Portugal and France kept alive their hopes of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup finals with morale-boosting victories on Saturday night.
Both star-studded teams had faced the miserable prospect of missing out on going to South Africa following poor results up until now. But France, the 1998 champions, relieved some of the pressure on under-fire coach Raymond Domenech by clinching a playoff place behind Group Seven winners Serbia with a 5-0 crushing of the Faroe Islands. Andre-Pierre Gignac netted two first-half goals to follow up his winner against the islanders last year, then William Gallas made it 3-0 before late strikes from striker Nicolas Anelka and substitute Karim Benzema. Serbia clinched qualification as a single nation for the first time with a 5-0 crushing of 10-man Romania, having participated as Serbia-Montenegro in 2006. Nikola Zigic put the hosts ahead after 37 minutes and then in the second half Marko Pantelic and Zdravko Kuzmanovic tripled the lead before a late double from Milan Jovanovic followed an 84th-minute red card to Romania captain Cristian Chivu. Portugal were boosted by the return from injury of Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo at home to Hungary, but the team captain lasted just 27 minutes before having to limp off.
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However, Simao Sabrosa netted twice as Portugal won 3-0 to move above Sweden into second place ahead of Wednesday’s final qualifier at home to Group One whipping-boys Malta. Hungary had been level on points with the visitors but went behind in the 18th minute to Simao’s opener, and the winger sealed victory on 79 — four minutes after a headed goal from Liedson. The Swedes dropped a point behind Portugal after losing 1-0 away to Denmark, a victory which gave their Scandinavian rivals an unassailable position at the top of the table and a ticket to South Africa. Midfielder Jacob Poulsen beat goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson from long range with 12 minutes left after the visitors had two second-half efforts disallowed. Henrik Larsson was deemed offside when he scored from Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s backheel, and Anders Svensson’s diving header was also ruled out.