Surprises galore in Europe on first full day of qualifying
The first round of European Zone qualifying matches for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany on Saturday evening threw up a host of surprise results. From the exciting 2-2 draw between Austria and England that you were able to follow live via the Matchcast on FIFAworldcup.com, by way of the points stolen by Israel in France (0-0), Lithuania in Belgium (1-1), and Georgia in Turkey (1-1), it was a night for the true underdogs of Europe. Ironically, perhaps the most surprising result of all came from Albania, where the recently crowned champions of Europe, Greece, went down 2-1 to give their campaign the worst possible start.
Group 1: The calm before the storm
Romania, Finland, Macedonia and Armenia had already kicked off their qualifying campaigns on 18 August, so only two matches were played on 4 September. Romania made it two wins out of two by edging past brave Macedonia (2-1), and thus consolidate their position at the top of the group. Finland bounced back from last month's 2-1 defeat to Romania by breezing past Andorra (3-0).
Now all eyes turn to the big one: Netherlands v Czech Republic on Wednesday night. If their game at Euro 2004 is anything to go by, that should be a cracking encounter. You can follow it live via Matchcast on FIFAworldcup.com.
Group 2: European champions back down to earth
Albania v Greece had all the makings of a palpitating game, and so it turned out, but few really expected the Greeks to go empty handed. Yet in interviews with FIFAworldcup.com, both Lorik Cana, last December, and Altin Rrakli, in April, had predicted a home win. The fact is, Albania can beat anyone on home soil, and when they went two goals up inside the fist quarter of an hour thanks to goals by Edvin Murati (2') and Adrian Aliaj (11'), there was no way back for the European champions .
Stelios Giannakopoulos pulled one back on 38 minutes, but the Greeks were unable to find an equaliser. In another surprise, Denmark were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Ukraine (1-1). And to round off an altogether unpredictable evening in Group 2, Turkey shared the spoils with Georgia despite boasting home advantage. Kazakhstan did not play.
Group 3: Estonia out in front
Fresh from a 2-1 win over Liechtenstein on 18 August, Estonia made it six points out of six by thumping four goals past Luxembourg with no reply. Slovakia, meanwhile, can be proud of a battling performance in Russia which enabled them to come away with a 1-1 draw . That point from their second game lifts them into second spot in the group, ahead of favourites Portugal who avoided the banana skins by seeing off Latvia 2-0 away from home. Portugal now prepare to play host to leaders Estonia on Wednesday.
Group 4: Switzerland hit the Faroes for six, France disappoint
Switzerland knew they had to take full advantage of a home tie with the Faroe Islands to get a head start on their adversaries in Group 4. And they made no mistake, slamming six past the hapless islanders with no reply. Prodigy Johan Vonlanthen and Alexandre Rey both helped themselves to hat-tricks. France were a shadow of their former selves against Israel at the Stade de France. A 0-0 scoreline was the predictable end to a drab encounter. The pressure will really mount on the former world champions should they fail to beat the modest Faroe Islands away from home on Wednesday. Ireland, meanwhile, had no trouble disposing of Cyprus 3-0.
Group 5: Italy do just enough
Italy took an important first step on the road to Germany 2006 by beating their closest rivals in the group, Norway, 2-1. A youthful Squadra Azzurra had to fight all the way for their three points but already look well placed to control the group. In the other game, Slovenia beat Moldova 3-0.
Group 6: Sensation in Vienna
If Austria were unfancied before the start of their game against England, they looked dead and buried at 2-0 down on the hour mark. Unbelievably though, Hans Krankl's men staged a comeback to level 2-2 . England will be kicking themselves , especially as they now face a decidedly tricky trip to Poland, who will be on a high after their comfortable win in Northern Ireland (3-0). In the other game in the group, Azerbaijan were the happier after holding Wales to a 1-1 draw at home.
Group 7: Serbia and Montenegro up and running
Group favourites Spain do not get their qualifying campaign off the ground until Wednesday when they face Bosnia-Herzegovina. Serbia and Montenegro did play though, and picked up their first win, 3-0 away to San Marino. Belgium failed to register a first success, dropping two valuable points at home to Lithuania (1-1).
Group 8: Seven for Sweden
The largest margin of victory on 4 September went to Sweden, who slammed seven past poor Malta (7-0). Zlatan Ibrahimovic was the most prolific Swedish marksman on the night, grabbing four goals. Croatia also recorded an easy win over Hungary (3-0), while Bulgaria travelled to Iceland and came away with an encouraging 3-1 success . Group 8 stands out as the only one in which the favourites all came through unscathed.
Check out FIFAworldcup.com's state-of-the-art Matchcast and go right inside selected key clashes from around the globe. Keep up to the moment with the all the stats, exciting incidents, polls, trivia and expert analysis in four languages right on your computer screen. First up in real time on FIFAworldcup.com's Matchcast was Austria and England's exciting 2-2 draw . Next up is Wednesday's showpiece contest between Netherlands and Czech Republic (8 September, 20.30 local time). See you there.