France draws, Dutch lose at start of WC qualifying in Europe

·2 min read

The road to Qatar for the 2022 World Cup began for European teams on Wednesday with a slip-up by France to open its title defence , a big loss for the Netherlands and a human-rights statement by Norway.

The French were held 1-1 by Ukraine inside an empty Stade de France outside Paris as an own-goal by defender Presnel Kimpembe cancelled out Antoine Griezmann's 19th-minute opener for the hosts.

A hat trick by 35-year-old striker Burak Yilmaz earned Turkey a 4-2 win over the Netherlands, whose qualifying record for major international tournaments has been sketchy in recent years.

The Dutch failed to make it to Euro 2016 or the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and hasn’t shown great form under new coach Frank De Boer, who has just two wins in seven matches since replacing Ronald Koeman.

They are in a tricky Group G that also includes Norway, which preceded its 3-0 win over Gibraltar in the Spanish city of Malaga by lining up before kickoff wearing T-shirts over their national-team jerseys bearing the message “HUMAN RIGHTS” followed by “Respect on and off the pitch.”

It was an apparent statement about human rights abuses in Qatar, which is under scrutiny because of its discriminatory laws and conditions for the migrant workers who are helping to build infrastructure for the World Cup.

There were wins for top-ranked Belgium, 3-1 over Wales, and reigning European champion Portugal, 1-0 over Azerbaijan. Portugal is one of the teams playing its opening qualifiers in neutral territory — in its case, the Italian city of Turin — because of coronavirus travel restrictions.

Croatia, which lost to France in the 2018 World Cup final, got off to a disappointing start to its Group H campaign by losing 1-0 to Slovenia.

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Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80

Steve Douglas, The Associated Press