Eastern delight for old rivals
Continuing their preparations for the final phase of qualifying for South Africa 2010, the various teams in friendly action on Wednesday evening made light of the summer heat to produce some spectacular football. The high points were provided by Argentina and Russia, who served up five goals in an entertaining duel, while the Netherlands and England shared four in Amsterdam.
Shrugging off the absence of Lionel Messi, the South Americans recorded an impressive win in Russia, the perfect tonic for their vital qualifier against Brazil in three weeks time. After making a fast start the Russians struggled to combat the high-tempo pressing of Argentina's forwards. Albiceleste coach Diego Maradona will also have drawn satisfaction from Sergio Aguero's classy performance and the goalscoring contributions of substitutes Lisandro Lopez and Jesus Datolo.
Fabio Capello had the hard task of lifting his side when they went in at the break 2-0 down after Dirk Kuyt and Rafael van der Vaart had seized on respective mistakes by Rio Ferdinand and Gareth Barry. Whatever the Italian coach said in the England dressing room, it did the trick. Hemming the Dutch back in their own half, the visitors were rewarded for their enterprise when Jermain Defoe rounded off a fine counter-attack before sliding home the equaliser from close range.
Goran Pandev rocked the strangely sluggish European champions with a first-half brace. It was merely the prelude to a stunning Spanish comeback, however, as Vicente del Bosque's men fired in three goals in five memorable minutes before almost allowing the hosts to grab a late equaliser.
Try as they might, the reigning FIFA World Cup™ holders failed to get back to winning ways, though coach Marcelo Lippi was no doubt pleased to be able to assess the form of a few more candidates for a place in his long-term plans.
The five-time world champions did the bare minimum against a very combative Estonia side. Sevilla striker Luis Fabiano scored the only goal of a match in which Kaka appeared just as lost as he had been in the streets of Tallinn on Tuesday.
The Serbs comfortably lead the way in Group 7 in the European Zone and warmed up for a possible FIFA World Cup finals appearance next summer by easing to victory over the FIFA Confederations Cup semi-finalists.
Despite going down to a heavy defeat, the Belgians at least had the consolation of scoring the goal of the night, a 30-yard piledriver from Ajax midfielder Vertonghen that gave Petr Cech no chance.
Player of the day
Switzerland's highly-rated 25-year-old goalkeeper Diego Benaglio raised his profile even higher with an outstanding display in the goalless draw with Italy. The Wolfsburg shot-stopper made at least half a dozen world-class saves to keep his goal intact and received the congratulations of the peerless Gianluigi Buffon at the final whistle.
Result of the day
Though there was nothing surprising about Albania getting the better of Cyprus, few people would have expected the normally goal-shy Balkan side to run out emphatic 6-1 winners. The last time the Albanians were in such deadly form was in 2003, when they put five past Vietnam without reply.
127 - The number of appearances that Fabio Cannavaro has now made for Italy, making him the country's most capped player of all time. The Azzurri captain, who turns 36 on 13 September, made his international debut against Northern Ireland on 22 January 1997, coming on for Alessandro Costacurta. Cannavaro took the national record from Paolo Maldini, who racked up 126 appearances between March 1988 and June 2002.
What they said
"I was standing on the pitch and he was so happy and running so fast that he knocked me over. But you know what? I hope he knocks me over every 20 minutes in every match he plays because that will mean everything's going just fine," Argentina coach Diego Maradona takes Jesus Datolo's exuberant celebrations in his stride.
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