who starred in the last one. “It’s a dream to play in it for your country.”

After 32 minutes he had his first international hat-trick. Karim Benzema combined with Theo Hernandez to set up his first goal and then Kingsley Coman picked him out twice, the second with a cross from the right met by a rare header.

Mbappe has bounced back from a disappointing Euro 2020, where he failed to score, and his late goal helped France win the Nations League final last month. Benzema also scored in that game. The irrepressible Hernandez whipped over another cross from the left for another assist as Benzema met it at the near post for 4-0 in the 55th.

Four minutes later, Benzema played a slick one-two with Mbappe for his second goal and 35th for France. His partnership with Mbappe is blossoming fast.

“We showed we have a good understanding and combine well together,” Benzema said. “Personally, I’m delighted to play in another World Cup (after 2014).” Adrien Rabiot and Antoine Griezmann also scored late before Mbappe emulated the great Fontaine — the all-time leading scorer in a single World Cup with 13 goals in 1958.

The Finns won 3-1 at Bosnia and Herzegovina despite playing more than 50 minutes with a player less to move above Ukraine and into second place. The home side was missing all-time top scorer Edin Dzeko through injury and lacked a cutting edge.

Bale’s 100th

There was no Romelu Lukaku up front for Belgium as he recovers from a minor injury, so Christian Benteke stepped in and put his side ahead against Estonia after 11 minutes. Aaron Ramsey was even quicker, taking three minutes to put Wales 1-0 up and Liverpool defender Neco Williams doubled the lead in the 20th.

Ramsey’s penalty made it 3-0 shortly after the break. Yannick Carrasco and Thorgan Hazard netted second-half goals for Belgium, while goals from Ben Davies and Conner Roberts capped a fine night for Wales — who next host Belgium. Gareth Bale made his 100th appearance for Wales.

Croatia qualify

Croatia clinched an automatic berth in a dramatic fashion as a late Fedor Kudryashov own goal gave them a 1-0 home win over Russia in the crunch Group D qualifier on Sunday.

Croatia, the 2018 World Cup runners-up, jumped above Russia to top the standings on 23 points from 10 games, one more than the second-placed Russians who will head into the March playoffs.

Croatia dominated the match played in driving rain but a string of good saves by visiting goalkeeper Matvei Safonov and a waterlogged pitch kept them at bay before Kudryashov’s clumsy 80th-minute touch delighted the home fans.

Needing a draw to qualify, the Russians defended with everyone behind the ball and soaked up intense pressure as the Croatians besieged their goal but failed to create clearcut chances.

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