The UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying competition is nearing its conclusion, and in time-honoured fashion Germany have already secured their place at the continental finals. Joachim Low’s side made it eight wins out of eight in Group A on Friday, breezing to a 6-2 defeat of neighbours Austria to book a trip to Poland and Ukraine next year.
The Netherlands also enjoyed a profitable evening, slamming 11 goals past San Marino to maintain their own 100 per cent record after seven games. The Dutch are now six points clear of the chasing pack in Group E following Hungary’s 2-1 defeat of Sweden.
Germany’s eighth consecutive group win was earned with a minimum of fuss, Joachim Low’s side surging into a three-goal lead in the opening half-hour, with Mesut Ozil and Lukas Podolski rounding off a trio of polished team moves. Striking up a telepathic understanding with Miroslav Klose, the Real Madrid midfielder went on to complete a hat-trick.
While coach Low was visibly irritated by some uncharacteristic defensive lapses, he can have few complaints about his side’s sparkling display up front, which was capped by substitute Mario Gotze’s second international goal, scored just two minutes after he came on.
With the Germans now out of sight, Turkey moved into pole position in the play-off race in Group A thanks to a nervy 2-1 defeat of Kazakhstan, Arda Turan scoring the winner in the last minute. Having played one game fewer, Guus Hiddink’s men are now a point clear of Belgium, who drew 1-1 with Azerbaijan.
Russia’s 1-0 victory at home to a battling FYR Macedonia side allowed them to take full advantage of Slovakia’s 0-0 draw with Republic of Ireland and move two points clear in Group B. Further down the table, Armenia kept their play-off hopes flickering with a 3-0 win away to Andorra.
Italy stretched their lead in Group C to eight points courtesy of a narrow 1-0 victory away to the Faroe Islands and a surprise 2-1 reverse for second-placed Slovenia at the hands of Estonia. Serbia moved into third following a 1-0 victory over Northern Ireland in Belfast.
A disastrous two-minute spell midway through the first half consigned Belarus to a damaging 2-0 loss at home to Bosnia-Herzegovina, one that seriously jeopardises their chances of advancing from Group D. Section leaders France had no such problems in Albania, easing to a 2-1 win through goals from Karim Benzema and Yann M’Vila, with the Bosnians now their only realistic challengers for the automatic qualifying spot.
Robin van Persie helped himself to four goals as the Netherlands put 11 past San Marino to all but secure their safe passage from Group E. Sweden slipped six points behind the Dutch when they succumbed to a 2-1 reverse at the hands of Hungary, Gergely Rudolf scoring the winner in the final minute.
Sotiris Ninis’ solo effort gave Greece three valuable points against Israel, whose chances of progressing from Group F have now surely gone. The Greeks lead the section by one point from Croatia, who coasted to a 3-1 win away to Malta, with the top two facing off in Athens on 7 October in a potentially decisive game.
Wayne Rooney turned in a barnstorming display against Bulgaria in Sofia, scoring twice as England tightened their grip on proceedings in Group G. Bottom-placed Wales did their neighbours a favour by downing Montenegro 2-1 at home, a result that will only increase English confidence ahead of their all-important meeting with the Montenegrins on 7 October.
Cristiano Ronaldo was on target twice as Portugal struck four without reply against Cyprus in Group H, three of the goals coming in the final eight minutes. Norway remained level on points with the Portuguese thanks to Mohammed Abdellaoue’s winner two minutes from time against Iceland. Denmark, who were not in action on Friday, are three points adrift of the leading duo with a game in hand.
Goal of the day
Russia 1-0 Macedonia, Igor Semshov 41
Collecting possession on the edge of his own penalty box, Andrey Arshavin galloped almost the entire length of the pitch before laying the ball off to Aleksandr Kerzhakov on the left side of the Macedonian box. Kerzhakov in turn picked out the advancing Semshov, who took one touch and fired a low shot beneath Martin Bogatinov.
What they said
“I’ve scored a lot of goals since the start of the season because I’m less stressed and I feel more relaxed since I had my hair transplant,” England striker Wayne Rooney, the scorer of a brace against Bulgaria.
60 - The number of goals scored by Germany and the Netherlands in 15 EURO 2012 qualifying matches between them. The Dutch have racked up 32 in seven outings, while the Germans have scored 28 in one game more.