France, Portugal qualify for World Cup -- barely

Mamadou Sakho’s second goal capped a wild comeback Tuesday that earned France a 3-0 win over Ukraine and a berth in next summer’s World Cup while Cristiano Ronaldo single-handedly gave Portugal a ticket to Brazil, scoring three times to beat Sweden, 3-2, in a UEFA runner-up playoff in Sweden.

Ghana, Algeria, Greece and Croatia also earned World Cup spots Tuesday, leaving just two of the 32 invitations to Brazil unclaimed. Mexico, holding a 5-1 lead over New Zealand, could grab one of those when it kicks off the second-leg of its intercontinental playoff  in Wellington at 10 p.m. PST Tuesday while Uruguay will meet Jordan to decide the other spot Wednesday in Montevideo with the South Americans leading 5-0.

Needing three scores to avoid missing the World Cup for the first time since 1994, France started quickly, getting first-half scores from Sakho, in the 27th minute, and Karim Benzema in the 34th. But with Ukraine having won the first end of the two-leg UEFA playoff, 2-0, at home, those two goals simply pulled France even in aggregate goals.

Sakho broke that tie in the 72nd minute, slipping a right-footed shot from close range past goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov and into the bottom left-hand corner of the net to send France through.

Portugal, meanwhile, entered its match in Sweden leading on aggregate goals after a second-half score by Ronaldo produced a 1-0 win in last week’s first leg. But the second half of the rematch turned into a shootout, matching Ronaldo against Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Ronaldo got the fireworks started, scoring just after halftime. After Ibrahimovic answered with two scores of his own four minutes apart, Ronaldo took over, seemingly clinching the FIFA player of the year award by scoring a left-footed goal in the 77th minute and a right-footed one two minutes later.

Iceland, meanwhile, had its World Cup hopes smothered by Croatia, 2-0, in a UEFA runner-up playoff. The two teams played to a scoreless draw in the first leg in Reykjavik last week, leaving Iceland in position to advance on away goals if it simply played Croatia to a draw.

But when Darijo Sma scored in the 47th minute, it gave Croatia a comfortable 2-0 lead. Mario Mandzukic scored Croatia’s first goal in the 27th minute.

In the final UEFA qualifier, Greece played Romania to a 1-1 draw to advance on aggregate goals, 4-2.

Ghana and Algeria claimed the final two African berths in Brazil.

Ghana dropped a 2-1 decision to Egypt but advanced on aggregate goals thanks to a decisive 6-1 victory in last month’s first leg. Egypt, under the direction of former U.S. national team Coach Bob Bradley, got a first-half goal from Amr Zaki and a second-half score from Mohamed Gedo but never really pressured Ghana, which is going to its third consecutive World Cup.

Algeria had a tougher time against visiting Burkina Faso, winning 1-0 on Madjig Bougherra’s score in the 48th minute. That left the teams tied, 3-3, on aggregate goals but Algeria will be going to Brazil because it had an edge in away goals, the first tiebreaker in World Cup qualifying. Two of Algeria’s three scores came on the road when Burkina Faso was blanked in Algeria.


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