Ronaldo Shines as France, Belgium, and Portugal Clinch Hard-fought Euro 2024
Ronaldo Shines as France, Belgium, and Portugal Clinch Hard-fought Euro 2024

New Delhi, October 14, 2023 - The footballing powerhouses of France, Belgium, and Portugal all secured their spots in the highly-anticipated Euro 2024 tournament, but it wasn't without some nail-biting moments. In a series of thrilling matches on Friday night, they each eked out one-goal victories, becoming the first teams to qualify for the upcoming competition set to be hosted in Germany.

In Vienna, Belgium managed to maintain their momentum despite being reduced to ten men, defeating Austria 3-2. Dodi Lukebakio, with his first two international goals, and captain Romelu Lukaku, notched his ninth goal of the campaign, gave Belgium a comfortable 3-0 lead after 58 minutes. Austria's Konrad Laimer replied with a stunning long-range strike, and the game took an unexpected turn when Amadou Onana collected a second yellow card, reducing Belgium to ten men. Austria's Marcel Sabitzer converted a penalty to create an anxious final few minutes for the Belgians, but they held on, securing their third consecutive Euro appearance. Remarkably, Belgium's last Euro qualifying loss dates back to a 1-0 defeat in Wales in June 2015. Austria remains seven points clear of Sweden, who have a game in hand.

In Amsterdam, France prevailed over the Netherlands with a score of 2-1, thanks to two splendid goals by Kylian Mbappe. The French star opened the scoring with a volley after just seven minutes, then added a second with a sumptuous curler eight minutes into the second half. This brace marked his 42nd international goal, surpassing French legend Michel Platini and placing him fourth in the all-time list. Dutch debutant Quilindschy Hartman provided a response, but Mbappe nearly clinched a hat-trick when his late strike hit the crossbar.

"We mustn't get carried away, but we must appreciate and not trivialize things," remarked France coach Didier Deschamps. "To qualify with two games to go, with six wins, 13 goals scored and just one conceded, I'm very proud of what the group has achieved, both in terms of spirit and on the pitch. We got the result we wanted, we achieved our objective."

Meanwhile, Cristiano Ronaldo was the star for Portugal, bagging two crucial goals in a 3-2 victory against Slovakia in Porto. The Portuguese side wobbled despite taking a two-goal lead, with Goncalo Ramos opening the scoring before Ronaldo converted a penalty. Slovakia's David Hancko struck with a deflected shot, marking the first goal Portugal had conceded in the qualifying matches. Ronaldo soon restored the two-goal cushion, tapping in a cross from Bruno Fernandes. A long-range strike from Stanislav Lobotka made for a nervy finish, but Portugal held on.

"Cristiano Ronaldo is having a great time, playing a lot of minutes and scoring a lot of goals for his club," praised Portugal coach Roberto Martinez. "He has a lot of experience with the national team and he's a reference point for young players."

Slovakia remains in second place in the group, but their pursuers are closing in. Third-place Luxembourg managed a 1-1 draw in Iceland, bringing them within two points of Slovakia, who will face Luxembourg on Monday. Bosnia and Herzegovina is an additional two points behind after a 2-0 victory over Liechtenstein, with first-half goals from Amar Rahmanovic and Miroslav Stevanovic. The race for the top two spots in the group promises to be intense in the remaining matches.

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