Paris (AFP) – Cristiano Ronaldo threw his captain’s armband to the ground in anger after being controversially denied an injury-time winner as Portugal blew a two-goal lead against Serbia in World Cup qualifying on Saturday, while Romelu Lukaku’s 59th international goal salvaged Belgium a 1-1 draw with the Czech Republic.
The Netherlands saw off Latvia 2-0 after their opening Group G defeat by Turkey, who backed up that performance with an impressive 3-0 victory over Norway.
Portugal drew 2-2 in Belgrade, despite Ronaldo believing he had scored the winner in the third minute of stoppage time when the ball appeared to cross the goalline before Stefan Mitrovic cleared.
But without technology in use, the goal was not awarded and a fuming Ronaldo was then booked for his protests.
At the final whistle he stormed from the pitch, throwing his captain’s armband to the ground.
“I always give and will give everything for my country, that will never change,” Ronaldo later posted on his Instagram page.
“But there are difficult times to deal with, especially when we feel that an entire nation is being harmed.”
Portugal coach Fernando Santos told RTP: “We scored a goal that was not given when the ball went in. In a match of this level, that isn’t possible.”
Portugal had appeared to be cruising to three points in Belgrade when 2-0 up through Liverpool striker Diogo Jota’s first-half double.
But Nemanja Radonjic’s half-time introduction proved crucial for Serbia as he set up Aleksandar Mitrovic and Filip Kostic to net in the first 15 minutes of the second period.
Belgium, the world number one-ranked side, sit behind the Czech Republic on goal difference in the early Group E standings.
Lukas Provod put the Czechs ahead shortly after half-time in Prague with a magnificent long-range strike, his first international goal.
Ten minutes later, Lukaku collected Kevin De Bruyne’s pass, turned his marker and drilled the ball under goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik for his 19th goal in his last 16 games for Belgium.
– Luxembourg stunner –
Roberto Martinez’s men almost took the lead 14 minutes from time, but after Lukaku teed up De Bruyne, the Manchester City midfielder smashed a low shot against the post.
“If you look at Czech Republic’s results these last months, we knew that it would be a tough game,” Belgium captain Jan Vertonghen told VTM. “They created the good chances, won almost every second ball. But at home we are stronger.”
In the other Group A game, Luxembourg pulled off a shock 1-0 win over a lacklustre Republic of Ireland in Dublin.
Ireland were toothless in attack and the visitors made them pay in the 85th minute with Dynamo Kiev forward Gerson Rodrigues’s winner.
It was only Luxembourg’s sixth victory in World Cup qualifying since their first involvement in 1934.
Frank de Boer’s Netherlands gave the 5,000 fans allowed into the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam something to cheer as Steven Berghuis’s 32nd-minute curling effort and Luuk de Jong’s second-half header saw off Latvia.
“We know that goal difference will be important in these qualifiers,” said De Boer, who also saw De Jong and Davy Klaassen hit the woodwork in the first World Cup qualifier to be refereed by a woman — France’s Stephanie Frappart.
– Human rights protest –
“We deserved to win with at least five goals. We tried everything.”
The Netherlands players followed Norway and Germany by protesting in support of human rights in Qatar, where the 2022 World Cup finals will be held.
Fenerbahce midfielder Ozan Tufan scored twice as Turkey beat a dangerous Norway side.
Leicester centre-back Caglar Soyuncu also enjoyed a fine performance as he netted the second goal and helped keep Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Braut Haaland quiet.
“Last year we’ve qualified for Euro 2020 and now we’re fighting for a spot in the World Cup,” Soyuncu told uefa.com. “We want to be there.”
Russia, World Cup quarter-finalists on home soil three years ago, moved top of the early Group H table with a 2-1 victory over Slovenia, who had started their campaign by beating 2018 runners-up Croatia.
Croatia struggled to find their best form again, but Mario Pasalic’s header five minutes before the break helped Zlatko Dalic’s men edge out Cyprus 1-0 in Rijeka.
Slovakia are already struggling in their bid to qualify, after being held to a 2-2 home draw by minnows Malta.