Berlin, 23 March 2019 (MIA/dpa) – Cristiano Ronaldo had a frustrating return to international football on Friday as Portugal were held 0-0 by Ukraine while England and France opened Euro 2020 qualifying with comfortable wins.
Ronaldo turned out for the European champions for the first time since the 2018 World Cup but could not help Portugal find the net in Lisbon. In the other Group B game, Luxembourg beat Lithuania 2-1.
England made a confident start to Group A with a Raheem Sterling hat-trick lifting them 5-0 over the Czech Republic at Wembley after Bulgaria drew 1-1 with Montenegro.
World champions France cruised 4-1 away to Moldova in Group H while Turkey and Iceland had 2-0 wins away to Albania and Andorra respectively.
Portugal reached the Nations League finals they’ll host in June without their star Ronaldo, who earned his 155th cap against Ukraine having missed six consecutive games.
He played on the left of an attacking trio and forced keeper Andriy Pyatov into two first-half saves.
Ukraine defended solidly to the break before Pyatov was called into action to deny Andre Silva at full stretch.
And the visitors almost stole all three points late on when Junior Moraes was blocked by a saving tackle after pouncing on a rebound.
Ronaldo’s last chance for an 86th international goal came in injury-time but his header lacked power and Portugal were shut out for the first time in 19 home matches.
“Not a very good game for us,” said Portugal midfielder Bernardo Silva. “The second half we tried to create chances to go after the game, but unfortunately we didn’t score.”
Portugal next play Serbia on Monday while Ukraine visit Luxembourg, who top the group thanks to Gerson Rodrigues’ winner over Lithuania. Fiodor Cernych had given the guests the lead before Leandro Barreiro leveled.
England had to wait 24 minutes to break down the Czech Republic but did so in style when Harry Kane released teenager Jadon Sancho to square for Sterling’s tap-in.
Sterling won a 44th-minute penalty Kane converted before adding his own second early in the second half.
And he completed his hat-trick in the 68th minute with the aid of a massive deflection which deceived keeper Jiri Pavlenka.
“I’m just being confident in myself, I’m trying to get in areas and take shots, not to worry about anything,” Sterling told ITV. “The first goal pleased me most, to get myself up and running.”
Manager Gareth Southgate hailed Sterling for being “electric all night. He has looked like that all week in training.
“I’m pleased for him; it is a special night for him.”
Tomas Kalas scored a late own goal to complete a miserable night for the Czechs.
England next travel to Montenegro, who will feel hard done by not to have won in Bulgaria.
A penalty awarded for a foul outside the box allowed Todor Nedelev to level eight minutes from time for the hosts who had trailed to Stefan Mugosa’s fine solo goal in the 50th minute.
France had little trouble downing Moldova with Antoine Griezmann converting Paul Pogba’s chipped pass for the 24th-minute opener.
That opened the floodgates as Raphael Varane headed in a corner three minutes later and Olivier Giroud bagged a third in the 36th minute. That goal moved him joint-third in the French all-time scorer’s list, level with David Trezeguet on 34 and behind only Michel Platini (41) and Thierry Henry (51).
Kylian Mbappe completed the rout three minutes from time before Vladimir Ambros’s consolation.
“We could have scored more goals, but we know that this sort of match can sometimes be difficult,” France coach Didier Deschamps told TF1.
“The players approached it in the right way, and that’s good. We’ve started qualifying well and the second game will come around fast.”
France next welcome Iceland, who labored in Andorra despite goals from Birkir Bjarnason and Vidar Oern Kjartansson. Turkey found life easier in Albania through goals either side of half-time from Burak Yilmaz and Hakan Calhanoglu.