England and Spain rubber-stamped their domination of Groups 5 and 6 respectively when they sauntered to their eighth wins in eight games to join the Netherlands at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Switzerland, Serbia, Slovakia and holders Italy look poised to follow them to the finals after picking up valuable results in their respective groups.
FIFA.com rounds up all the highs and lows from an entertaining evening in the European Zone, with the 25 matches across the continent yielding a total of 73 goals, an average of 2.92 per game.
The big match
Hungary 0-1 Portugal
Goal: Pepe 9
Portugal revived their flagging hopes of reaching the play-offs with a priceless win in Budapest. The Germany 2006 semi-finalists wasted little time in imposing themselves. Taking advantage of the space created by Cristiano Ronaldo's clever run, Pepe had all the time he needed to head Deco's well-flighted free-kick into the back of the net. That allowed the Portuguese to hit the desperate Hungarians on the counter at will, with the sprightly Ronaldo causing problems throughout for the hosts. Portugal now face the task of having to win their two remaining games, at home to Hungary and Malta, while also hoping for Sweden to drop points.
Faroe Islands 2-1 Lithuania
Goals: Suni Olsen 15, Arnbjorn Hansen 34 (Faroe Islands); Tomas Danilevicius 23 (Lithuania)
This was Faroe Islands first win in a FIFA World Cup qualifying match for eight years and only their 17th overall in 126 official matches. The islanders last tasted victory on 1 September 2001 when they beat Luxembourg 1-0. Since then they have lost 17 times and drawn only twice.
Armenia 2-1 Belgium
Goals: Hovhannes Goharyan 23, Sargis Hovsepyan 52 (Armenia); Daniel van Buyten 88 (Belgium)
Armenia recorded their first qualifying win with an impressive performance against a Belgium side still reeling from last weekend's 5-0 rout at the hands of Spain.
Nicklas Bendtner was on target again as Group 1 leaders Denmark earned a 1-1 draw in Albania. The Danes are now three points clear of Sweden, who scraped a fortunate 1-0 victory over Malta when Ian Azzopardi inadvertently deflected the ball into his own net nine minutes from time. The Swedes, who have collected two late wins in four days, are now two points ahead of the Portuguese and faltering Hungary, setting up an exciting denouement.
Bayer Leverkusen forward Eren Derdiyok was Switzerland's hero of the hour as they secured a 2-2 draw in Latvia, his all-important equaliser coming just ten minutes from time and ensuring the Swiss stay three points clear of Greece in Group 2. The Greeks passed up a golden opportunity to close the gap when they could only draw 1-1 in Moldova, allowing Israel to move back into play-off contention with a thumping 7-0 defeat of Luxembourg, with Elyaniv Barda marking his country's 100th FIFA World Cup qualifier by scoring a hat-trick.
Slovakia strengthened their grip on an evenly poised Group 3 when they secured a 2-0 win in Northern Ireland thanks to goals from Stanislav Sestak and Filip Holosko. The Slovakians are now within touching distance of the finals, while the Irish drop to third following Slovenia's impressive 3-0 defeat of Poland. Czech Republic kept their play-off hopes alive with a 7-0 stroll against San Marino.
Germany ensured there were no surprises in Group 4 when they disposed of Azerbaijan 4-0, two of the goals coming from Miroslav Klose. Russia kept the pressure on the section leaders by downing Wales 3-1, their third consecutive win on the road. The top two meet in a group decider in Moscow on 10 October.
European champions Spain secured top spot in Group 5 when goals from Cesc Fabregas, Santi Cazorla and Juan Manuel Mata took them to a 3-0 victory over Estonia, maintaining their one hundred per cent record in the group. While Spain's front men have been in impressive form throughout the campaign, the back line has also done its job in conceding just two goals in eight games.
In the battle for the play-off place, Bosnia-Herzegovina continue to hold the upper hand after holding Turkey 1-1 at home. Emre Belozoglou put the visitors in front early on but Sejad Salihovic's majestic free-kick ensured the second-placed Bosnians remain four points clear with just two games remaining.
England have been equally impressive in Group 6 and clinched their ticket to the finals courtesy of an emphatic 5-1 defeat of Croatia, with Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard both netting twice, only the second time that both players have scored in the same game for England. Often criticised for being overly cautious, coach Fabio Capello has overseen a transformation in English fortunes. In winning eight games out of eight, his charges have scored a healthy 31 goals.
Despite going ahead early on against a France side soon to be reduced to ten men, Group 7 pacesetters Serbia could not see the job through and had to be content with a 1-1 draw that still leaves them well in control of the section. Thierry Henry scored for Les Bleus, though they look destined for the play-offs with the Serbs four points to the good and on the verge of their first appearance in the finals as a nation in their own right.
Italy needed just 40 minutes to put Bulgaria in their place in Group 8. First-half goals from Fabio Grosso and Vincenzo Iaquinta, the striker's fifth in 12 international outings, set them on the road to a 2-0 win. The Italians have a four-point cushion over the Republic of Ireland, whom they face in Dublin next month.
Group 9 came to a close with section winners the Netherlands snuffing out Scotland's lingering hopes of snatching a play-off berth. A late Eljero Elia strike ensured the Dutch finished the group with maximum points from their eight games, a feat that only Germany, France and Czech Republic have ever achieved before.
2000 - Milan Baros scored four in Czech Republic's romp against San Marino, the second of them the 2000th goal of the South Africa 2010 qualifying competition (in over 700 matches). The Galatasaray striker also netted a hat-trick in the space of 20 minutes either side of half-time, the fastest treble in the competition. Poland's Ebi Smolarek also helped himself to four goals against the Group 3 whipping boys in April.
Italy 2-0 Bulgaria (Vincenzo Iaquinta 39)
Italy's strike duo of Alberto Gilardino and Vincenzo Iaquinta combined to perfection in the build-up to their side's second goal, playing a brace of one-twos on the left side of the box before Iaquinta finished off an exquisite move by curling the ball inside the far post.
What they said
"I'm very happy. When we started out the goal was to qualify and tonight's win in front of our own fans was very important for everyone, especially the players. The English spirit pleases me, and over the course of these eight wins it has helped us pull through whenever things have got tough." England coach Fabio Capello
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