Ronaldo puts Portugal back on track

FRANCE WIN::Kevin Gameiro scored a brace as France beat Bulgaria 4-1, their first win in Group A of European qualifying for 2018, with the Netherlands their next foes

AP and AFP, AVEIRO, Portugal and PARIS

Sun, Oct 09, 2016 - Page 11

It did not take long for Cristiano Ronaldo to give Portugal the boost they needed in European qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.

Ronaldo scored twice in the first four minutes then added two others in the second half to help the European champion rout nine-man Andorra 6-0 on Friday and earn their first win in qualifying.

“We knew the first goal was important, because they play with 11 men behind the ball,” Ronaldo said. “We got off to a good start.”

Ronaldo did not play in their 2-0 loss to Switzerland in the Group B opener last month, because he was still recovering from a knee injury sustained in the final of Euro 2016.

It was the first time he scored four goals in the same game with the national team.

Ronaldo scored with a left-footed shot from inside the area in the second minute and adding to the lead with a header in the fourth. His third came with a one-timer from close range, and the fourth with another left-footer.

He also caused both red cards to Andorra players. Jordi Rubio was sent off for a second yellow card for a hard foul on the Portuguese star in the 62nd, while Marc Rebes was shown a straight red for another vicious foul on Ronaldo in the 70th.

Joao Cancelo netted for Portugal just before halftime and Andre Silva closed the scoring in the 86th.

Andorra goalkeeper Josep Gomes made great saves to help Andorra avoid a bigger defeat.

“Now we have to think about the Faeroe Islands,” Portugal coach Fernando Santos said. “We need to win it.”

Kevin Gameiro marked his first international start in almost five years with a brace as France came from behind to beat Bulgaria 4-1.

On their first outing at the Stade de France since losing the Euro 2016 final to Portugal in July, France fell behind to an early Mihail Aleksandrov penalty, but Atletico Madrid striker Gameiro — not part of the European Championship squad — got the equalizer.

Dimitri Payet and Antoine Griezmann ensured the home side went into the interval with a comfortable advantage and Gameiro completed an ultimately handsome victory in the second half.

It was France’s first win in Group A of European qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and set them up nicely for tomorrow’s trip to the Netherlands, themselves 4-1 winners at home to Belarus on Friday.

“It was a perfect evening. We reacted well and then ran away with it,” Gameiro, back in favor at the age of 29, told TF1. “I felt enormously proud and especially full of desire. Hard work pays off.”

Coach Didier Deschamps said: “He is there to score goals and he scored two. He was very good with his movement, he worked very hard for the team, along with Antoine.”

Gameiro started as Deschamps made five changes to the side who could only draw 0-0 in Belarus in their opening qualifier a month ago.

Bulgaria topped the group coming into this encounter thanks to a 4-3 win against Luxembourg last month.

This was their first game under new coach Petar Hubchev and the Stade de France was silenced as they went in front in the sixth minute.

Georgi Milanov was fouled in the area by Bacary Sagna and Aleksandrov stepped up to net the resulting penalty.

This was Bulgaria’s first visit to France since their 2-1 win in 1993 that denied Les Bleus a place at the following year’s World Cup and suddenly the prospect of a repeat performance was on the cards.

Yet this Bulgaria team had let in 14 goals in their previous three matches and France’s formidable firepower eventually proved too much.

France drew level midway through the first period, Sagna making amends for his role in the penalty by crossing from the right for Gameiro, who stooped to head the ball into the far corner past Vladislav Stoyanov.

It was only Gameiro’s second international goal, his first since netting in a friendly in Ukraine in June 2011.

Three minutes later, France were in front when a Payet cross from the left went all the way in without anyone getting a touch.

Sagna then came off with a hamstring injury to be replaced by Djibril Sidibe, with Deschamps later admitting that the Manchester City player was a major doubt for the trip to Amsterdam.

However, disaster had been averted for France and they were then gifted a third goal seven minutes before the break.

The majority of the crowd was more taken by a Mexican wave than by events on the field, when suddenly Dimitar Pirgov gifted possession straight to Griezmann on the edge of the area and Euro 2016’s leading scorer applied the finish.

It was one-way traffic at the start of the second half and after Paul Pogba — who Deschamps said “can and must do better” — saw a vicious first-time strike flash just wide, France got their fourth goal just before the hour mark.

Layvin Kurzawa found Griezmann on the left and his low ball in was converted by his Atletico teammate Gameiro for his second of the evening.

His hopes of completing a hat-trick were ended when he was taken off 18 minutes from time to make way for Andre-Pierre Gignac, but France did almost further embellish their lead, Blaise Matuidi seeing an effort come back off the post.