Belarus 0-0 France
Raphael Varane captained France as they stumbled to a 0-0 draw in Borisov on Tuesday night against Belarus in their first World Cup 2018 qualifying match.
Though the French defence looked rocky at times, Varane seemed calm and confident on the ball throughout. The young defender cut out some dangerous attacks and looked to start attacking moves with direct passes from his defensive line.
The first half saw a mix of threats from both sides. Paul Pogba had an effort 25 yards out, which goalkeeper Gorbunov slightly parried before comfortably collecting the second time of asking.
Then it was Belarus's turn. Nikolei Signevich was caught just undernearth a delicious cross from Timofei Kalachev, but was thenflagged offside.
Varane displayed his passing range with a lovely ball over the top to put Arsenal's Olivier Giroud through on goal, but the striker could not make contact with the pass and nothing came of the move.
After the restart, Belarus seemed to grow in confidence after battling well in the first half, and sought to take the game to France.
However, despite this strong start to the second period, Belarus were nearly undone by a brilliantly clever back heel from Griezmann, which fed Giroud inside the Belarussian box, but the latter dragged his left footed effort wide.
cette passe <3 pic.twitter.com/xr9sfquQ3v— philippe (@philousports) September 6, 2016
Shortly after, Varane found himself in space 35 yards out and unleashed a fierce effort at Gorbunov, who was unsure and scrambled across his goal, but the Frenchman's effort flew wide.
France were closer to the lead when Giroud brought the ball down beautifully in the right hand channel, he swiveled and fed Tottenham new boy Moussa Sissoko, who squared across the six yard box for Griezmann, but again Gorbunov denied the French.
Ultimately, though, the French could not make their dominance pay as the second half wore on, and had to settle for a 0-0 draw. A disappointing start to their qualifying campaign, but all credit to Belarus, who so easily could have snatched all three points despite their opponents' dominance.
Switzerland 2-0 Portugal
The Champions of Europe would be without their star captain Cristiano Ronaldo as Portugal kicked off their Road to Russia against Stephan Lichtsteiner and his Swiss compatriots. Without CR7 in the lineup, Nani would wear the captains arm band.
The Swiss came out and pressure the European Champs right away, with Pepe playing good-looking defense early on. It wouldn't take Portugal long to create a chance on goal with a series of through balls, splitting the Swiss defense like holes in their wonderful cheese. Eder for Portugal would break through in the 2nd minute, but his first touch was less than desirable and caused him to put the ball into the side netting. They would get another shot at goal in the 8th minute with a free kick just outside the box that would be cleared by the Swiss defense.
Nani got another chance in the 18th minute but he failed to finish (this will become a recurring theme). Swiss chances came few and far between in the early stages of the match. With Portugal dominating the ball, one foul would undo everything. The Swiss were awarded a free kick. The ball in would be blocked by the Portugal keeper only to have the rebound headed in by Breel Embolo putting the Swiss up 1-0 in the 24th minute.
The European champs are down early in their first 2018 #WCQ, as Breel Embolo gives Switzerland the lead. #SUIPOR https://t.co/8BVnMZRzcJ— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) September 6, 2016
That goal seemed to light a fire underneath Switzerland and they started pressing back. This took Portugal by surprise and put them on their heels, which allowed the Swiss to rush the box and create chances. Once such chance came at the half hour mark when Haris Seferovic of Switzerland made a nice pass to Admir Mehmedi who would finish it, putting past the Portugal keeper.
Admir Mehmedi leaves Rui Patricio no chance for Switzerland's second. #SUIPOR #WCQ https://t.co/EFSKrGnBin
Admir Mehmedi leaves Rui Patricio no chance for Switzerland's second. #SUIPOR #WCQ https://t.co/EFSKrGnBin— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) September 6, 2016
Portugal had a chance in the 38th minute only to have it wasted. The half would end with a 2-0 lead for Switzerland.
At the restart Fernando Santos made two changes to his Portugal side, subbing Andre Silva and Joao Mario for Eder and William Carvalho. Something needed to change, but it is unclear if that was the right combination (on a side note, it was interesting to see that Silva was wearing the #7 jersey).
With a 2-0 lead, the Swiss team was more than happy to sit back and absorb pressure, but there really wasn't any. Because of this they were able to get more men back and keep Portugal from getting anything meaningful near goal, limiting them at times to shots from distance.
They'd have a decent chance from distance on a set-piece in the 73rd minute that would (you guessed it) go for not. This was the story of Portugal's night, and soon they needed Pepe to creep up into the midfield and the attack.
In the 82nd minute Nani blew another shot, as Quaresma served a great ball in from a corner kick. Nani headed it down, and it bounced just wide. Again, story of the night.
About five minutes later the Swiss had a chance to put Portugal away for good but just couldn't make it happen. During stoppage time Xhaka for Switzerland would pick up his second yellow of the night resulting in a red car for a reckless tackle. The Swiss would play a man down for about two minutes of stoppage time. And that's how it would end, down and man and up on the score board. The Swiss come away from Match Day 1 of UEFA World Cup Qualifying with a 2-0 win.
Pepe for the most part looked like as good he usually is for Madrid. There were a couple mis-steps here and there but overall he looked solid at the back. It was Portugal's attack that really lacked any teeth and I think you chalk that up to the absence of both Cristiano Ronaldo and Renalo Sanches. Nani cannot be the focus of this attack.