Russia book Euro 2020 spot as Netherlands edge closer to finals

PARIS (AFP) – Russia eased to a 5-0 thrashing of 10-man Cyprus on Sunday to become the third team to secure a place at Euro 2020, while Georginio Wijnaldum scored twice as the Netherlands beat Belarus.

Stanislav Cherchesov’s Russia, who reached the World Cup quarter-finals on home soil last year, only had to avoid defeat in Nicosia to join Belgium in qualifying from Group I.

Valencia winger Denis Cheryshev fired in a ninth-minute opener for the visitors, before Magomed Ozdoev made it two midway through the first half.

Any thoughts of a Cyprus comeback were ended in just the 28th minute when Kostas Laifis was dismissed for a nasty lunge on Russian full-back Sergei Petrov.

Striker Artem Dzyuba scored his third goal in two games in the 79th minute, before Aleksandr Golovin and Cheryshev’s second completed the rout late on.

Russia now lead third-placed Cyprus by 11 points with only two matches remaining, and will attempt to overtake Belgium at the summit when they host the world’s number one side on November 16.

Roberto Martinez’s Belgium, who qualified by thrashing San Marino 9-0 in midweek, won 2-0 in Kazakhstan earlier thanks to goals from Michy Batshuayi and Thomas Meunier.

The European Championship finals, which start on June 12 next year, are being held at 12 different venues across the continent.

Ronald Koeman’s Netherlands moved three points clear at the top of Group C ahead of Germany with a nervy 2-1 win over Belarus in Minsk.

The Dutch also lead third-placed Northern Ireland by three points after beating Michael O’Neill’s side 3-1 last Thursday.

Wijnaldum headed the away team in front in the 32nd minute, shortly after Denis Laptev had spurned a golden chance to give Belarus a shock lead.

The Liverpool midfielder doubled the advantage before the break with a wonderful 25-yard strike into the top corner, and although Stanislav Dragun gave Belarus hope early in the second half, the Netherlands held on with relative comfort.

“We have to do better than we did in the second half, although in the end we had things under control,” Dutch captain Virgil van Dijk told television channel NOS.

“We are now very close to qualifying for the finals, and ultimately that’s what counts.”

Victory in Belfast over the Northern Irish next month would secure the Oranje a first appearance at a major tournament since finishing third at the 2014 World Cup.

Elsewhere, Hungary moved second in Group E with a 1-0 win against Azerbaijan ahead of leaders Croatia’s attempt to qualify with victory over Wales in Cardiff.