Germany required three equalisers from Miroslav Klose to earn a 3-3 draw in Finland as European qualifying to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ resumed this evening. Republic of Ireland were also unexpectedly held, 0-0 away to Montenegro, which is how the Azerbaijan-Liechtenstein and Northern Ireland-Czech Republic matches finished up.
A fifth stalemate unfolded in Istanbul, where Turkey and Belgium shared two goals, but another match in Group 5 was anything but equal, Bosnia-Herzegovina putting seven unanswered goals past Estonia.
England were emphatic victors, three-goal Theo Walcott headlining their 4-1 win away to Croatia. "There were 11 stars out there tonight, the whole team played well. We showed to everybody that we are a strong team," said the Arsenal teenager afterwards.
Ukraine joined Fabio Capello's side on six points in Group 6 thanks to a 3-1 success in Kazakhstan, and Belarus climbed level on three points with Slaven Bilic's side by beating Andorra 3-1 on their travels.
Reigning world champions Italy have breathing space atop of their section, a 2-0 reverse of Georgia sending them two points clear of Republic of Ireland. Albania, Greece, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland and Spain won to take the driving seat in their respective pools, while Israel, Romania and Russia also pocketed three points.
Portugal, meanwhile, were stunned at home to Denmark. Deco's 86th-minute penalty looked to have secured Carlos Quieroz's charges victory, but iinjury-time goals from Christian Poulsen and Daniel Jensen snatched the Danes a dramatic 3-2 triumph.
Klose denies Finland
Fresh from a 6-0 reverse of Faroe Islands, few envisaged UEFA EURO 2008 runners-up Germany struggling in Helsinki. But that they did, with Klose cancelling out goals from Jonathan Johansson and, then, Mika Vayrynen before the interval.
Daniel Sjolund made it 3-2 in Finland's favour with a firm header on 53 minutes, and both sides had chances thereafter as the game flowed from end to end. When Klose's 79th-minute header was cleared off the line by his former Weder Bremen team-mate Petri Pasanen, it appeared that it would not be Germany's day.
Klose, undeterred, refused to concede defeat and fired home a rebound with seven minutes remaining to pull the three-time FIFA World Cup champions level. The Bayern Munich striker, 30, almost snatched a winner in the closing moments, but Finland held on to seize a point from their opening qualifier.
Germany head Group 4, with Russia and Wales both one point adrift following their meeting, the first half of which was a tale of two penalties. First, Gareth Bale darted into the hosts' area and was upended. The Tottenham Hotspur player took the resulting spot-kick himself, but Igor Akinfeev dived to his right to preserve the deadlock.
Roman Pavlyuchenko did not make the same mistake from 12 yards on 22 minutes, nonchalantly guiding the ball down the centre of the goal as Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey dived fruitlessly to his left.
Guus Hiddink's side controlled the remainder of the half, but their visitors took the initiative from the restart. They got their reward on 67 minutes, Bale redeeming himself with a fine burst down the right and low cross across the box, which gave 17-year-old Joe Ledley a tap-in.
Russia, stunned, immediately probed for the game's third goal and they duly unlocked a resolute backline with nine minutes remaining. Andrei Arshavin, with his marker backing off, carried the ball into dangerous territory and delivered a pinpoint cross on to the head of substitute Pavel Pogrebnyak. His header was saved impressively by Hennessey, but the Wales defence was unable to clear its lines and the Zenit striker, who missed UEFA EURO 2008 through injury, blasted home the rebound from close range.
Wales coach John Toshack will have taken encouragement from a courageous display, but ultimately Russia claimed the prize at stake: three points on the road to South Africa 2010.
Lithuania extend dream start
Nobody expected Lithuania to occupy pole position in Group 7 after two rounds. That, however, is exactly where Jose Courceiro's side proudly sit thanks to Tomas Danilevicius. Indeed, the powerful forward, 30, scored both goals as they beat Austria 2-0 to move on to six points.
After a huge upset loss at home to the Lithuanians, a depleted Romania desperately needed three points from a trip to Torshavn. Realising this was expected to be straightforward for Victor Piturca's team but at half-time, the game was goalless.
It got worse for the visitors in the 49th minute, when Sorin Ghionea was sent off for violent conduct, but Razvan Cocis managed to find a way past Faroe Islands goalkeeper Jakup Mikkelsen just before the hour mark. It proved to be the only goal of the game and although Romania's performance lacked inspiration, the victory kick-started their bid to reach South Africa 2010.
France also put their first points on the board in Group 7, overcoming Serbia 2-1 at home. Thierry Henry and Nicolas Anelka got on the scoresheet for Les Bleus, while Branislav Ivanovic replied for their guests at the Stade de France.
Serhiy Nazarenko was Ukraine's hero in Almaty. The 28-year-old, a creative, prolific and tireless attacking midfielder, opened the scoring on the stroke of half-time. Veteran goalkeeper David Loriya had, until that point, frustrated the visitors as he had done Andorra in Kazakhstan's opener, which they won 3-0.
However, it took Andriy Shevchenko just eight minutes into the second half to double Ukraine's lead. Sergey Ostapenko did halve the deficit on 70 minutes, but Nazarenko sealed a 3-1 success ten minutes later.
Belarus, Ukraine's victims first time out, made a successful trip to Andorra. Dzmitry Verkhovtsov fired them into a first-half advantage, before Marc Pujol restored parity for the home side midway through the second.
Andorra's hopes of putting their first points on the board were nonetheless ended by substitutes. Vitali Rodionov, 24, edged Belarus in front on 78 minutes, and Vyacheslav Hleb, the younger brother of Barcelona winger Aleksandr, completed the scoring.
Netherlands got their campaign off with a 2-1 defeat of Macedonia in Skopje. Johnny Heitinga and Rafael van der Vaart were on target for the Oranje, before Goran Pandev pulled one back from the penalty spot.
Scotland went level on points with the Dutch - and Macedonia - at the Group 9 summit with a 2-1 win in Iceland. Kirk Broadfoot, a late call-up into the squad, and Barry Robson established a two-goal cushion for George Burley's side, before Eidur Gudjohnsen's 77th-minute spot-kick ensured a nervy finish.
European Zone results
Albania 3-0 Malta
Andorra 1-3 Belarus
Azerbaijan 0-0 Liechtenstein
Bosnia-Herzegovina 7-0 Estonia
Faroe Islands 0-1 Romania
Croatia 1-4 England
Finland 3-3 Germany
France 2-1 Serbia
Iceland 1-2 Scotland
Italy 2-0 Georgia
Kazakhstan 1-3 Ukraine
Latvia 0-2 Greece
Lithuania 2-0 Austria
Macedonia 1-2 Netherlands
Moldova 1-2 Israel
Montenegro 0-0 Republic of Ireland
Portugal 2-3 Denmark
Russia 2-1 Wales
San Marino 0-2 Poland
Slovenia 2-1 Slovakia
Spain 4-0 Armenia
Sweden 2-1 Hungary
Switzerland 1-2 Luxembourg
Turkey 1-1 Belgium