No problems for Russia and Portugal

Gareth Bale watches Wales lose from the sidelines as Russia and Portugal record wins in Group F.

    No problems for Russia and Portugal
    Taking the match ball home: Ronaldo (C) scored three for Portugal to help keep them on top of Group F [AP]

    Cristiano Ronaldo's hat-trick earned Portugal a thrilling 4-2 comeback win over a brave Northern Ireland side as three players were sent off in an eventful World Cup qualifying Group F match in Belfast on Friday.

    Ronaldo's three goals, two trademark headers and one from a free kick, sent Portugal back to the top of Group F and made him his country's second best goalscorer of all time with 43 goals, ahead of the great Eusebio who scored 41.

    The visitors were firm favourites but Northern Ireland, who had held Portugal to a 1-1 draw in Porto last year and shocked Russia 1-0 in Belfast last month, proved tough opponents.

    Portugal went into the match as favorites and Bruno Alves put the visitors ahead after 21 minutes. But West Bromwich Albion defender Gareth McAuley equalised with a fine header before Helder Postiga was sent off for an apparent headbutt in the 43rd minute.

    Portugal stumbled when Jamie Ward gave the home team a 2-1 lead in the 52nd but left-back Chris Brunt received a red card at the hour-mark.

    The referee's decision boosted the Portuguese's spirits and Ronaldo leveled the score in the 68th, heading home a corner from Joao Moutinho past Roy Carroll. Left unmarked at the far post, Ronaldo doubled his tally with another header from close range and scored his 43rd international goal in the 83rd with a low free kick minutes after Kyle Lafferty was sent off for a late challenge.

    Four for Russia 

    Alexander Kokorin scored twice as Russia beat Luxembourg 4-1 in their World Cup qualifier. Russia are second, on 15 points with one game in hand.

    Kokorin struck in the first minute after rain had delayed kickoff in Kazan by an hour, and the Anzhi Makhachkala forward headed home a Dmitri Kombarov free kick in the 35th minute to put Fabio Capello's side in charge before the break.

    Alexander Kerzhakov added a third on the hour and Alexander Samedov wrapped up victory in stoppage time after Aurelien Joachim pulled one back for Luxembourg in the 90th minute.

    The victory marked a return to form for the Russians after their 1-0 defeat in Northern Ireland last month.

    Luxembourg remain firmly rooted to the bottom of the group without a win in seven matches. Israel, who host Azerbaijan on Saturday, lie third on 11 points, four behind the Russians.

    Spectator sprint

    Gareth Bale, the world's most expensive footballer, watched from the substitutes' bench as his Wales team lost a World Cup qualifier 2-1 in Macedonia.

    Bale completed his record $132 million move from Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid on Sunday and was not named in the starting lineup by Wales manager Chris Coleman due to a lack of match fitness.

    The forward did get on to the pitch during halftime when he warmed up with his fellow substitutes and he was approached by an over-exuberant spectator who ran out from the stands.

    Bale, who laughed off the incident, has not played since July and is also unlikely to feature for the full 90 minutes in Wales's next qualifier at home to Serbia on Tuesday. 

    Wales slipped to fifth in qualifying Group A, below Macedonia, and have no chance of reaching next year's World Cup finals in Brazil.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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