Key victories see groups tighten
Another busy day of UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying action saw England suffer at home to Switzerland, being held to a surprise draw, while there were important victories for Russia, Greece and Denmark. One Premier League striker scored a hat-trick and another reached a milestone. FIFA.com reviews all of Saturday’s action.
The big match
England 2-2 Switzerland - Wembley, London
The visitors made the brighter start in the English sunshine, forcing Joe Hart into several saves during the opening 20 minutes, and they got what they deserved just after the half-hour mark. Tranquillo Barnetta’s drifted free-kick missed everybody in the penalty area and bounced into the far corner to give the Swiss the lead. Within minutes, Barnetta had doubled their advantage from another set-piece, fooling Hart with a whipped free-kick into the near post from the left edge of the area. A minute later and there was a third goal, this time for the home team. Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere drove at the defence and was tripped in the area by club team-mate Johan Djourou, Frank Lampard converting the subsequent penalty. Half-time substitute Ashley Young levelled the score six minutes after coming on, finding the corner with a sweet strike from the edge of the box. The momentum was with the Three Lions at that stage but the game fizzled out afterwards, although Darren Bent and Stewart Downing both missed chances to earn England three points.
All six teams in Group B were in action today, with Russia first to play. They came from a goal behind to beat Armenia 3-1, with Tottenham Hotspur striker Roman Pavlyuchenko’s hat-trick overturning Marcos Pizzelli’s opener. Slovakia joined them on 13 points after a 1-0 win at home to Andorra, Miroslav Karhan grabbing the only goal. Finally, Republic of Ireland became the third side to reach 13 points following their 2-0 away win against FYR Macedonia. Robbie Keane scored both goals, while the hosts missed a penalty, to ensure Giovanni Trapattoni’s hopes of reaching next summer’s tournament remained strong. The Irish now top the group on goals scored from Russia, with Slovakia third.
In Group F, Israel responded to Croatia’s victory last night by beating Latvia 2-1 to keep pace with the leaders. Captain Yossi Benayoun put his side in front before defender Tal Ben-Haim doubled the lead from the penalty spot shortly before half-time. Aleksandrs Cauna reduced the deficit in the second half, also with a spot-kick, but the away side held out for the win. In the group’s other game today, Giannis Fetfatzidis, twice, and Kyriakos Papadopoulos were on target as Greece eased past Malta 3-1 to regain first place in the table on 14 points, one ahead of Croatia and Israel.
England’s draw with Switzerland gave Montenegro the opportunity to take the outright lead in Group G but they slipped to a 1-1 draw at home to Bulgaria. Radomir Djalovic put the hosts ahead only for Ivelin Popov to equalise, the first goal Montenegro have conceded in qualifying so far. The result means England remain top of the table, ahead of Montenegro on goal difference.
Group H remains as tight as any after today’s results. In the early kick-off, Denmark were comfortable winners over Iceland, with second-half goals from Lasse Schøne and Ajax midfielder Christian Eriksen earning a 2-0 victory to move the Danes onto ten points. The other game was a tight affair, as Portugal narrowly triumphed 1-0 at home to Norway, thanks to a goal from Helder Postiga. Those two results combined to leave Denmark, Norway and Portugal all on ten points, with the latter now in first place due to goal difference.
Goal of the day
Slovakia 1-0 Andorra (Miroslav Karhan 63)
With his side struggling to break down a stubborn Andorra defence, Karhan produced a fine finish to earn three points for his team. Marek Hamsik’s corner lacked direction and the ball bobbled around the penalty area, but once it reached Karhan, he smashed a well-timed volley into the top corner to finally beat visiting goalkeeper Josep Anton Gomez.
Player of the day
Pavlyuchenko has struggled for playing time at Spurs this year but he ended the campaign in style with a brace on the final day of the Premier League season and the Russian carried that form through to his national team. Dick Advocaat’s side trailed 1-0 against Armenia midway through the first half but Pavlyuchenko fired a treble to earn his team three vital points in Group B.
50 – Republic of Ireland captain Keane reached the landmark of 50 goals for his country during the match against FYR Macedonia. Already Ireland’s all-time top goalscorer, Keane’s early strike saw him join an elite club of players who have achieved a half-century at international level. Keane’s haul – which includes three FIFA World Cup™ goals - has come in just over 100 appearances, giving him an impressive ratio of roughly one in two.
What they said…
"There's a little bit of disappointment of course. If you're leading 2-0 in England there's hope that you can hold on. But there's no reason to reprimand the team. They did everything they could." Ottmar Hitzfeld, Switzerland coach
Another round of fixtures is scheduled for next Tuesday, 7 June, with six matches to be played. Erik Hamren’s Sweden will hope to have captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic fit to play against Finland as they aim to reduce Netherlands’ lead in Group E to three points. Hungary will expect to stay in touch with the Swedes by beating San Marino, who have neither scored nor earned a point so far. Germany travel to Azerbaijan hoping to edge even closer to qualification from Group A, while in Group C, rock-bottom Faroe Islands host fourth-placed Estonia. Two ties take place in Group D as second-placed Belarus welcome strugglers Luxembourg and Bosnia-Herzegovina meet Albania.
Have your say
Which team has surprised you most during EURO 2012 qualifying?