Spain and Argentina excel

Many of Europe's biggest footballing nations experienced a night to forget on Wednesday as the last round of friendlies were held before FIFA World Cup™ qualifying resumes in earnest next month.

The Netherlands and the Czech Republic were both held to draws, with the Dutch playing out a 1-1 stalemate in Tunisia, while no goals were scored as the Czechs visited Morocco. But at least they fared better than Germany. Die Mannschaft were defeated 1-0 at home by Norway, while France suffered a 2-0 home loss to Argentina.

Pride was at stake in those games but actual FIFA World Cup qualifying points were on offer in three matches on Wednesday. Albania had to make do with a goalless draw in Malta that prevented them from heading to the Group 1 summit, Northern Ireland triumphed 3-0 in San Marino in Group 3 and, lastly, in Group 8, the Republic of Ireland came back to overcome Georgia 2-1 with two goals in the final 15 minutes.

Also of note was a fresh reverse for South Africa. The hosts of next summer's FIFA World Cup went down 2-0 at home in a friendly against Chile.

The big game
France 0-2 Argentina
Goals: Jonas Gutierrez 41 and Lionel Messi 83

Diego Maradona celebrated his 100th day as Argentina coach with a second consecutive win on European soil. The Albiceleste came out on top against the 2006 FIFA World Cup runners-up in Marseille, with their opponents once again lacking a cutting edge up front. In a game contested with genuine intensity, the Argentinians found themselves under pressure for long passages but emerged victorious thanks to Jonas Gutierrez's first international strike and a late Lionel Messi effort that offered yet another glimpse of his unique talent.

The surprise
Germany 0-1 Norway
Goal: Christian Grindheim 63

Unable to raise their tempo and often disjointed in midfield despite Michael Ballack's return, Germany were undone 1-0 by Norway in the shock result of the evening. Heerenveen midfielder Christian Grindheim hit the decider after 63 minutes and the Norwegians had numerous other chances to add to their tally thanks to some rapid counterattacking football in the second half.

The other games
Spain recorded a third successive victory against England with a 2-0 win marked by their usual technical mastery and pragmatic finishing. Despite only producing three clearcut chances, David Villa scored after slipping past three defenders and Fernando Llorente added a second towards the end. David Beckham put in a good second-half performance for Fabio Capello's visitors but they never looked like finding an answer to the riddles posed by the European champions, who continue to go from strength to strength.

Elsewhere, Portugal had to settle for a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty to see off a solid Finland team, while Klaas-Jan Huntelaar's strike was not enough to earn the Netherlands success in Tunisia. The enterprising hosts drew level five minutes from time through Jamel Saihi.

For their part, Romania succumbed to a dangerous Croatia side after having taken the lead. Young Schalke midfielder Ivan Rakitic restored parity for the Croatians with a free kick from 35 metres out and Niko Kranjcar completed the comeback, collecting the ball from a fit-again Eduardo Da Silva before firing the winner.

Lastly, Sweden lived up to their favourites' billing by defeating Austria 2-0 and Group 3 leaders Slovakia lost 3-2 in Cyprus despite building a two-goal lead.

Goal of the day
France 0-2 Argentina
Goal: Lionel Messi 83 (0-2)

Carlos Tevez brought the ball forward and fed Messi 30 metres from the French goal. The Barcelona star then shook off the attentions of two defenders, advanced into the area and unleashed a shot that left goalkeeper Steve Mandanda no chance.

Player of the day
Didier Drogba may be struggling for consistency at Chelsea but he lacked none of his goalscoring instincts for Côte d'Ivoire. With characteristic hunger, he salvaged a creditable 1-1 draw for the Elephants in Turkey with a 92nd-minute equaliser.

The numbers game
24 - The number of goals Samuel Eto'o has registered this season after the Cameroonian striker plundered two more in a 3-1 triumph over Guinea on Wednesday. That double was added to a list already boasting Eto'o's 21 efforts in 21 Spanish Liga meetings as well as his three from five UEFA Champions League outings.

What they said
"The players did what I asked of them. We knew that if we could match the first 30 minutes we put in against Scotland, we could beat anyone. And that's what happened. When we found our bearings on the pitch, after 20 minutes, we played better than the French," Diego Maradona, Argentina coach.

Have your say
Is Messi the best footballer on the planet right now? Will England's defeat in Spain bring them back down to earth after Fabio Capello's impressive start? Let us know your thoughts below.