Tiny Luxembourg held France to a shock 0-0 draw Sunday in World Cup qualifying in Group A.
The point keeps France top of the group, one point ahead of Sweden which earlier beat Belarus 4-0 in Borisov. The Netherlands went third by beating Bulgaria 3-1 in Amsterdam, keeping alive faint Dutch hopes of qualifying for Russia.
But with Sweden’s big win in Belarus, goal difference very much favors the Swedes.
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Didier Deschamps’ team, featuring marquee strikers including Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and Alexandre Lacazette, could find no way through Luxembourg’s defensive wall on an evening of French frustration in Toulouse.
Griezmann missed a straightforward early chance as France had more than 30 shots on goal but was kept at bay by veteran goalkeeper Jonathan Joubert and a packed defense.
”We had clear chances but against a compact team like that you have to keep pushing,” France coach Deschamps said.
Luxembourg almost stole victory when substitute Gerson Rodrigues hit the post with a fine solo run and shot 12 minutes from time.
Dick Advocaat brought Davy Proepper into his starting lineup to replace veteran Wesley Sneijder and the Brighton midfielder paid back his coach’s faith with his first two international goals against a defensive-minded Bulgaria.
”It was good,” Proepper told Dutch broadcaster NOS. ”My first goal and then straight away my second. That’s beautiful.”
Proepper settled Dutch nerves by tapping in from close range in the 7th minute. Arjen Robben doubled the lead in the 67th minute with his 34th international goal.
Georgi Kostadinov pulled back a goal just two minutes later before Proepper sealed the win in the 80th.
”We had to win today, that was the only thing that counted,” Robben told NOS.
”Sometimes we needed to push forward more,” he added. ”You have to push on and score more goals.”
In a clear sign of the Dutch team’s problems since reaching the semifinals of the World Cup in Brazil, it was the first win at the Amsterdam Arena since March 2015.
The Netherlands failed to qualify for the 2016 European Championship in France and is struggling now to make it to the next World Cup.
Only the group winner qualifies automatically for Russia, but the best second-placed teams from Europe can still earn a place through playoffs.
Advocaat made three changes to the Netherlands team that was thrashed 4-0 by France in Saint-Denis on Thursday with Tonny Vilhena replacing the suspended Kevin Strootman and Kenny Tete coming into defense instead of Timothy Fosu-Mensah.
But Proepper was clearly the most successful change as he opened his international scoring account early in the first half, tapping in a cross from the left by Daley Blind, and doubled his tally with a well-placed header.
Advocaat said he was satisfied with the result, ”but we should have scored more goals.”
After slumping to a surprise 3-2 defeat in Bulgaria on Thursday, Sweden made no mistakes in Borisov, beating Belarus 4-0.
In a tight group that could see goal difference play a crucial role, Sweden rushed out of the blocks, scoring three times in the first half, but could only add one more after the break.
Emil Forsberg, Christoffer Nyman and Marcus Berg all scored in the first half to put the Swedes in control and Andreas Granqvist converted a penalty in the 84th.
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