Rare Lloris error helps Sweden take pole position

Sweden have leapfrogged France into first place in Group A of the Uefa World Cup qualifying Group A, courtesy of a rare Hugo Lloris blunder.

Group A

Olivier Giroud had fired France ahead at the Friends Arena in Stockholm with a fine volley on 38 minutes, but Jimmy Durmaz levelled for Sweden before half-time with his first international goal in almost three years. Just as the match was heading to a draw, Lloris miscued a clearance and allowed Ola Toivonen to score from the halfway line and give the hosts maximum points.

Holland kept the pressure on both Sweden and France by easing to a 5-0 win at home to Luxembourg in Dick Advocaat’s first game back in charge. First half goals from Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder put the home side well in control, and they pressed their superiority further after the break with goals from Georginio Wijnaldum, Quincy Promes, and Vincent Janssen.

Belarus beat Bulgaria 2-1 in the other Group A fixture.

All this puts Sweden in pole position in the race for Russia, albeit by virtue of goal difference over second-placed France. And Holland are tucked into third place and three points off the chase. With four games left to play, this is one of the more competitive qualifying groups, which the next round of fixtures including the French hosting the Dutch in Paris in August.

Group B

Switzerland continued their march to Russia with a comfortable 2-0 win in the Faroe Islands, delivered courtesy of goals from Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri. Two goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and one from Valente Silva gave Portugal a 3-0 win in Latvia, but the big result of the night came in Andorra where the hosts beat Hungary to record a first competitive win since 2004.

So it’s the Swiss who are placed to take the automatic qualifying spot for next summer’s World Cup, as they lead second-placed Portugal by three points. This would mean Fernando Santos’ team face a playoff to qualify, but this could all change before the group fixtures are fulfilled – especially as the final round of fixtures includes a match between the two nations in Lisbon.

Group H

Goals from Dries Mertens and Nacer Chadli gave Belgium what turned out to be an important win against 10-man Estonia in Belgrade. With second placed Greece held to a goalless draw against Bosnia & Herzegovina, Roberto Martinez’s men now have a four-point lead at the top. In the other match played on Friday night, Cyprus recorded a 2-1 win in Gibraltar.

It would now be a surprise – to say the least – if Belgium failed to qualify as Group H winners from here, meaning the main focus of the group is now on second place. Although the Greeks currently hold this position, Bosnia & Herzegovina are just a single point behind. Both sides still have to place the leaders at home, the results of which could prove the key to finishing runners-up.

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