Matchday 1 of European qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ was marked by difficult outings for the previous edition's finalists. Italy needed a last-minute goal to snatch victory over Cyprus, but that was nothing compared to the fate suffered by their Germany 2006 runners-up France, who slumped to a 3-1 defeat in Austria.
Elsewhere, the continent's biggest names all picked up maximum points despite a few nervy moments for some - and none more so than England, unconvincing 2-0 winners away to Andorra. The second round of qualifiers takes place on Wednesday.
Game of the day
Austria 3-1 France
Goals: Marc Janko 8, Rene Aufhauser 42, Andreas Ivanschitz 72 pen (Austria); Sidney Govou 61 (France).
Boasting greater hunger and a keener eye for goal, Karel Bruckner's Austrians were deserved victors over a France side overrun in midfield, where Patrick Vieira and the internationally retired Claude Makelele were sorely missed. Defensive concerns that first reared their head for Raymond Domenech's side against Sweden were much in evidence again, with the failure to deal with two free-kicks from the right allowing the hosts to race clear. For Les Bleus, the current period of transition could well take much longer than their supporters feared.
The other games
In Group 1, Carlos Queiroz's Portugal ran riot after the interval to complete a 4-0 success over Malta. Rivals Sweden and Denmark could only pick up goalless draws, meanwhile, with the Scandinavian duo away to Albania and Hungary respectively. An 89th-minute Ben Sahar strike allowed Israel to salvage a point that looked beyond them when they found themselves two goals down to Switzerland with almost an hour gone.
The Group 2 summit belongs to Greece and Latvia, after the former beat Luxembourg 3-0 and the Latvians saw off Moldova 2-1. In Group 3, Poland could only manage a 1-1 draw at home against Slovenia, who had Zlatko Dedic's goal to thank for that relatively surprising score-line. In the same section, Slovakia triumphed 2-1 at home to Northern Ireland.
Germany were back to their imperious best in Group 4, Lukas Podolski scoring two of their six goals without reply away to Liechtenstein. Fellow hopefuls Wales required an effort from 18-year-old Sam Vokes to nick a 1-0 win over Azerbaijan.
Tuncay Sanli and Semih Senturk helped Turkey to a 2-0 victory over Armenia in their Group 5 curtain-raiser in Yerevan. For their part, Belgium needed a Wesley Sonck brace to eke out a 3-2 reverse of Estonia. Spain, in the same pool, made light of the absences of Fernando Torres and David Silva to beat Bosnia-Herzegovina 1-0, David Villa finding the net with an hour gone.
The three favourites in Group 6 all emerged victorious, too, although Fabio Capello's England had to settle for two second-half Joe Cole goals against a modest Andorra side in Barcelona. Ukraine owe yet another debt of gratitude to Andriy Shevchenko, meanwhile, after the new AC Milan signing fired in a 93rd-minute penalty to see off Belarus 1-0. Only Croatia managed to impose their will, running out 3-0 winners over Kazakhstan.
The big names in Group 7 had less to cheer about, starting with Romania. With a number of key players missing, including Adrian Mutu, they slumped to a shock 3-0 loss to Lithuania on home soil. France did little better in Austria, of course, and Serbia had to wait until the 88th minute to finally notch a decisive second goal against Faroe Islands.
Italy were very much up against it in Cyprus, something goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon would no doubt confirm after being named man of the match. Ultimately, the goalscoring talents of Antonio Di Natale earned the Azzurri a narrow 2-1 win, the Udinese forward finding the net twice. Elsewhere in Group 8, Giovanni Trapattoni's Republic of Ireland also got off to a winning start as they overcame Georgia 2-1 in Mainz, while Bulgaria drew 2-2 in Montenegro.
Finally, in Group 9, Scotland suffered a 1-0 defeat in Macedonia, and Steffen Iversen scored twice to earn Norway a 2-2 draw with visitors Iceland.
Renowned for their steely defence in the recent past, France have conceded 11 goals in their last four outings. All three of the strikes they conceded in Vienna on Saturday came from set-pieces: namely two free-kicks and a penalty.
Goal of the day
Cyprus 1-2 Italy
Antonio di Natale (90)
Following a break down the right and a cross to the near post, Alberto Gilardino back-heeled the ball towards Mauro Camoranesi, who then lobbed a pass towards the far post for Di Natale. The 30-year-old arrived at pace and smashed a volley in with his left foot.
Quote of the day
"Let's be happy with these three points, which were the best thing to come out of the match. Everything else should be forgotten," Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon
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