France were the only team to win away in the first legs of the European play-offs for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Les Bleus beat Republic of Ireland 1-0 at Croke Park to take control of their tie.

Elswhere Portugal won by the same scoreline against dark horses Bosnia-Herzegovina and Russia shaded Slovenia 2-1 in another entertaining game. There were fewer fireworks in Athens as Greece and Ukraine played out a goalless draw.

FIFA.com rounds up the action as battle commenced for the last four qualification berths in the European Zone.

Russia 2-1 Slovenia
Goals: Diniyar Bilyaletdinov 40, 52 (Russia); Nejc Pecnik 88 (Slovenia)

The story of the game
Inspired by Andrei Arshavin, Russia controlled the game for 88 minutes, creating a succession of clear-cut chances. Operating in a supporting role rather than as an out-and-out front man, Roman Pavlyuchenko played a vital role in levering the visiting defence and opening up space for attacking midfielder Bilyaletdinov. The Everton man made the most of it too, scoring the maiden double of his career, the first with a superb turn and shot. The hosts’ nervy defending then allowed Slovenia to exert some late pressure, with Pecnik’s close-range header throwing the tie wide open.

The key moment
With two minutes remaining, Zlatan Ljubijankic fired in a fierce 20-yard cross-shot from the left that Russia keeper Igor Akinfeev could only palm into the path of Nejc Pecnik, who was lurking at the far post to nod the ball over the line.

The man of the match       
Andrei Arshavin rediscovered the scintillating form he showed at UEFA EURO 2008, lending a helping hand in defence, where he saved his side from falling behind on one occasion, providing an endless supply of possession for his team-mates and setting up Bilyaletdinov’s second goal of the evening.

Greece 0-0 Ukraine

The story of the game
A goalless draw was just about the right score as a Greece side handicapped by the absence of several first-teamers held off a Ukraine team that retreated into their shell after an enterprising first half-hour. The conservative Greeks threw a little more caution to the wind in the second half but without exerting too much pressure on a solid Ukrainian rearguard, leaving the tie finely poised ahead of Wednesday’s return game in Donetsk.

The key moment
Greece captain Konstantinos Katsouranis had the home fans on their feet in the final seconds of the first half when he sent a fine header goalwards only for the Ukraine keeper to pull off an exceptional save to keep the game all square.

The man of the match
Celtic striker Georgios Samaras was the most active forward on show in Athens, throwing his weight around to good effect but without managing to give his side the goal they craved.

Republic of Ireland 0-1 France
Goal: Nicolas Anelka 72

The story of the game
France had to weather an early storm at a typically noisy Croke Park before eventually finding their feet, although it was the Irish who created the better chances before the break. The action opened up in the second-half as the visitors’ superior technique began to show against their committed opponents, who tired visibly in the closing stages. The only goal of the night came when Yoann Gourcuff laid the ball off to Nicolas Anelka, who worked a little space for himself before striking a shot that took a deflection off the unfortunate Sean St Ledger and sneaked in off Shay Given’s left-hand post. After a tortuous qualifying campaign, Raymond Domenech’s men can finally see South Africa coming into view.

The key moment
Having dealt admirably with Ireland’s crosses and centres, France keeper Hugo Lloris kept his side’s narrow lead intact with a crucial save two minutes from time, rushing off his line to deny Glenn Whelan from close range after the Stoke midfielder had been set up by Robbie Keane.

The man of the match
The emergence of talented playmaker Yoann Gourcuff and France's return to form is surely no coincidence. The gifted Bordeaux man gave another recital at Croke Park, distributing the ball with his customary grace and panache and providing the balance in midfield that the French had keen sorely lacking prior to his emergence on the scene. 

Portugal 1-0 Bosnia-Herzegovina
Goal: Bruno Alves 31

The story of the game
With the injured Cristiano Ronaldo looking on from the stands, Portugal drew first blood against their Balkan opponents. Dominating the game from the off, the hosts were rewarded for their greater enterprise when the unmarked Alves stole in at the far post to head home Nani’s pinpoint centre. Roused from their slumber and spearheaded by their formidable front-line, the visitors pressed forward, leaving themselves exposed to Portugal’s rapid counters, expertly orchestrated by the artful Deco. Chances were spurned at both ends, however, to leave the tie hanging in the balance.

The key moment
The Portuguese enjoyed some good fortune as the game neared its conclusion, never more so than two minutes from time, when the Bosnians hit the woodwork twice. First of all Edin Dzeko’s bouncing shot struck the crossbar, with Zvjezdan Muslimovic driving the loose ball against the base of the far post. The Balkan outsiders will no doubt be hoping for better luck in Wednesday’s return leg.

The man of the match
Portugal’s pacy striker Liedson da Silva Muniz, better known as Liedson, answered his critics once more with a lively display, producing plenty of technical trickery and darting runs to keep the imposing Bosnian defenders guessing throughout the game.