England join EURO elite
England booked their ticket at UEFA EURO 2012 on Friday evening, thereby becoming the seventh team qualified for next summer’s continental contest, joining Germany, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands, as well as hosts Poland and Ukraine.
Elsewhere, Sweden and Montenegro both ensured that they would finish second in their respective groups, earning themselves a slot in the play-off round. These knockout ties will see the eight group runners-up paired off to decide the last four participants that will travel to Poland and Ukraine. The final round of fixtures will be played on Tuesday.
England enjoyed the ideal start to this match, taking charge right from kick-off and creating several good chances against a static Montenegro defence. Spearheading a 4-4-2 formation with Darren Bent, Ashley Young opened the scoring from a fine Theo Walcott cross, before turning provider for Bent 20 minutes later, following a tremendous break by Wayne Rooney. Just before half-time, Elsad Zverotic’s clinical finish signalled the beginning of a fightback for the Montenegrans, whose performance markedly improved in the second half. The sending-off of Wayne Rooney a quarter-hour from full time provided a further boost to the home side’s chances, but they would have to wait until injury time to score the elusive equaliser, Rayo Vallecano forward Andrija Delibasic heading home to secure a point and an historic play-off spot for his country.
Germany overcame Turkey in typical authoritative manner, in a match that featured another goal from the in-form Mario Gomez. Belgium, who disposed of Kazakhstan without any great trouble, consequently move one point ahead of Turkey in the standings. This could all change during the final round of matches, however, as while the Turks host Azerbaijan, the Belgians face a tricky trip to Germany.
Russia, who play host to Andorra in their last match, took an enormous step towards qualification by pulling off a crucial away win in Slovakia, with CSKA Moscow midfielder Alan Dzagoev scoring the only goal of the game. As the Russians are now practically assured of finishing top of the section, the play-off place will likely be decided in Dublin, where a point will be enough for the Republic of Ireland in their clash with Armenia, for whom victory is essential.
Northern Ireland 1-2 Estonia
Serbia 1-1 Italy
Stunned by a first-minute strike by Claudio Marchisio, Serbia fought back to earn a draw with Italy, whose starting line-up included no fewer than six players from Juventus. Meanwhile, Estonia continued their impressive run of results by beating Northern Ireland via a brace from Konstantin Vassiljev. This triumph propels the Baltic side to second spot in Group C, one point ahead of Serbia, over whom they also enjoy a better head-to-head record. To leapfrog the Estonians and enter the play-offs, the Serbians must defeat Slovenia away on Tuesday.
Leaders France and nearest challengers Bosnia-Herzegovina, comfortable winners over Albania and Luxembourg respectively, will now meet on the final matchday to decide who qualifies automatically from the group, in what promises to be a suspenseful encounter.
Thanks to the three points they brought back from their trip to Finland, secured via goals from Sebastian Larsson and Martin Olsson at the start of each half, Sweden confirmed their place in the draw for the play-offs. Even if the Swedes lose their last fixture against the Netherlands, and Hungary were to draw level on points, the Scandinavians will remain in second spot by virtue of their superior head-to-head results. The Dutch, meanwhile, maintained their 100-per cent record by getting the better of a stubborn Moldova side through a Klaas-Jan Huntelaar goal.
Greece gave themselves a great chance of appearing at EURO 2012 by defeating Croatia via second-half goals from Giorgios Samaras and Theofanis Gekas in front of a raucous crowd in Athens. The Greeks now enjoy a two-point lead over the Croatians, who need to beat Latvia at home and hope that their Hellenic rivals slip up in Georgia to qualify automatically for the tournament.
Wales 2-0 Switzerland
After having beaten Montenegro in their last outing, Wales saw off another supposedly superior side, with Switzerland the victims this time around in Swansea. Aaron Ramsey’s penalty and Gareth Bale’s expert finish propelled the home side to victory and eliminated the Helvetians from Poland/Ukraine 2012 in the process.
Denmark ruthlessly disposed of Cyprus in a match where the away side had built up an unassailable 4-0 lead after just 20 minutes of play. The evergreen Dennis Rommedahl was the star of the show with a double. Portugal, leading Iceland 3-0 at half-time through goals by Nani (twice) and Helder Postiga, gave their fans some nervous moments in the second period, allowing Hallgrimur Jonasson to score a brace, before regaining control of the match in the last ten minutes. The final group positions will become clear on Tuesday, when the Danes and Portuguese meet in Copenhagen.
Defending European champions Spain made it seven wins out of seven with victory in Prague. The Czechs will regret losing control of the game at a crucial time, especially as they have now opened the door to Scotland, who still harbour hopes of claiming a place in the play-offs.
The career of Romanian forward Adrian Mutu has continually risen from the ashes over the years. In March 2011, he hit the net twice – against Luxembourg – in a match that marked the controversial striker’s return to the national set-up, two years after being banned from the team for disciplinary factors in October 2009. Excluded from the side again in August of this year for the same reasons, the former Parma star proved once more that comebacks bring out the best in him, as he scored twice in his country’s 2-2 draw with Belarus.
The Czech defence was still finding its feet in this match when Spanish midfielder Xavi threaded one of his trademark slide-rule passes through to Juan Mata, who suddenly found himself bearing down on goal from the right-hand corner of the box. One-on-one with Chelsea team-mate Petr Cech, Mata made no mistake, opening the scoring and sending Spain on their way to an eventual 2-0 success.
40 – the number of matches over which Fabio Capello has now presided as England coach. The Italian tactician boasts a record of 26 wins, 8 draws and 6 defeats, a set of statistics that places him at the top of the all-time list of Three Lions’ managers.
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