While Kylian Mbappe’s four goals in an 8-0 rout of Kazakhstan ensured defending champion France reached next year’s World Cup along with victorious Belgium, the Netherlands failed to join them on Saturday after conceding two late goals.
Belgium was less spectacular beating Estonia 3-1 at home but has an unassailable five point-lead over second-place Wales, which beat Belarus 5-1 in Cardiff and has a three-point lead over the Czech Republic for a playoff spot.
After missing out on the last World Cup, the Dutch looked set to go through after leading 2-0 at Montenegro with goals from Memphis Depay. Yet Montenegro struck twice in the last eight minutes to make it 2-2, and that gives Turkey and Norway a chance for top spot since they are two points behind with one game left.
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“I don’t know what to say. Unbelievable,” Netherlands captain Virgil van Dijk told Dutch broadcaster NOS. “It’s scandalous how we played in the second half.”
France was playing away from its usual home venue Stade de France and took the field at Parc des Princes, where Mbappe stars for Paris Saint-Germain. He became the first France player since Just Fontaine at the 1958 World Cup to score four times in one game.
“The most important thing was qualifying, and we have players in our squad who have never played in the World Cup,” said Mbappe, who starred in the last one. “It’s a dream to play in it for your country.”
After 32 minutes he had his first international hat-trick.
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Karim Benzema combined with Theo Hernandez to set up his first goal and then Kingsley Coman picked him out twice, the second with a cross from the right met by a rare header.
Mbappe has bounced back from a disappointing Euro 2020, where he failed to score, and his late goal helped France win the Nations League final last month. Benzema also scored in that game.
The irrepressible Hernandez whipped over another cross from the left for another assist as Benzema met it at the near post for 4-0 in the 55th. Four minutes later, Benzema played a slick one-two with Mbappe for his second goal and 35th for France.
His partnership with Mbappe is blossoming fast.
“We showed we have a good understanding and combine well together,” Benzema said. “Personally, I’m delighted to play in another World Cup (after 2014).”
Adrien Rabiot and Antoine Griezmann also scored late before Mbappe emulated the great Fontaine — the all-time leading scorer in a single World Cup with 13 goals in ’58.
The second-place finisher enters the playoffs and Finland has a chance, although it next hosts rampant France.
Belgium’s Yannick Carrasco, center, celebrates after scoring his side’s second goal, at the King Baudouin stadium in Brussels. – AP
The Finns won 3-1 at Bosnia and Herzegovina despite playing more than 50 minutes with a player less to move above Ukraine and into second place. The home side was missing all-time 60-goal top scorer Edin Dzeko through injury and lacked a cutting edge.
There was no Romelu Lukaku up front for Belgium as he recovers from a minor injury, so Christian Benteke stepped in and put his side ahead against Estonia after 11 minutes. Aaron Ramsey was even quicker, taking three minutes to put Wales 1-0 up and Liverpool defender Neco Williams doubled the lead in the 20th.
Ramsey’s penalty made it 3-0 shortly after the break.
Yannick Carrasco and Thorgan Hazard netted second-half goals for Belgium, while goals from Ben Davies and Conner Roberts capped a fine night for Wales — which next hosts Belgium. Gareth Bale made his 100th appearance for Wales
Turkey profited from Norway’s slip to move into second and the playoff spot on goal difference after rocking Gibraltar 6-0. Veteran striker Burak Yilmaz did not score but Galatasaray marksman Halil Dervisoglu — 15 years his junior — netted twice.
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Norway missed star striker Erling Haaland because of a hip injury and failed to break down Latvia at home in a 0-0 draw.
Depay’s penalty put the Netherlands ahead midway through the first half and he tucked away a right-wing cross from Denzel Dumfries with a backheel at the front post in the 54th to reach 37 international goals.
Turkey has a narrow +1 advantage over Norway on goal difference heading into their final group games on Tuesday, where scoring could prove crucial. Norway travels to the Netherlands without the prolific Haaland, and Montenegro hosts Turkey.
France, Germany, Belgium and Denmark are among the eventual 10 European group winners.
The 10 group runners-up will be joined in the playoffs by two teams which won a Nations League group last year. Runners-up with the six best records will play at home first in the semifinals.
FIFA will make the playoffs draw on November 26 in Zurich.
The three winners of the playoffs finals on March 29 will complete the lineup of 13 European teams present in Qatar.