Even now soccer fans must still have fresh on their minds the magnificent championship battle of the UEFA Euro 2016 between France and Portugal, which saw the latter team soldier on in spite of the devastating loss of their star Christiano Ronaldo, who was retired from the game due to a knee injury, ultimately winning their first major title. Both teams were at their peak form during that final match, showing their best performances yet. And then come the start of the qualifying matches for the 2018 World Cup, and these two teams were abruptly humbled in their initial matches.
In a way it wasn’t entirely expected for Portugal, as they were still smarting from not having the recovering Ronaldo from their lineup. But a friendly warm-up bout against FIFA newbie Team Gibraltar that saw Portugal score 5-0 goals seemed to assuage their concerns about being overly reliant on the oft-considered World’s Best Soccer Player.
Then the World Cup qualifiers started, wherein Portugal was assigned to the Group B campaign. Matched up against Switzerland for their first match, the Euro 2016 champions were caught flat-footed and suffered a 2-0 loss as reported by The Daily Mail. It was a surprise for the Portuguese as the Swiss weren’t much serious performers during the UEFA Championships in France.
Yet somehow they managed to put one over the champions by scoring their two goals within the first half-hour of game time. On minute 23 Switzerland’s Breel Embolo saved a parried free kick from teammate Ricardo Rodriguez and scored point 1. A short while later Admir Mehmedi completely ruined Portugal’s composure by following up with point 2 on minute 30. The best goal attempt by Portugal would not be until minute 82 with a goalpost hit.
While Switzerland walked away with the win, they did lose midfielder Granit Xhaka for their next game against Hungary due to getting two yellow cards, though not even his removal from play was enough to weaken his team for a Portuguese counterattack.
Elsewhere on the Group A bracket, Euro 2016 host France could do no more than force a 0-0 draw during their first match with Belarus, bringing back sad memories from the UEFA Championship match where they also scored no points and became the second UEFA host country in the history of the tournament to lose a championship match. Curiously, the first had been Portugal itself in 2004.
In other FIFA qualifier news, the Kosovo National Football Team, another new FIFA entry alongside Gibraltar, made a respectful showing of its prowess by playing a 1-1 draw against Finland on Monday September 5. This was their first official FIFA game.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup will be held in Russia.
Photo Credit to Eurosport