Two more European sides have qualified for the 2022 World Cup. Belgium and France securing victories tonight have them joining Germany, Denmark and Brazil in Qatar next winter. For much of the night it seemed certain that three nations would secure a berth, but the Netherlands threw their chances of qualifying into doubt after conceding two goals late to Montenegro. Here is how Saturday's games played out.
World Cup qualifying results
Bosnia and Herzegovina 1, Finland 3
France 8, Kazakhstan 0
Wales 5, Belarus 1
Belgium 3, Estonia 1
Norway 0, Latvia 0
Turkey 6, Gibraltar 0
Montenegro 2, Netherlands 2
All to play for in Group G
With eight minutes left in Podgorica the situation in Group G seemed clear. Memphis Depay had seemingly carried the Netherlands to the top spot while Norway were to pay the price for their dropped points in Latvia. However a stunning late brace from Montenegro forced a draw, leaving everything up for grabs going into the final round of games.
A draw for the Netherlands against Norway would almost certainly still be enough for them to top the group unless Turkey can make up a 13 goal margin against Montenegro. However defeat for the Dutch in Rotterdam would mean that they would be eliminated if Turkey do win in Podgorica, though it is clear that that will not be a simple task.
It had looked so easy for Louis van Gaal's side with an hour played. A foul by Marko Jankovic on Davy Klaasen gave Depay the chance to net his 36th goal for the Dutch national team, moving clear of Ruud van Nistelrooy and Faas Wilkes into fifth place in the national team's scoring chart with a low drive into the bottom right corner. A 37th to draw him level with Dennis Bergkamp and Arjen Robben would soon follow as he back heeled Denzel Dumfries' cross in at the near post.
The Barcelona forward's 11th goal in this qualifying campaign puts him three clear of rivals Harry Kane, Eran Zahavi and Robert Lewandowski. Perhaps the only record that looks beyond Depay at the moment is matching the latter's record of 16 goals in a European World Cup qualifying campaign. He would need to score four in the Netherlands final qualifier to match the Polish striker's tally in 2014 and 2015.
The Netherlands draw at Montenegro may make it all the more frustrating for Norway that they dropped two points at home to Latvia. Mohamed Elyounoussi thought he had been the one to make the pressure play in the 81st minute only for VAR to intervene and judge him to be offside. The Southampton forward had also seen a shot blocked off the line, one of seven the Latvian defense got themselves in the way of in a match that ran into nine minutes of added time.
Norway's draw opens up space for Turkey to claim second place after a thumping 6-0 win over Gibraltar. Halil Dervisoglu scored two against a side reduced to 10 men for 67 minutes after a foul by Jayce Olivero on Zeki Celik. The sixth and final goal, a powerful header by Mert Mulder, may yet prove to be a significant one in Group G, where Stefan Kuntz's side now hold second place on goal differential.
Belgium get the job done
A strong Belgium side were hardly at their best in Brussels but did enough against Estonia to ensure they will in Qatar. Christian Benteke pounced on an early error by Matvei Igonen, who let a Yannick Carrasco cross slide beyond him to the Crystal Palace striker.
Carrasco would go from provider to scorer for the second with Benteke teeing him before he thumped a ferocious shot from range. That ought to have been enough to allow Belgium to cruise to three points but they briefly gave Estonia hope of a surprise point when Thibaut Courtois spilled Rauno Sappinen's shot into the path of Erik Sorga, who made it 2-1. Thorgan Hazard soon killed off hope of a comeback, however.
Meanwhile, Wales have strengthened their hopes of securing second place in the group -- and with it a spot among the seeds for the playoff round that will decide Europe's remaining two qualifiers -- after a convincing 2-0 win over Belarus. Aaron Ramsey struck the opener, pouncing on the rebound after Sergei Chernik had spilled Ben Davies' volley from the edge of the box. The Belarussian goalkeeper's tough night in Cardiff continued soon after, beaten low at his near post by Neco Williams.
Ramsey scored his second of the night with a penalty early in the second half, a goal that saw him overtake Craig Bellamy to become the sixth highest scorer in Welsh history. The man who leads that particular chart reached another milestone tonight as Gareth Bale earned his 100th cap.
Wales, which saw Ben Davies and Conor Roberts add further goals, now hold a three point lead over the Czech Republic ahead of the visit of Belgium to the Cardiff City Stadium. They may need a draw or better against the group leaders with the Czechs favored to beat Estonia in Prague. Whichever side finishes third will still find themselves in the second round of European qualifiers by virtue of their performance in the Nations League, but they will not be seeded.
Finland give themselves a chance
Before France formalized their spot at Qatar against Kazakhstan -- Kylian Mbappe found the back of the net four times in the easy won -- Finland gave themselves a slither of a chance of reaching the tournament for the first time. A 3-1 win away to Bosnia and Herzegovina saw them leapfrog their Group D rivals in impressive fashion, putting them in control of their fate heading into the final round of games.
Norwich striker Teemu Pukki seemed to have squandered a prime opportunity for the Finns early on when he missed a penalty but he made amends soon after, teeing up fellow Premier League striker Marcus Forss to give the visitors the lead in the 25th minute. That advantage looked vulnerable when Jukka Raitala was sent off for a horrendous tackle on Bosnia's Sead Kolasinac, who was forced off with an ankle injury.
However the Finns held firm against a Bosnian side that seemed to be lacking the focal presence of the injured Edin Dzeko in attack. Instead, they were undone at the other end when Finland's record scorer Pukki again provided for a teammate as Robin Lod increased side's lead to 2-0 in the 51st minute. Luka Menalo gave Bosnia hope of avoiding elimination soon after coming on as a substitute but Daniel O'Shaughnessy converted Lod's free kick moments later to secure a victory for Finland.
The job is not done yet for Markku Kanerva's side, who face France in Helsinki in their final qualifier, but they do have a two point cushion over third place Ukraine, who have drawn six of their seven games in Group D. Only a win in Bosnia will give them any chance of leapfrogging the Eagle Owls, though with the goal difference margins so tight a point may not be enough for Finland on Tuesday.