France and Belgium finish top of their respective qualification groups to qualify for Qatar with a game to spare; two late goals from Montenegro denied the Netherlands the chance to join them
Belgium and France both qualified for next year’s World Cup finals with four goals from Kylian Mbappe helping the French demolish Kazakhstan 8-0.
The result left France top Group D on 15 points from seven games, four ahead of second-placed Finland, who they visit in their final match on Tuesday.
Karim Benzema added two goals while Adrien Rabiot and Antoine Griezmann scored one each to cap an impressive performance at the Parc des Princes and seal France’s berth in next year’s 32-nation tournament in Qatar.
The floodgates opened after Mbappe fired France into a sixth-minute lead with a superb first-time shot from a Theo Hernandez assist, with the home side always two gears ahead of the Kazakhs.
Mbappe added the second in the 12th minute with a simple finish into an empty net past a defender after Kingsley Coman raced down the right, and he completed a first-half hat-trick in the 32nd when he headed home an inch-perfect cross from Coman.
The French never took their foot off the pedal after the break and soon increased their advantage with two quickfire goals from Benzema, who poked in the fourth from a Hernandez assist before Mbappe turned provider.
Rabiot scored his first international goal in the 75th minute as he headed in Griezmann’s corner before the latter netted his 42nd with a penalty, overtaking Michel Platini as his country’s third-highest top scorer.
The brilliant Mbappe put the icing on the cake three minutes before the end with a sublime finish into the bottom-right corner from a fine assist by substitute Moussa Diaby, with the home crowd already in full swing.
Belgium secured themselves a spot in next year’s World Cup finals and kept up their unbeaten qualifying run as they beat Estonia 3-1.
The semi-finalists in Russia in 2018 climbed to an unassailable 19 points in Group E, after Christian Benteke scored early and Yannick Carrasco and Thorgan Hazard added second-half goals.
The Belgians join Brazil, Denmark, France and Germany as the first five countries to qualify for the finals starting next November in Qatar.
Without the injured Romelu Lukaku and Michy Batshuayi, the 30-year-old Benteke was given a rare chance to lead the attack, and he took little time to open the scoring.
He tapped in from close range after Estonia goalkeeper Matvei Igonen made a horrible error, letting a low cross from Carrasco slip through his hands.
Benteke might have had a couple more before the break, while Eden Hazard had just the goalkeeper to beat after a clever over-the-top pass from Kevin De Bruyne, but he wasted the chance.
Carrasco showed the way after Benteke had set him up in the 52nd minute with a powerful left-footed drive into the top of the net from the edge of the area.
Estonia then pulled one back in the 70th minute when Rauno Sappinens shot was palmed away by Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois into the path of Erik Sorga, who put the ball away.
It was four minutes later that the two-goal advantage was restored when substitute Thorgan Hazard headed home De Bruyne’s cross.
Wales moved clear in second place with a 5-1 home rout of Belarus, as Gareth Bale earned his 100th cap for his country
Group G: Netherlands blow two-goal lead
Two late goals from Montenegro denied the Netherlands the chance to book a berth at next year’s World Cup finals with a match to spare, with their 2-2 draw on Saturday leaving the outcome of Group G in the balance.
The Dutch were eight minutes away from moving into an unassailable lead in the group, but goals from Ilija Vukotic in the 82nd minute and Nikola Vujnovic four minutes later meant the Netherlands must now wait for Tuesday’s last home game against Norway in Rotterdam to book their place in Qatar.
They had been coasting at 2-0 after a double from Memphis Depay as they looked to banish the bitter memories of missing out on the last World Cup in Russia.
Yet their hopes of celebrating with a game to spare, after closest challengers Norway drew earlier on Saturday with Latvia, were spoilt by an exciting home comeback.
The Dutch remain two points ahead of the other teams in the group after Norway were held to a goalless draw at home by Latvia while Turkey beat Gibraltar 6-0. The Netherlands are on 20 points with Norway and Turkey on 18.
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