Germany march as French weep
© AFP

Germany managed a nervy win over Austria to consolidate their lead atop Group A, a pair of goals from Mario Gomez making the difference. Italy had no such difficulty against Estonia, but France found themselves in the doldrums as they could only manage a draw against Belarus. FIFA.com wraps up all the action from Friday’s UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying.  

The big match
Croatia 2-1 Georgia - Stadion Poljud, Split
Georgia were well on their way to causing a sensation, going a goal up on the fancied Croatians after only 17 minutes. But the dream of a second straight win over the Croats came crashing down on the former Soviet Republic, who would have moved past Croatia, Israel and Greece into first place in a wide-open Group F with a win, when Mario Mandzukic and Nicola Kalinic turned the contest on its ear. Two goals in two minutes (76 and 78) rounded out a 2-1 come-from-behind win and Croatian ownership of top spot.

Elsewhere
Group A
Germany edged Austria 2-1 in a much-anticipated Northern European classic in Vienna. Mario Gomez opened the scoring in the 44th minute, only to see the lead cancelled out when Arne Friedrich put through his own net. Gomez completed an impressive night with a winner to stun the home crowd in the 90th minute.  The Austrians remain in fourth place while Belgium and Turkey are in second and third respectively following their 1-1 draw. Kazakhstan earned their first points of the campaign by beating fellow bottom-feeders Azerbaijan 2-1.

Group C
Slovenia beat the Faroe Islands 2-0 on the road despite playing 65 minutes with ten men after Marko Suler was given his marching orders for a rash challenge. The win sees the Slovenians, second place in the section, within five points of leaders Italy, who mauled Estonia in Modena with Giuseppe Rossi and Antonio Cassano in among the goals.

Group D
Romania are in third place after a simple 3-0 win over Bosnia-Herzegovina while Belarus managed the shock of the day, holding high-flying France to a 1-1 draw, although Les Blues still hold top spot with a four-point gap. Eric Abidal’s feel-good story hit a bump as Barcelona’s UEFA Champions League-winning defender, just back from a surgery to remove liver tumour, scored an own-goal that handed the Belarusians – now in third place – a share of the points. 

Group E
Sweden had Galatasaray-bound forward Johan Elmander to thank for their 4-1 victory over Moldova, a result which sees them remain in second place, six points behind runaway leaders the Netherlands.  Finland moved into fourth with a tense win over section whipping boys San Marino, Mikael Forssell scoring just before the interval to see them now three points behind Hungary.

Group F
Croatia came from a goal down against Georgia, who beat them in the previous fixture in Tbilisi, to win out 2-1 in Zagreb, a result that takes them to temporary ownership of first place. 

Group I
Liechtenstein picked up their first points of the campaign with a 2-0 win over second-bottom Lithuania, who were unfortunate to be twice denied by the woodwork. Philippe Erne and Michele Polverino did the scoring for the Alpine principality, who now sit just one point behind the Lithuanians and Scotland.

Player of the day
Romania were in inspired form, their 3-0 home win down in no small measure to mercurial Stuttgart striker Ciprian Marica. The 25-year-old poacher grabbed a pair of goals either side of the break in the win which saw them move off of second-bottom in Group D and into a tie for third place with Albania. Both goals, his 17th and 18th in 49 caps for Romania, were well-taken, showing a true predator’s instinct. Marica was one of four players to score a brace on Friday, with Sweden’s Elmander and Mario Gomez of Germany and Kazakhstan’s Sergei Gridin getting in on the double act.

The stat
15 – the number of goals conceded so far by Group A basement dwellers Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. The Kazakhs have scored only two in their six games and sit at the bottom of the section, having played a game more than the Azeris, who have four goals to their name. Only the Faroe Islands (18) and San Marino (30) have conceded more goals.

What they said…
“We were very lucky tonight. We ran a lot and fought hard, but we made too many mistakes. Many of the players, especially those who played at the World Cup, have reached their limit. It’s been a long road,” Germany coach Joachim Low

Up next
Saturday features a number of enticing contests in UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying, with a Group H table-topper between Portugal and Norway in Lisbon, which could go a long way to deciding who takes top spot in the section and a showdown between England and Switzerland. A tangled Group B, with Slovakia, Russia and Republic of Ireland all tied on points, will see action while Greece look to put Malta to the sword in a wide-open Group F.