The runners-up from the most recent UEFA European Championship and FIFA World Cup™ were in action on Wednesday and though they failed to shine, each bagged three precious points in the European Zone qualifiers for 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa. France and Germany each squeezed past outsiders to record away wins and remain on course for qualification.
Norway, on the other hand, recorded their first win of the campaign, managing four goals in the process to the delight of their home fans. Croatia, meanwhile, recorded a priceless away win to cement second place in a group which England look like dominating from start to finish.
FIFA.com rounds up all the evening's events from the old continent.
Croatia went to Minsk and showed why they are favourites for second place in Group 6 behind runaway leaders England. Slaven Bilic's men gave the home team very little chance, with Olic, who opened the scoring then put the result beyond doubt at 3-1, in unstoppable form. The win in Belarus puts Croatia three points ahead of Ukraine, their main rivals for a play-off spot and who still have to play in Minsk themselves. Advantage Croatia therefore, and on this kind of form, they look more than a match for anyone.
Germany ground out a workmanlike 2-0 win over a disciplined Azerbaijan outfit which bore all the hallmarks of coach Berti Vogts, who 13 years previously had steered his native Germany to their most recent major title at EURO 96 . Bastian Schweinsteiger (12) and Miroslav Klose (54) grabbed the goals which put Joachim Low's charges four points clear at the top of Group 4, though they have played a game more than Russia. Vogts' team are still without a goal in this campaign but, after holding Russia to the same 2-0 scoreline, are proving that they can cause the big guns a few anxious moments.
Franck Ribery and friends had even more of a struggle on their hands, and it took an Andre-Pierre Gignac goal in the 39th minute to see France past the Faroe Islands by the tightest of margins. Raymond Domenech's Bleus are now back to within five points of Serbia at the top of Group 7 with a game in hand, and as the two still have to play each other, France still harbour hope of direct qualification for South Africa. The Faroese, who sit 163rd in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, are still waiting for their first win but have consolidated their reputation as being a tough nut to crack.
One team with real cause to celebrate were Norway. After an awful start to their campaign, the Scandinavians finally recorded their first win with more than a degree of panache. Under the aegis of journeyman coach Egil Olsen, they beat Scotland 4-0 and put themselves right back in the running for a play-off spot in Group 9, in which leaders the Netherlands have already qualified for South Africa 2010. John Arne Riise (36), Morten Gamst Pedersen with a brace (45 and 92) and Erik Huseklepp (60) were all on the score-sheet, and though Norway only climbed one place to fourth in the group, they are now only a point adrift of FYR Macedonia and the demoralised Scots. George Burley's men slipped from second to third spot on goal difference, and the remaining qualifiers in autumn promise to be dramatic in the extreme for the hopeful trio.
Miroslav Klose, who won the adidas Golden Shoe at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany, continues to write his name in the annals of German football. His goal against Azerbaijan which sealed Germany's 2-0 win was his 45th strike in 89 matches for the three-time world champions. That puts the Bayern Munich striker level with Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, currently president of the board of Klose's employers, in fifth place in the all time scoring list for Die Mannschaft.
An evening to remember in Oslo was capped by a goal of genuine class. The Blackburn Rovers winger, already with one expertly-executed goal to his name, applied the icing to Norway's cake with a perfectly weighted free-kick that sailed over the wall and into David Marshall's top corner from 25 yards.
What they said
"Whatever could have gone wrong tonight went wrong. It's been a disastrous result but circumstances have dictated that. We can look for excuses, we can look for circumstances, but it's gone - we didn't get any points tonight. If we can't win our two games, we don't deserve to get in the play-offs."
George Burley, Scotland manager
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