Arjen Robben ensured that the Netherlands bowed out of World Cup qualification in some style Tuesday, scoring both goals as the Dutch beat Sweden 2-0 before then announcing his retirement from international football.
The winning margin at the Amsterdam Arena was nowhere near enough for the Netherlands, which had to beat Sweden by seven goals to move into second place in Group A.
The Swedes, who looked content to defend throughout the match, finished second and go into a playoff for the World Cup in Russia next year. France beat Belarus 2-1 to seal top spot in the group and automatic qualification.
If other players had emulated Robben’s finishing prowess, the Dutch would have been much closer to the unlikely score they needed.
Defender Kenny Tete, midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum both squandered good chances in the first half and Ryan Babel came close with a long-range free kick.
It was 33-year-old Robben’s 96th and final international for the Netherlands and he stamped his authority all over the match, taking his tally of goals to 37, level with Dennis Bergkamp.
He announced his retirement from the national team after the game.
Robben gave the Netherlands the lead when he converted – though only just – a 16th minute penalty with a fluffed Panenka chip.
There was no sign of a mis-hit for his second goal, a powerful first-time shot from just outside the penalty area that fizzed past Sweden goalkeeper Robin Olsen and into the top corner in the 40th minute. As the final whistle sounded, the crowd rose to give Robben a standing ovation, chanting, “Arjen, thanks” in Dutch.
Portugal keeps momentum going
European champion Portugal will get a chance to keep its momentum going after qualifying for next year’s World Cup with a 2-0 victory over Switzerland on Tuesday.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s team got the win it needed in the showdown against the Swiss at a packed Stadium of Light.
Both teams finished with 27 points, but Portugal had a better goal difference.
Switzerland, which had led Group B since the first round, will have to go through a playoff to try to make it to the tournament in Russia.
The Swiss arrived with a three-point lead over Portugal and need at least a draw to earn the automatic World Cup berth.
An own-goal by Swiss defender Johan Djourou before halftime and a goal forward by Andre Silva early in the second half were enough for Portugal, which has won nine straight matches since the opening 2-0 loss to the Swiss in Basel last year.
Switzerland had won all of its nine qualifiers until Tuesday’s setback.
Syria’s hopes dashed by Australia
Millions of Syrians at home and abroad cheered, shouted and were ultimately left frustrated Tuesday as they watched their chance to qualify for their first ever World Cup soccer tournament end in disappointment.
The country’s impressive showing had brought hope and a rare chance to celebrate among Syrians living with a brutal civil war that has killed nearly half a million people. The “Dream,” as a Syrian TV announcer described it Tuesday, ended in a 2-1 extra-time loss to Australia.
President Bashar Assad, who has benefited from a Syria team thrust onto the world stage, saluted the players, known as the “Qasioun Eagles” after a mountain overlooking Damascus.
“You were heroes and drew smiles on the faces of all Syrians,” Assad said in remarks carried on the presidency’s Telegram page.
Tens of thousands of people had gathered in the Umayyad square in Damascus, seat of Assad’s power, cheering and waving Syrian flags as they watched the game on giant screens.
“The Syrian team played in a mythical way. Although it lost the game, it has gained the respect of the entire world,” 25-year-old Dima Al-Sawas said as she struggled to hold back tears.
Tim Cahill scores his 50th international goal to move Australia one step closer to the World Cup! pic.twitter.com/DmvR9OYThY
The team has been on a remarkable run despite being forced to play all its games abroad. But in a reflection of the massive divisions among Syrians amid an ongoing 7-year war, the country’s World Cup bid was not supported by many Syrians opposed to Assad, who accused him of exploiting the team.
After the match on social media, some cheered while others derided the team, largely seen as being controlled by the Syrian government.
Many among the opposition called it the “Assad Team” or the “Barrel Bomb” team, in reference to the helicopter-borne explosive barrels dropped on civilians that became a trademark of Assad’s military during the war. Images of the players wearing T-shirts emblazoned with Assad’s face at news conferences reinforced the image of a national team controlled by a dictator.
“Congratulations on the defeat of one of the most dangerous attempts by the criminal Assad to promote himself,” tweeted opposition activist Osama Abu Zeid, an adviser to rebels fighting to topple Assad.