France lived up to its billing as favourite in World Cup qualifying Group A by beating the Netherlands 1-0 Monday, thanks to a long-range strike by midfielder Paul Pogba and a late save by Hugo Lloris.
Sweden, meanwhile, continued to show it can play without retired superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic, going level on points at the top of the group by registering its second victory in qualifying for the 2018 tournament in Russia, beating Bulgaria 3-0.
The win means France and Sweden remain the only unbeaten sides in Group A. In the night’s other group match, Belarus took the lead in the 80th and Luxembourg equalized five minutes later in a 1-1 draw.
European Championship runner-up France looked dangerous throughout the match at the Amsterdam Arena, with Pogba bossing the midfield and the searing pace of right back Djibril Sidibe and powerful runs of Moussa Sissoko and Kevin Gameiro proving a menace.
While Netherlands goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg looked like he could have kept out Pogba’s goal, his good saves kept the score down in the second half.
Both teams were coming off 4-1 victories on Friday, the Netherlands’ attack making up for the team’s continuing defensive frailties against Belarus while France easily overcame Bulgaria as Gameiro scored his first international goals in more than five years.
But the Dutch, already missing experienced stars Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben to injuries, suffered an early setback when Quincy Promes, who scored twice on Friday, limped off and was replaced by Memphis Depay just 16 minutes in.
Without Promes’ pace, the Dutch rarely looked likely to break down the experienced France defence and already looks to be struggling to reach the World Cup with just one team automatically qualifying from each group.