There was no shortage of surprises on Tuesday evening as Europe's hopefuls got to grips with Matchday 4 of qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. For reigning champions Spain, that meant a 1-1 stalemate at home against a spirited France side, while Germany showed signs of frailty by surrendering a four-goal lead in a 4-4 draw with Sweden. There was frustration for Portugal too, as they were made to wait before salvaging a 1-1 result against Northern Ireland.
Elsewhere, the Netherlands and Russia steered clear of any such trouble to stand clear as the only teams in the European Zone yet to drop a point. FIFA.com looks back at a fascinating night of action.
With 56 minutes gone, Germany were leading 4-0 and playing some sublime football, their movement fluid and their gifted goalscorers clearly lapping up the occasion. It was an awesome spectacle that must have thrilled coach Joachim Low, just as it left the Berlin crowd purring with pleasure, but that was before Zlatan Ibrahimovic – surely the last player still sensing a miracle – reduced the deficit with a powerful header. His goal was greeted with polite applause from the locals, but it galvanised the visitors and suddenly it was Germany on the back foot, looking disoriented and forgetting basic instructions. Rasmus Elm's added-time equaliser was no more than Sweden deserved, and Low's charges could only feel grateful that the final whistle came when it did.
The other games
Mario Mandzukic and Eduardo grabbed the goals to keep unbeaten Croatia level at the summit with Belgium, who owed their victory against Scotland to efforts from Christian Benteke and Vincent Kompany. Beaten by bottom side FYR Macedonia, in contrast, Serbia now find themselves six points off the pace.
With the Czech Republic and Bulgaria unable to break the deadlock in Prague, Italy have pulled away at the top thanks to their win against Denmark. Andrea Pirlo was once again inspirational in midfield for Gli Azzurri, his vision and technique allowing him to serve up assists for Daniele de Rossi and Mario Balotelli after Riccardo Montolivo had opened the scoring.
The Republic of Ireland put their heavy loss to Germany behind them by racking up four goals in the Faroe Islands, while Austria helped themselves to three – Marc Janko notching two – as they swept aside Kazakhstan.
Louis van Gaal's men kept their excellent start going against a Romania team culpable of errors in defence. The Oranje pounced on a pair of mistakes to race into a 2-0 lead after half an hour, and they went on to add two more against opponents who had kept clean sheets in all three of their previous qualifiers.
For their part, Turkey are almost certainly out of the running following yet another loss, this time in Hungary. Mevlut Erdinc gave Turkey the perfect start, but the hosts rallied to take control of the game and made their domination count via Vladimir Koman, Adam Szalai and Zoltan Gera. The win sent the victors second in the group, level on points with Romania, and has reignited their qualification hopes.
Iceland held out for more than an hour before Switzerland sealed maximum points courtesy of Tranquillo Barnetta and Mario Gavranovic to extend their cushion at the top. Slovenia's revival hopes were thwarted in Albania, meanwhile, as they suffered a third defeat thus far.
Russia have now made it four wins from four, scoring eight goals and conceding none as Fabio Capello's methods continue to pay dividends. The Italian coach had to wait until Roman Shirokov's 84th-minute penalty to finally see off Azerbaijan, but the success took his side five points clear in pole position as main rivals Portugal failed to overcome Northern Ireland. Niall McGinn gave the courageous visitors a shock lead in Porto and it seemed as if untidy finishing would cost Paulo Bento's troops dearly until Helder Postiga turned in Nani's ball with 11 minutes left. Try as they might to conjure a late winner, Portugal were unable to prevail.
Bosnia-Herzegovina enjoyed another prolific outing as Vedad Ibisevic, Edin Dzeko and Miralem Pjanic got their names on the scoresheet against Lithuania to keep their team head of the class on goal difference. In the meeting between the group's other leading lights, Greece put space between themselves and Slovakia thanks to Dimitrios Salpingidis's 63rd-minute finish in Bratislava.
Unbeaten Montenegro extended their positive start with an eye-catching 1-0 victory in Ukraine, Dejan Damjanovic making the difference just before half-time. The much-anticipated encounter between Poland and England was unable to go ahead due to a torrential downpour, however, and the two sides will reconvene on Wednesday at 17.00 CET.
Made to suffer in the second half as rarely they have in recent years, world and European champions Spain ultimately had to settle for a draw against a willing France side who never gave up. Sergio Ramos fired home following a corner to put La Roja on top, but Hugo Lloris denied Cesc Fabregas from the penalty spot and Les Bleus came out with renewed purpose after the break. Didier Deschamps' men made life uncomfortable for Spain until Olivier Giroud nodded in a Franck Ribery cross in the closing seconds, and the two teams thus remain locked together at the top of the standings.
In the space of a short few months, 25-year-old striker Tomer Hemed has emerged as Israel's principal attacking threat. Brought through the ranks by Maccabi Haifa, the Mallorca forward made his debut against Latvia on 4 June 2011 and has already racked up nine goals in 12 appearances, bolstering his tally with a double against Luxembourg. Clearly at ease on the international stage, he is similarly thriving in the Liga, having registered 13 times for Los Bermellones in 36 games.
Germany 4-4 Sweden, Miroslav Klose 8, 15
With the match still in its early stages, Philipp Lahm released Marco Reus down the left, allowing the young Borussia Dortmund winger to race towards the goalline and clip a pass back towards Miroslav Klose, who freed himself in the area and lashed the ball high into the net at the near post. Seven minutes later, Reus then exchanged a pair of one-twos with separate team-mates before feeding Klose for the second of the evening's textbook efforts.
100 – The number of caps amassed by Cristiano Ronaldo, who at just 27 years of age has become one the youngest players ever to reach his century. The Portugal forward was awarded his first against Kazakhstan on 20 August 2003, coming on as a substitute for Luis Figo – who currently holds the country's record of 127, ahead of Fernando Couto on 110. Ronaldo has struck 37 goals since his debut, putting him four behind the legendary Eusebio on Portugal's all-time list and ten shy of Pedro Pauleta.