Belgium, in devastating form in Serbia, and Russia, who overcame Portugal to maintain their 100 per cent record, both moved into commanding positions in their respective groups during the third round of fixtures of European qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
Elsewhere, all of the continent’s traditional powerhouses came out on top, even though many of their more modest opponents put up significant resistance. FIFA.com reviews all the action from a busy night of football across Europe.
The big match
Russia 1-0 Portugal, Moscow
Goal: Alexander Kerzhakov 6
Fabio Capello has clearly not taken long to get his message across to his new charges, as Russia now sit proudly on top of Group F, with three wins and three clean sheets to their name.
The breakthrough against Portugal came as early as the sixth minute, with Alexander Kerzhakov doing the damage. The Zenit St Petersburg forward took a superb first-time pass from Roman Shirokov in his stride, outpaced the static Lusitanian defence and placed the ball smartly into the back of the net.
The goal transformed the nature of the game, as the well-organised home side appeared perfectly content to soak up Portuguese pressure and hit on the break wherever possible. Isolated on the left flank during the first half, Cristiano Ronaldo saw very little of the ball. The Real Madrid forward was more involved after the break, but he missed an enormous chance to equalise.
The few shots on target that Portugal did manage to produce were capably dealt with by an on-form Igor Akinfeev in the Russian goal, and the Iberians will now have their work cut out for them to claim the group’s automatic qualifying slot.
The other games
Wales 2-1 Scotland
Serbia 0-3 Belgium
Macedonia 1-2 Croatia
Belgium recorded a resounding victory away in Serbia, traditionally tough opponents on home soil. Christian Benteke, Kevin de Bruyne and Kevin Mirallas all got on the scoresheet to secure a result that enables Les Diables Rouges to move to the top of the section, just ahead of Croatia, who pulled off a hard-fought win in Macedonia.
Although they were deprived of the services of Mario Balotelli through illness, Italy, inspired by the evergreen Andrea Pirlo, still did just enough to emerge on top in Armenia. Pirlo slotted home a penalty kick before setting up Daniele de Rossi for the second goal, and against a solid home team that battled for every ball, La Nazionale finally sealed the points eight minutes from the end via a Pablo Osvaldo header.
The Czech Republic, meanwhile, saw off a plucky Malta side courtesy of goals from Theodor Gebre Selassie, Tomas Pekhart and Jan Rezek, while Denmark picked up a precious point in Bulgaria through Nicklas Bendtner.
The Germans, who doubtless expected a much tougher test in Dublin, completely dominated an injury-hit Republic of Ireland from start to finish. Marco Reus and Toni Kroos, who both nabbed braces, were outstanding on the night, while Miroslav Klose also found the net to draw within three goals of Gerd Muller’s national scoring record.
In the Faroe Islands, Zlatan Ibrahimovic was again instrumental in Sweden’s stuttering 2-1 victory, setting up Alexander Kacaniklic for an equaliser before knocking home the winner 15 minutes from time.
In the pool’s other match, Kazakhstan, who had defended stubbornly versus the Swedes in their previous game, continued their gradual improvement by holding a disappointing Austria to a 0-0 draw in Astana.
Netherlands 3-0 Andorra
Turkey 0-1 Romania
Estonia 0-1 Hungary
It was not a good night for the Turks, who conceded a second consecutive defeat in the group. Romania were good value for their away triumph, as Gheorghe Grozav gave home goalkeeper Volkan Demirel no chance with a well-struck shot for the game’s only goal. The Turks now lie six points behind Romania and the Netherlands, who saw off Andorra relatively comfortably in Rotterdam.
Switzerland, held at home by Norway, have an unexpected challenger breathing down their necks at the summit of Group E as of Friday evening: Iceland. The Icelanders obtained a crucial win in Albania, their second of the campaign, with Birkir Bjarnason and Gylfi Sigurdsson grabbing the all-important goals.
Slovenia tasted victory for the first time in the section, beating Cyprus 2-1.
Luxembourg 0-6 Israel
Following Russia’s defeat of Portugal, Israel demolished Luxembourg 6-0 in the group’s other fixture, in a match that featured a hat-trick for Tomer Hemed.
Liechtenstein 0-2 Lithuania
Slovakia 2-1 Latvia
Greece 0-0 Bosnia-Herzegovina
Greece and Bosnia-Herzegovina cancelled each other out in a tight 0-0 stalemate. Slovakia took advantage of that draw to secure a closely contested win over Latvia and draw level with their two group rivals at the top of the table. Elsewhere, a double from Edgaras Cesnauskis helped Lithuania to get the better of Liechtenstein, their first success since 10 August 2011.
England 5-0 San Marino
Moldova 0-0 Ukraine
Ukraine dropped two points in Moldova and now trail England by five in the table. The Three Lions took 35 minutes to open the scoring against the minnows of San Marino before going on to rack up four more goals. Roy Hodgson, already deprived of numerous first-choice players, was forced to replace an injured Theo Walcott after just ten minutes.
Finland 1-1 Georgia
Belarus 0-4 Spain
World champions Spain, despite leaving several regulars on the bench, lived up to their title in Belarus, putting in an impressive display in a match that was lit up by a Pedro hat-trick. Finland, meanwhile, earned their first point of the qualification process, coming back from a goal down versus Georgia despite being reduced to ten men.
Belgian rising star Kevin De Bruyne scored his first goal in national colours against Serbia on Friday. The 21-year-old attacking midfielder has reached new heights this season with Werder Bremen, the club to which Chelsea loaned him in August. Called up for the first time on 11 August 2010 to face Finland, the former U-19 international is in the process of staking a place in a Belgian midfield already brimming with quality.
Finland 1-1 Georgia, Kasper Hamalainen 63
Making a penetrating run down the left-hand side, Kasper Hamalainen controlled a long ball perfectly on the run, taking his marker out of the equation in the process. The Finnish attacking midfielder advanced to just short of the goal line, and from a seemingly impossible angle, slipped the ball between the legs of Georgian keeper Nukri Revishvili for a deserved equaliser.
101 – The number of caps amassed by Dutch stalwart Rafael van der Vaart, a remarkable feat for a player aged just 29. The Hamburg midfield man celebrated the achievement by scoring his 20th international goal against Andorra.
Have your say
Will Russia or Portugal finish top of Group F?