Germany made effectively sure of a place at UEFA EURO 2012 with victory in Azerbaijan, while Sweden raised their hopes of joining them courtesy of a Zlatan Ibrahimovic-inspired thumping of Finland. Elsewhere, Belarus and Bosnia-Herzegovina won to keep the pressure on France, and Faroe Islands recorded a widely unexpected success at home to Estonia. FIFA.com takes a closer look.
Finland started brightly, but fell behind on 12 minutes to a Kim Kallstrom goal. And if that was not enough of a blow, on 25 minutes they saw Sweden introduce the mercurial Ibrahimovic. The 29-year-old took just ten minutes to make it 3-0, and completed his hat-trick shortly after the restart. Emir Bahrami sealed a 5-0 rout in the closing stages. The result, Sweden's biggest defeat of their Nordic rivals in 21 years, moved them three points behind Group E leaders the Netherlands.
San Marino goalkeeper Aldo Simoncini frustrated Hungary for the first 40 minutes of their Group E encounter, before a visiting goal arrived from an unlikely source: centre-back Zoltan Liptak. Sandor Egervari's men were two up shortly after the restart through Imre Szabics, and Vladimir Kolan wrapped up a 3-0 win late on. Hungary remain six points adrift of second-placed Sweden in their section.
Germany fielded one of their youngest-ever teams in Azerbaijan, with Philipp Lahm, 27, the eldest in an 11 whose average age was 23.45 years. Inexperience failed to hinder Joachim Low's charges, however, with goals from Mesut Ozil and Mario Gomez sending them in 2-0 up at the interval. Murad Huseynov pulled one back on 89 minutes, before 20-year-old Andre Schurrle sealed a 3-1 victory and, effectively, top spot in Group A and a place at EURO 2012.
Belarus moved a point behind Group D pacesetters France thanks to a 2-0 win over Luxembourg, while Bosnia-Herzegovina are just two points further back after they saw off Albania by the same score.
Faroe Islands, meanwhile, overcame the odds to beat Estonia, 61 places above them on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, in an action-packed game in Toftir. The guests had the better of the first half and fluffed a string of chances, but a Frodi Benjaminsen penalty sent the minnows in ahead. The same player then missed a spot-kick on 47 minutes, only for Arnbjorn Hansen to spare his blushes by scrambling home the rebound. Both sides were reduced to ten men thereafter, and the Faroes held on to claim their maiden win of the campaign and realistically end their opponents' Group C qualification chances.
Goal of the day
Belarus 2-0 Luxembourg (Anton Putilo 73)
A superb Jonathan Joubert save prevented the 23-year-old breaking the deadlock, while a glaring Sergei Kornilenko miss denied him what would have been a superb assist. Putilo finally made sure he seized the headlines his engrossing performance deserved by skipping past two defenders and beating the Luxembourg goalkeeper with an assured finish.
Player of the day
Ibrahimovic's double put the game out of Finland's reach in the first half. After coming close to making it three with a sumptuous, dipping free-kick, and almost creating a chance for another following an exquisite piece of chest control, he headed home to complete a memorable treble.
116 international appearances is the figure Anders Svensson reached against Finland, making him Sweden's joint-second most-capped player alongside former right-back Roland Nilsson, whom he teamed up with on his international debut in 1999. The pair trail only Thomas Ravelli, who played 143 games between the Swedish sticks from 1981 to '97.
What they said…
"It was important to get our seventh victory in a row. We should be through now. Normally nothing would stop us [from finishing top]. Looking at our results it was a perfect campaign,” Philipp Lahm, Germany captain.
Northern Ireland-Faroe Islands will unfold on 10 August, before stacked matchdays take place on 2 and 6 September.
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