Matchday four of the UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying competition served up a couple of shocks as Azerbaijan inflicted a damaging 1-0 defeat on Guus Hiddink’s Turkey and Faroe Islands earned a rare point against Northern Ireland.
Elsewhere Germany and the Netherlands recorded ultimately comfortable wins, and European and world champions Spain had to apply themselves against a resilient Scotland.
The big game
Belgium 4-4 Austria
Goals: Jelle Vossen 11, Marouane Fellaini 47, Marvin Ogunjimi 88, Nicolas Lombaerts 90 (Belgium); Franz Schiemer 14 and 62, Marko Arnautovic 29, Martin Harnik 90 (Austria)
It proved to be quite a night in Brussels as the two Group A rivals served up a feast of attacking football in a game of shifting fortunes and haphazard defending. Leading 3-2 with just two minutes remaining, the visitors looked to have the three points in their grasp only for Ogunjimi and Lombaerts to give Les Diables Rouges a tantalising sight of victory. Harnik had other ideas however, saving the day for the Austrians in the third minute of injury time and ensuring they stay second in the pool.
The big surprise of the evening came in one of the other two games in the section as Turkey ended a miserable few days with a damaging 1-0 defeat in Azerbaijan. Beaten 3-0 in Germany on Friday, Guus Hiddink’s side had their qualification hopes further dented by the unfancied Azeris, who withstood plenty of Turkish pressure but could have won by a larger margin had they converted their chances late on.
That result and the draw in Brussels set the seal on a profitable evening’s work for Germany. Hampered by a late kick-off in Kazakhstan, Die Nationalmannschaft came out of the blocks slowly in a goalless first half, only hitting their stride after the restart. Lukas Podolski was the star of the show, teeing up Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez for his side’s opening two goals before rounding off the scoring with a fine solo effort. With four wins out of four, the Germans are now four points clear.
An early Aleksandr Kerzhakov strike gave Russia the points in Macedonia and the lead in Group B. Two points behind them lie Armenia, who followed up their fine win over Slovakia with a resounding 4-0 defeat of lowly Andorra. Tied with the Armenians are the Slovakians and Republic of Ireland, who played out a 1-1 draw in Zilina, with Jan Durica cancelling out Sean St Ledger’s opener.
Slovenia joined Italy at the top of Group C after a Andrei Sidorenkov own goal gave them a 1-0 win over Estonia in Tallinn. The Italians’ match with Serbia in Genoa was abandoned after only six minutes of play, while Kyle Lafferty spared Northern Ireland’s blushes against Faroe Islands by cancelling out Christian Holst’s opening goal. Nevertheless, those two dropped points could yet prove costly for Nigel Worthington’s men.
France overcame battling Luxembourg 2-0 to post their third straight win and maintain a one-point lead in Group D. Karim Benzema put the French ahead with a smart volley before Yoann Gourcuff completed the scoring with a low drive. Belarus remain hot on France’s heels after goals from Serguei Rodianov and Serguei Krivets helped them see off Albania in Minsk.
In Group E Klaas-Jan Huntelaar overshadowed Zlatan Ibrahimovic as the Netherlands surged to an emphatic 4-1 victory over Sweden in Amsterdam. The leading marksman in the qualifiers with eight goals so far, the Schalke 04 front man struck twice to kill off the Swedes’ challenge, with PSV midfielder Ibrahim Afellay also helping himself to a brace, his first for his country.
Hungary moved second behind the Dutch after Afellay’s club team-mate Balazs Dzsudzsa scored in the fifth minute of injury time to give them a 2-1 win in Finland, the Finns having pulled level only moments earlier through Mikael Forssell.
Beaten at home by Group F rivals Croatia on Saturday, Israel slumped again in Greece, goals from Dimitrios Salpingidis and Giorgios Karagounis consigning them to a 2-1 defeat. Third-placed Georgia kept their unbeaten record intact with a 1-1 draw in Latvia.
Injury-weakened England failed in their bid to unseat Montenegro at the top of Group G, Fabio Capello’s side failing to break down the stubborn Balkan side on a disappointingly goalless night at Wembley. The English trail the Montenegrins by three points with a game in hand but are still well clear of third-placed Switzerland, who thumped pointless Wales 4-1 in Basel.
New coach Paulo Bento has revitalised Portugal’s Group H bid, presiding over their second win in five days as they eased past Iceland 3-1, with skipper Cristiano Ronaldo scoring his second goal in two games. Denmark bounced back from defeat to the Portuguese by seeing off Cyprus 2-0.
Despite missing several first-teamers, European and world champions Spain had just too much for Scotland in an entertaining Group I match in Glasgow. Substitute Fernando Llorente secured the points for the visitors after the Scots had battled back from 2-0 down to level the game. Moving into second place behind the Spaniards were Czech Republic, who continued their recovery by coasting to a 2-0 win in Liechtenstein, their goals coming from Tomas Necid and Michal Kadlec.
44 - The number of goals David Villa has now scored for Spain. The Barcelona forward struck from the penalty spot on Tuesday to join Raul as the country’s all-time leading scorer, having played 33 games fewer than the former Real Madrid man.
Goal of the day
Azerbaijan 1-0 Turkey (Rashad Sadygov 38)
Rounding off a well-worked corner routine that included not one but two dummies, Sadygov produced a cool first-time side-footed finish from the edge of the penalty area to score the fourth and most important goal of his international career to date.
The fifth round of qualifying matches will be played on 25-26 March 2011 and includes the following games: Armenia-Russia (Group B), Slovenia-Italy (Group C), Hungary-Netherlands (Group E), Wales-England (Group G), Norway-Denmark (Group H), Spain-Czech Republic (Group I).
Have your say
Can Montenegro pip England to first place in Group G?