2018 Fifa World Cup European qualifying

Pogba shows Manchester United he’s still got it with stunner for France, while Benteke scores fastest goal in World Cup history

France midfielder blasts home from 30 metres; Belgian striker off the mark after seven seconds

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 October, 2016, 8:59am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 October, 2016, 10:16pm

The fastest goal in World Cup history capped a night of 6-0 routs and the Netherlands’ further fall in European qualifying on Monday.

Seven seconds ticked by when Belgium forward Christian Benteke’s shot finished his surging run through the Gibraltar defence.

Benteke beat the 8.3 seconds that Davide Gaultieri took to score for San Marino against England in 1993 and set the tone for the visiting Belgians’ 6-0 win.

Paul Pogba reminded France and Man United of his talent after a dispiriting start to the season with a 30-metre strike in a 1-0 win over Netherlands.

Portugal also won 6-0 but needed only a single, excellent goal from Cristiano Ronaldo to dominate the Faroe Islands.

Instead, 20-year-old Andre Silva stepped up with a first-half hat-trick in just his fourth international match – perhaps finally pairing Ronaldo with a true penalty-area predator for the freshly crowned European champions.

Belgium and France top their groups, though Portugal trail Switzerland who won a third straight qualifier, 2-1 at lowly Andorra.

Only the nine European group winners advance directly to play in Russia and four runners-up will qualify through a playoff round.

Here is what happened on Monday:

GROUP A

France lived up to their billing as favourites in the group thanks to Pogba’s goal and a late save by Hugo Lloris.

Sweden continued to show they can play without retired superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic, going level with France on seven points by beating Bulgaria 3-0.

The Dutch have four points and, despite drawing 1-1 in Sweden last month, are already playing catch up.

Criticised by coach Didier Deschamps for his performance in Friday’s 4-1 win over Bulgaria in Paris, the world’s most expensive footballer Pogba emphatically replied with a towering display for Les Bleus in Amsterdam.

“I didn’t speak to him [Pogba], I just said a few words to him before entering the changing rooms, ‘I have confidence in you,’” said Deschamps.

“The match confirms what he is able to do. Pogba was much better in everything he did. He showed what he can do.

“We never doubted he could do it. We mustn’t forget Paul is relatively young and he can still progress.”

While Netherlands goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg looked like he could have kept out Pogba’s goal, his second-half saves kept his team in the game.

“Maarten knows that he would usually save that [Pogba shot] with one hand in training,” Netherlands coach Danny Blind said.

Injured Dutch stars Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben did not start and Quincy Promes limped off just 16 minutes in.

France coach Didier Deschamps said Pogba was “decisive ... not just because of his goal, but also by winning the ball in midfield and distributing well.”

“It’s an important win for us, even if we could have had a larger lead,” said Deschamps.

“We could have hurt them more in the first half. It’s good to have got these two victories.”

Also, Belarus took the lead in the 80th and Luxembourg equalised five minutes later in a 1-1 draw.

GROUP B

Portugal’s second 6-0 win inside four days was not enough to top the group but points to a bright future.

Andre Silva, the Porto prospect, scored in the 12th, 22nd and 37th minutes before Ronaldo added a fourth midway through the second half in a comfortable visit to the North Atlantic. Goals from Joao Moutinho and Joao Cancelo in stoppage time completed the drubbing.

Silva has replaced Eder, the Euro 2016 final scorer against France, and looks there to stay, now with four goals in four games to complement Ronaldo’s career tally of 66 for Portugal.

Ronaldo’s goal Monday was a rising left-foot shot from the edge of the penalty area.

Switzerland were less impressive in edging to a 2-1 win over Andorra who had not scored in World Cup qualifying since September 2009.

It was worth waiting for, after Fabian Schaer’s 19th-minute penalty and Admir Mehmedi’s 77th-minute header put the visitors in control. Then Alex Martinez fired in a shot from distance in the 90th.

Switzerland have nine points, three points clear of Portugal. Hungary are third, with four points, after winning 2-0 in Latvia.

GROUP H

Belgium needed only a World Cup-record seven seconds to prove the gap between No. 2 in the Fifa rankings and Gibraltar, dead last.

Two lazy backward passes into the game, Benteke stole the ball, cut through the defence and made history.

Benteke scored two more, one a wonderful backheel, to lead Belgium to match their biggest away victory. The other scorers were Mertens, Eden Hazard and Axel Witsel against a team playing their first World Cup qualifying campaign after gaining Fifa membership in May.

Belgium have a perfect nine points atop the group. Greece are the main challenger after they won 2-0 at Estonia to stay perfect through three matches. Also, Bosnia-Herzegovina beat Cyprus 2-0.

It was further evidence that the Red Devils, a dispirited team after an earlier-than-expected quarterfinal exit from Euro 2016, have found their groove under new coach Roberto Martinez.

“It is a terrific moment for Belgian football,” Martinez said. “It showed the focus we had.”