France took a huge step towards qualifying for Euro 2024 with a 2-0 victory over Ireland on Thursday, while the Netherlands and Denmark claimed big wins as they eye places at next year’s finals in Germany.
Aurelien Tchouameni and Marcus Thuram scored either side of half-time and France could have added several more goals as they outclassed Ireland at the Parc des Princes in Paris in qualifying Group B.
Captain Kylian Mbappe had a goal disallowed for offside and Ousmane Dembele later hit the post for a France side who saw Olivier Giroud limp off with an ankle injury in the first half.
Last year’s beaten World Cup finalists have a maximum 15 points and have yet to concede a goal after five matches in the group, which they lead by a massive nine points from both the Netherlands and Greece.
“It is an important step. We have enjoyed a perfect campaign so far but we are not going to rest on our laurels,” said France coach Didier Deschamps.
Ronald Koeman’s Dutch side, who have played just three games, beat Greece 3-0 in Eindhoven with all the goals coming in the first half.
Marten de Roon smashed in their opener, Liverpool’s Cody Gakpo made it 2-0 and Wout Weghorst headed in the third on 39 minutes.
Ireland, with just three points after four games, will surely need to beat the Netherlands at home on Sunday to maintain a realistic chance of going through with the top two teams in each group qualifying.
“At home since the full crowds have been back the energy of the crowd has been important and we will need that,” Ireland manager Stephen Kenny said about that upcoming game in Dublin
“We have a lot to think about in relation to how we are going to play after tonight.”
Elsewhere, Robert Lewandowski scored two late goals as Poland beat the Faroe Islands 2-0 in Warsaw.
The veteran Barcelona striker’s first came from the penalty spot on 73 minutes and he added another seven minutes from time.
Poland, coached by former Portugal boss Fernando Santos, are third in Group E with six points, two points behind leaders the Czech Republic and one behind Albania.
The Czech Republic were held to a 1-1 draw by Albania in Prague.
In Group H, a late Oliver Antman goal gave Finland a 1-0 in Kazakhstan, damaging the Central Asian nation’s hopes of qualifying for a first major tournament.
Finland top the group with 12 points, two points ahead of Denmark and Slovenia who both also won on Thursday.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Joakim Maehle, Jonas Wind and Christian Eriksen netted as Denmark defeated San Marino 4-0 in Copenhagen as new Manchester United signing Rasmus Hojlund appeared off the bench in the second half.
Andraz Sporar scored twice as Slovenia beat Northern Ireland 4-2 in Ljubljana.
A Jonny Evans own goal and a strike by RB Leipzig’s Benjamin Sesko made it a miserable night for the Northern Irish, although Evans did also score at the other end.
Northern Ireland have lost four of their five games in the group with the return of Michael O’Neill as manager not having the desired effect.
Meanwhile Hungary are three points clear of Serbia at the top of Group G after coming from behind to win 2-1 in Belgrade.
Attila Szalai’s own goal gave Serbia the lead but Barnabas Varga equalised and Willi Orban got the winner.
Lithuania drew 2-2 with Montenegro in the same group