Favourites to the fore
© Getty Images

Most of Europe’s top nations picked up the results they needed on Tuesday, during the third round of qualifying matches for UEFA EURO 2012, scoring plenty of goals in the process. Only Portugal, on the end of a one-goal loss in Norway, and Czech Republic, undone 1-0 at home by Lithuania, suffered surprise defeats.

Italy demonstrated the benefits of a more attacking style of play in their 5-0 victory over the Faroe Islands, while England’s supporters were delighted to see a lively Wayne Rooney get back on the scoresheet in their 3-1 win in Switzerland. The English now top Group G with six points from two games, earned at the expense of their two principal rivals. Germany put in a ruthless performance to beat Azerbaijan, and France got back on track by coming away from Bosnia-Herzegovina with a stylish 2-0 win.

It was a busy night all-round in Europe, with 47 goals recorded in 23 encounters.

The big game
Turkey 3-2 Belgium
Goals: Hamit Altintop (48), Semih Sentuk (67), Arda Turan (77); Daniel van Buyten (28, 69)

The second half was one of the most spectacular periods witnessed so far in Euro 2012 qualifying, with non-stop action, goals and total commitment, all played out in an electric atmosphere generated by a raucous Istanbul crowd. Encouraged by their performance in their tight 1-0 defeat by Germany the week before, Belgium came flying out of the blocks, opening the scoring in the first half through Daniel van Buyten’s well-placed header. Firm words from their coach at half-time clearly had an effect, as the Turks came out full of energy and strong running. Increasingly under pressure and visibly rattled, the Belgian defence began failing to clear the ball properly, a deficiency that led to Hamit Altintop levelling the score and then to Semih Senturk giving the home side the lead. An immediate equaliser from a second Van Buyten header, set up by rangy Anderlecht striker Romelu Lukaku, set the match up for a frantic finish. Thirteen minutes from time, Guus Hiddink’s men snatched the winner, Arda Turan’s shot deflecting off a Belgian leg to nestle in the back of the net, much to the delight of the unwavering Turkish fans.

Germany put sentiment aside in Cologne, defeating Berti Vogts’ Azerbaijan 6-1, with two goals from Miroslav Klose. The Germans sit on top of Group A alongside Turkey, both teams having collected six points from two games.

The situation is not dissimilar in Group B, where Slovakia pulled off a tremendous result in Russia, Miroslav Stoch capitalising on a goalkeeping error to net the only goal of an unexpected 1-0 win. The surprise package at the last FIFA World Cup™ are joined on six points by the Republic of Ireland, who saw off Andorra 3-1.

In Group C Serbia have forward Nikola Zigic to thank for their point at home to Slovenia, his equaliser in the 1-1 draw coming a minute from the end. Slovenia had earlier taken the lead through Milivoje Novakovic. Meanwhile, Italy kept the Faroe Islands defence busy in Florence. Their 5-0 victory was notable in that their goals were provided by five different front men, including one from a resurgent Antonio Cassano.

After four consecutive defeats, France finally got back to winning ways against Bosnia-Herzegovina, in a match that will be remembered for Karim Benzema’s Zinedine Zidane-esque opener. Les Bleus, propelled by an extremely effective midfield, put in a powerful, aggressive performance that was fairly reflected in the final 2-0 scoreline. Group D currently has a slightly surprising look to it, with Belarus and Albania leading the way. The Byelorussians followed up their defeat of France by holding Romania to a 0-0 draw at home, while Albania emerged victorious 1-0 from their match with Luxembourg.

Group E has a more familiar air about it, however, with Sweden and the Netherlands leading the way on six points. The Scandinavians put six unanswered goals past San Marino, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic grabbing two of them, and Sammarinese brothers Aldo and Davide Simoncini both registering unfortunate own goals. The Dutch found the going a bit tougher against Finland, but Klaas-Jan Huntelaar’s strikes helped them to a 2-1 victory.

Goals were a little harder to come by in Group F, where Georgia and Israel played out a scoreless draw, as did Croatia and Greece. The only country sure to view those results in a favourable light is Latvia, 2-0 winners over Malta.

Fabio Capello has every reason to smile following England’s resounding 3-1 win in Switzerland. Wayne Rooney’s 10th minute opener put the Three Lions in control, before Adam Johnson and Darren Bent cemented the impressive victory in the second half. England are joined at the top of Group G by Montenegro, shock 1-0 victors over Bulgaria.

Taking into account Portugal’s build-up to their Group H clash with Norway, during which their coach was suspended and Cristiano Ronaldo ruled out through injury, their 1-0 loss – via an error from goalkeeper Eduardo – was perhaps not all that surprising.

Last but not least, in Group I, Czech Republic did not get their qualifying campaign off to the best of starts, losing 1-0 at home to Lithuania. Darvydas Sernas’ goal did the damage for the visitors, while Milan Baros missed a penalty for the hosts. Meanwhile, Scotland kept their supporters on the edge of their seats until the final seconds, scoring the winner in their 2-1 victory over Liechtenstein at Hampden Park six minutes into second-half injury time.

The stat
12 -
The number of months – and matches – it took for Wayne Rooney to finally notch up his 26th goal in an England shirt.

Goal of the day
Switzerland 1-3 England
Xherdan Shaqiri (71)

Xherdan Shaqiri, Switzerland’s Kosovo-born 18-year-old, picked up the ball on the right-hand side of the Helvetian attack, drifted into the centre of the pitch and released a thunderous long-range shot past a blameless Joe Hart and into the top corner of the England net.

Forthcoming fixtures
Stand-out games from the third matchday of Euro 2012 qualifiers, scheduled for Friday 8 October, include Germany-Turkey (Group A), France-Romania (Group D, playing Saturday 9 October), Israel-Croatia (Group F, playing Saturday 9 October) and Portugal-Denmark (Group H).

Have your say
Will Sweden or the Netherlands finish on top of Group E?