England and Spain made it four wins out of four with victories in Belarus and Belgium, while Netherlands also kept up their winning streak. Find out how your favourite team fared during this evening's qualifying action for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ in Europe, which witnessed a total of 22 games.
A brace of own goals helped Russia to a 3-0 victory over Finland in Moscow, taking them to second spot in Group 4, a point behind leaders Germany. Petri Pasanen and Veli Lampi were the unfortunate Finns who were made to feel even worse when Andrei Arshavin added a third for Guus Hiddink's men two minutes from time. At the start of play Stuart Baxter's side had a one point advantage over Russia, but they now lie in fourth place in the table, two points behind Russia and Wales respectively and six points behind Germany, who defeated Wales 1-0 in Monchengladbach. Despite a brave show from John Toshack's men, Piotr Trochowski's 72nd minute goal meant that they return home with nothing to show for their efforts. Germany, however, extend their lead at the section's summit to four points.
Czech Republic earned their first victory of the qualifying campaign with a 1-0 defeat of Slovenia in Group 3. They won without the influence of Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech, who was ruled out shortly before the match with a thigh injury. Libor Sionko's 63rd minute goal proved to be the difference between the two sides. Later in the evening, Slovakia came from behind to beat Poland 2-1 in Bratislava to go top of Group 3. Ebi Smolarek put the Poles ahead with 20 minutes to go, but two goals in two minutes from Stanislav Sestak gave the home side a useful three points. In the same section, Northern Ireland coasted to a 4-0 win over San Marino, who had defender Mauro Marani sent off in the second half.
Lithuania kept up the pressure on Serbia the top of Group 7 with a narrow win over Faroe Islands in Kaunas. Tomas Danilevicius's 20th minute goal was enough for the Lithuanians, who have now made it three wins out of four. In contrast, the Faroes have just one point from a possible 12. Also, Serbia's impressive start to the qualifying campaign also continues as they won 3-1 in Austria. First half goals from Milos Krasic, Milan Javanovic and Ivan Obradovic set them on their way, with Marc Janko grabbing a consolation ten minutes from time.
Israel, meanwhile, came within a minute of claiming top spot in Group 2 only for Vladimirs Kolesnichenko to rescue a point for hosts Latvia with a last-gasp equaliser. Israeli captain Yossi Benayoun looked to have grabbed the decisive goal when he slotted home four minutes into the second half, but Kolesnichenko’s 89th-minute leveller rescued a point for the home side. Group 2’s other match witnessed Moldova claim their first point of this FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign with a 0-0 draw in Luxembourg. Despite getting off the mark, however, the Moldovans remain anchored to the bottom of the section, three points adrift of their hosts. Greece remain in pole position, despite going down to a shock 2-1 defeat at home to Switzerland. Blaise N’Kufo silenced the Piraeus crowd, grabbing the winner for Ottmar Hitzfeld’s side 13 minutes from time after Angelo Charisteas had cancelled out Alexander Frei’s first-half opener. Switzerland now sit just two points behind Israel in third place.
In Group 8, Georgia and Bulgaria played out a goalless draw in Tbilisi which lifts Georgia off the bottom of the group, while Bulgaria remain third. Meanwhile in Dublin, Robbie Keane’s 36th international goal was sufficient to secure a 1-0 win for the Republic of Ireland over Cyprus. The Liverpool striker struck after just five minutes to continue Giovanni Trapattoni’s side’s fine start to the preliminary campaign and exact a measure of revenge for the Cypriots’ 5-2 victory during qualifying for UEFA EURO 2008.
"It was a very difficult game," commented Irish defender Richard Dunne after the match. "We've had experience of them before, but thankfully we got the early goal, because in the second half they worked really hard and pinned us back a bit. The nerves started to go a little bit towards the end because we didn't want to undo the good work we've done so far. "
It's going to be tight, so we need to win our home games if we're going to get to South Africa - and the more 1-0 wins we get, the better.
