France and Portugal booked their places at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ on the final day of Europe’s group stage, with the pair earning comfortable wins to top Group A and B respectively.
The finale of this round of qualification also saw the play-off places finalised, which will decide the remaining four spots from the continent, joining Russia and the nine group winners in representing the region. Sweden, Switzerland, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Denmark, Italy, Greece and Croatia made up the best second-placed finishers from the respective groups, with Slovakia missing out.
Didier Deschamps’ side avoided any final day slip-ups as they saw off Belarus 2-1, courtesy of first-half goals from Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud. A routine evening at the Stade de France was only briefly shaken by Anton Saroka’s strike, though – coupled with the Netherlands’ win over Sweden – even defeat would have seen their ticket stamped.
Victory means they continue a 20-year run of appearances at the finals, now at six in a row, having not been absent since winning the title on home soil since 1998. Prior to this latest sequence, they had never managed more than three consecutive trips to the tournament.
European champions Portugal had seemingly a much more challenging task awaiting them, hosting Group B leaders Switzerland – who had a 100 per cent record in the group going into the encounter – knowing that only a win would take them through. In reality, though, it proved to be smooth waters for Cristiano Ronaldo and Co., who triumphed 2-0 with relative ease.
A fantastic team goal, eventually converted by Andre Silva, was the icing on the cake as Fernando Santos’ side booked their return to Russia, having finished third at the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017.