Wednesday's set of international friendlies, the last before the turn of the year, served up several important lessons for football followers everywhere. First of these was Diego Maradona passing his first test as Argentina coach, leading his side to a 1-0 win in Scotland.
Italy, meanwhile, extended their unbeaten streak to 31 matches under Marcello Lippi, and Spain strode to a convincing 3-0 win over Chile. La Selección have not tasted defeat since 11 November 2006. Fabio Capello's England just keep on winning, too, this time picking up a 2-1 success in Germany despite the absence of seven regulars.
For their part, Czech Republic have moved into second place in Group 3 of European Zone qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, thanks to a 3-0 win over San Marino. There were goals aplenty in the night's other fixtures, including Serbia's 6-1 reverse of Bulgaria, Bosnia-Herzegovina's 4-3 triumph in Slovenia and Turkey's 4-2 away victory over Austria.
The big matches
Even without seven first-choice players, a hard-working and well-organised England side used their pressing game to good effect to claim a notable 2-1 win in Germany. On target for England were central-defensive pairing Matthew Upson and John Terry, while Germany's goal came following a mix-up in their visitors' backline. In 31 meetings between the two sides, England have won 15 and drawn six, including that epic 5-1 win in Munich in 2001.
Even without the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Juan Roman Riquelme, Diego Maradona's Argentina put in an accomplished technical display to defeat a determined Scotland side roared on by their passionate fans in Glasgow. Meanwhile, the efforts of Italy coach Marcello Lippi to inject fresh blood into his squad ahead of their next FIFA World Cup qualifiers continue to meet with success. The Azzurri picked up a solid 1-1 draw away to UEFA EURO 2004 winners Greece, their goal in a fairly low-tempo encounter coming from one of the old guard; striker Luca Toni.
The Netherlands, for their part, were made to work harder than the 3-1 scoreline against a Zlatan Ibrahimovic-less Sweden suggests. Robin van Persie grabbed a brace before, Dirk Kuyt sealed the win in the last minute. Despite a forward line comprising Franck Ribery, Nicolas Anelka and Thierry Henry, France were unable to break down a stubborn Uruguay rearguard en route to a 0-0 draw.
Finally to reigning European champions Spain, who cruised to their 16th win of the year with a 3-0 defeat of Chile. Marcelo Bielsa's side stifled the Iberians with their high-tempo football for a while, only to eventually fall victim to goals from David Villa, Fernando Torres and Santi Cazorla. The impressive win brings the curtain down on a marvellous year for Spanish football.
South Africa 3-2 Cameroon
Goals: Teko Modise 7, 24, Scott Parker 81 (South Africa); D.Kone 28, Somen Tchoyi 36 (Cameroon)
South Africa will be buoyed by scoring a late winner against Cameroon in what was a pulsating encounter. Two goals to the good within 25 minutes thanks to a brace from Teko Modise, the Bafana Bafana let the Indomitable Lions back into the match before Scott Parker's decisive strike nine minutes from time.
Scotland 0-1 Argentina
Goal: Maxi Rodriguez 9
The only goal in Glasgow served to underline the abundance of technical ability in the Albiceleste forward line. Carlos Tevez and Jonas Gutierrez were the providers for Atletico Madrid's Maxi Rodriguez, who easily beat keeper Allan McGregor with a flick of his right boot.
Middlesbrough forward Tuncay, 26, took full advantage of the room afforded him by the Austrian defence to help himself to a hat-trick in Turkey's 4-2 win.
5 - The number of players in Lippi's Italy squad playing their club football abroad: Morgan De Sanctis (Galatasaray), Fabio Grosso (Lyon), Fabio Cannavaro (Real Madrid), Giuseppe Rossi (Villarreal) and Luca Toni (Bayern Munich). This marks a change in tack for Italian football, as historically the Nazionale's star men have tended to stay in Serie A.
"We haven't conceded a goal which is satisfying because it had been eight or nine matches since our last clean sheet," France coach Raymond Domenech after the 0-0 draw with Uruguay.
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