Meanwhile, Alberto Aquilani emerged as Italy’s hero in Lecce, grabbing a double as the Azzurri laboured to a 2-1 win over Montenegro, for whom Mirko Vucinic was on target. The reigning world champions, unbeaten thus far in qualifying, remain three points clear of Trapattoni’s Irish at the top of Group 8.
Netherlands made it three wins out of three with a single goal victory in Norway. Mark van Bommel's 62nd minute strike was enough to seal the three points, as Age Hareide's side slipped to their first defeat of the campaign. Netherlands have now extended their margin at the top of Group 9 to five points. Iceland lifted themselves off the bottom of that section with a 1-0 win over FYR Macedonia in Reyjavik. Veigar Gunnarsson's first-half goal has put Iceland on to four points, the same as second placed Scotland, while this result means that Norway are bottom.
Hungary secured their second win in as many games with a hard-fought 1-0 win in Malta, who have yet to score or gain a point in Group 1. Sandor Torghelle was the matchwinner with a 23rd minute goal. The win takes Erwin Koeman's men level on points with group leaders Norway. There was more disappointment for Carlos Queiroz and Portugal, however, as they were held at home by ten-man Albania. Not even the appointment of Cristiano Ronaldo as captain could inspire victory in Braga, who find themselves behind Denmark and Hungary in the standings. Substitute Admir Teli was the man who received his marching orders in the 42nd minute for two bookable offences, but Arie Haan's men stood firm.
The Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb was in full voice once again as Croatia eased to a 4-0 win over Andorra. Ivan Rakitic's 16th minute goal set them on their way before Ivica Olic and Luka Modric netted either side of half-time to put the game beyond doubt. Rakitic's second of the game, and Croatia's fourth, came from the penalty spot. In Minsk, England secured their fourth consecutive victory of the qualifying campaign with an impressive 3-1 victory over Belarus. Steven Gerrard put England on their way with a 30-yard thunderbolt in the 11th minute, but Pavel Sitko finished off a 23-pass move to equalise 17 minutes later. A half-time team talk from Fabio Capello appeared to do the trick once again for England, as Wayne Rooney bagged a brace in the second half, to put the Three Lions five points clear of Ukraine and Croatia.
"I am very happy because as I said before the game it was a very important game for us," said England coach Fabio Capello after the game. "Belarus are a good team and they played very well in the first half. We had a good performance up front but what was very important is that we played like a team. ."
If we want to win, we have to play like a team, not like single players. It is very important and tonight I saw one team
In Group 5, Bosnia-Herzegovina’s bid to keep pace with the likes of Spain, Turkey and Belgium received a timely boost when they racked up a resounding 4-1 win over Armenia. Zlatan Muslimovic helped himself to a double as the Bosnians bounced back from losing two of their opening three matches to move to within a point of Belgium and Turkey in joint-second place. Turkey’s hopes, meanwhile, suffered a blow in Estonia, where they were held to a 0-0 draw, the hosts earning their first point of this FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign.
Spain preserved their unblemished record in Group 5, coming from behind to claim a 2-1 win in Brussels thanks to David Villa’s 88th-minute winner. Belgium took just seven minutes to end La Furia Roja’s hopes of a record eighth successive clean sheet, but Andres Iniesta hit back 29 minutes later and Villa struck two minutes from time to extend the European champions’ unbeaten streak in FIFA World Cup preliminaries to 39 matches.
Wednesday 15 October
Malta 0-1 Hungary
Portugal 0-0 Albania
Latvia 1-1 Israel
Luxembourg 0-0 Moldova
Greece 1-2 Switzerland
Czech Republic 1-0 Slovenia
Northern Ireland 4-0 San Marino
Slovakia 2-1 Poland
Russia 3-0 Finland
Germany 1-0 Wales
Bosnia-Herzegovina 4-1 Armenia
Belgium 1-2 Spain
Estonia 0-0 Turkey
Croatia 4-0 Andorra
Belarus 1-3 England
Lithuania 1-0 Faroe Islands
Austria 1-3 Serbia
Republic of Ireland 1-0 Cyprus
Georgia 0-0 Bulgaria
Italy 2-1 Montenegro
Iceland 1-0 FYR Macedonia
Norway 0-1 Netherlands