England took another significant stride towards the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ with their seventh consecutive victory in qualifying Group 6 on Wednesday evening, putting Andorra to the sword in a 6-0 success. They were joined in celebrating an important win by Serbia, who strengthened their grip on top spot in Group 7 by overcoming the Faroe Islands 2-0. The result moved the former eight points clear of France, though Les Bleus have contested two fewer games. Elsewhere, Russia cranked up the pressure on Group 4 leaders Germany by closing to within a point ahead of their highly anticipated meeting on 10 October.
The big match
Finland 0-3 Russia
Goals: Alexander Kerzhakov 26, 53, Konstantin Zyrianov 74
With Andrei Arshavin operating at his very best, Russia proved too strong for a courageous Finland side that simply could not compete with the speed, understanding and technique of their opponents. The hosts had managed to hold Germany to a 3-3 draw on 10 September last year, but Guus Hiddink's men were evidently a different proposition and, while Arshavin weaved his magic, Dynamo Moscow forward Kerzhakov was in clinical form in front of goal. The outcome lifted Russia to within a point of Germany, leaving their October showdown in Russia looking critical in deciding who will claim the sole automatic qualification berth on offer.
The other games
Sweden obtained the result expected of them in Group 1 by seeing off Malta 4-0 in Gothenburg, their visitors having now conceded 21 goals and scored just one. The islanders held firm until Kim Kallstrom broke the deadlock in the 22nd minute and their resistance crumbled once and for all when they shipped three goals between the 52nd and 58th minutes. The win moved Sweden level with Portugal in third spot, but four points shy of Hungary and seven behind Denmark, who have contested the same number of matches.
For their part, England looked to a Glen Johnson in irrepressible mood and an inspired David Beckham to continue their perfect start in Group 6. Fabio Capello's charges made the most of Andorra's porous defence to put together their seventh straight triumph, with Wayne Rooney hitting a first-half double, Jermain Defoe striking twice after the break and additional efforts coming from Frank Lampard and Peter Crouch. The section frontrunners now enjoy a ten-point cushion with four rounds of qualifiers left to play and although they are not yet mathematically through, they can already start to think about booking a hotel in South Africa.
In the same pool, Ukraine owe a debt of gratitude to Sergei Nazarenko. The Dniepropetrovsk attacking midfielder had already fired a double in his team's away encounter with Kazakhstan and he repeated the feat at home against the same team on Wednesday, helping his side come back from behind to prevail 2-1. The race for second place now looks set to go down to the wire, with Ukraine and Croatia level on 11 points and Belarus on nine but with a game in hand.
In Group 7, Serbia helped themselves to a valuable 2-0 win in the Faroe Islands, finally breaking down their hosts' defences through Milan Jovanovic close to half-time, before Neven Subotic made sure of the points after the interval. The Faroes were not wanting for courage but once again failed to threaten as an attacking force, having only netted once in five outings. As for their opponents, the Plavi now find themselves eight points ahead of France, having played two games more, and must be looking forward to welcoming the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany runners-up on 9 September.
Already through, the Netherlands continued their faultless progress in Group 9 with a 2-0 win over Norway in rainy Rotterdam, Andre Ooijer pointing the way on 32 minutes and Arjen Robben following suit five minutes after the restart. The match provided the perfect distillation of their campaign so far, Bert Van Marwijk's troops making up for the lack of spectacular football with a thoroughly efficient display.
Earlier in the day, FYR Macedonia collected their second victory of the campaign by beating Iceland 2-0, a result that lifted them level alongside Scotland in second – but a distant 14 points behind the Dutch.
The Netherlands have now notched at least one goal in their last 23 games, their latest outing taking them level with the scoring run they enjoyed between 1912 and 1920. Their last game without a goal was a 1-0 loss to Romania on 13 October 2007.
Finland 0-3 Russia (Alexander Kerzhakov 26)
With Russia well on top, Igor Denisov quickly launched an attack that found Andrei Arshavin close to the edge of the area. The Arsenal playmaker flicked the ball forward with his first touch and Kerzhakov brought it perfectly under control before sidestepping the goalkeeper and rolling a shot into the back of the net.
What they said
"The next two home games against France and Romania will be decisive. We're practically on the verge of realising our dream of taking part in the global showcase. I believe in my players. They know what they still need to do to stay on top." Radomir Antic, Serbia coach
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