Spain stumble, Portugal rescue point

World champions Spain were surprisingly held by Finland in Gijon on Friday evening, their second such result at home, and now find themselves in danger of having to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ via the play-offs.

Other notable results from this fifth round of European qualifying fixtures included Portugal’s closely contested 3-3 draw in Israel, Bosnia-Herzegovina’s 3-1 win over Greece and England’s resounding 8-0 victory in San Marino. Matchday 6 is scheduled for Tuesday night, when the spotlight will turn on France-Spain in Group I. reviews all the European action from a busy night of Brazil 2014 qualifiers.

The big match*Israel 3-3 Portugal, Group F, Ramat Gan Stadium Goals: Tomer Hemed 24, Eden Ben Basat 40, Null Gershon 70 (Israel); Bruno Alves 2, Helder Postiga 72, Fabio Coentrao 90+3 (Portugal)* Portugal flirted with disaster in Israel, but at 3-1 down in the 72nd minute they persevered to eventually rescue a much-needed point in stoppage time, and – with Russia likely to move out of reach at the top of Group F by disposing of Northern Ireland on Saturday – keep themselves in contention for a play-off spot in the process.

The night had nevertheless started well for Cristiano Ronaldo and Co, who opened the scoring through a Bruno Alves header. But two accurate and powerful strikes from first Tomer Hemed and then Eden Ben Basat turned the match around, before Null Gershon’s headed goal in the 70th minute gave the Israelis what appeared to be an insurmountable lead.

But the Lusitanians, propelled by Ronaldo, who set up both Helder Postiga and Fabio Coentrao for goals on the night, dug deep to ensure a hard-earned share of the spoils.

The other games Group ACroatia 2-0 Serbia Scotland 1-2 Wales FYR Macedonia 0-2 Belgium Croatia emerged victorious from an intense encounter with Balkan neighbours Serbia, played out in front of a raucous, partisan crowd. The lively duo of Mario Mandzukic and Ivica Olic scored the goals in a match that the home team dominated from the outset.

The result temporarily sent the Croatians clear at the top of the table with 13 points, but they were soon pegged back by a relentless Belgian side, who overcame FYR Macedonia courtesy of goals from Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard.

Scotland, meanwhile, were unable to provide new manager Gordon Strachan with his first competitive victory, as a poor performance at home to Wales saw them suffer their third defeat of this current campaign.

Group B* *Bulgaria 6-0 Malta Czech Republic 0-3 Denmark Bulgaria boosted their goal difference by seeing off Malta 6-0, in a match that featured a hat-trick from Lech Poznan’s Aleksandar Tonev, who was making just his second appearance for his country. The Bulgarians now lie a point behind Italy, who sat out this set of fixtures, but have played a game more.

Elsewhere in the section, Denmark returned to form with a 3-0 win over the Czech Republic, their first victory of the campaign. The Czechs, conversely, tasted defeat for the first time.

Group C* *Austria 6-0 Faroe Islands Sweden 0-0 Republic of Ireland Kazakhstan 0-3 Germany Germany, who claimed three points in Kazakhstan in convincing fashion, extended their lead at the top of the pool to five points over their principal challengers, Sweden, who had to content themselves with a stalemate at home to the Republic of Ireland. The Germans have played a game more than the Swedes, however.

Austria comfortably saw off the Faroe Islands in Vienna, and remain in the hunt for a potential play-off spot.

Group D* *Andorra 0-2 Turkey Hungary 2-2 Romania Netherlands 3-0 Estonia The Netherlands continued their impressive march towards Brazil, racking up their fifth triumph in a row versus Estonia, courtesy of goals from Rafael van der Vaart and Robin van Persie, both set up by Daryl Janmaat.

The battle for second place between Hungary and Romania in Budapest lived up to expectations, with Alexandru Chipciu snatching a last-gasp equaliser for the visitors.

Group ESlovenia 1-2 Iceland Norway 0-1 Albania Cyprus-Switzerland (Saturday) Iceland, via a brace from Gylfi Sigurdsson, registered a crucial success in Slovenia, who have now lost four out of their five fixtures.

The Slovenians were not alone in slipping up against the odds on Friday. An uninspired display by Norway saw them succumb at home to Albania, with Hamdi Salihi netting the winner. The two victorious nations have thereby cut the gap on Switzerland – who play Cyprus on Saturday – to one point.

Group F Northern Ireland-Russia (Postponed to Saturday due to snow) Luxembourg 0-0 Azerbaijan The two bottom sides of Group F could not be separated, and are both still in search of their first win of the campaign.

Group G* *Bosnia-Herzegovina 3-1 Greece Liechtenstein 1-1 Latvia Slovakia 1-1 Lithuania Greece’s defence, one of the most miserly in the European qualifying zone prior to their match in Zenica, cracked under the constant pressure applied by Bosnia-Herzegovina’s fearsome strikeforce.

It was set-pieces that did the damage for the Bosnians: two Zvjezdan Misimovic free-kicks found the head of Edin Dzeko, while Vedad Ibisevic knocked home a rebound from a saved penalty. The result moves Safet Susic’s men three points ahead of the Greeks, while the section’s four other teams all dropped points.

Group HPoland 1-3 Ukraine San Marino 0-8 England Moldova 0-1 Montenegro Montenegro held onto pole position in Group H, but were made to work for their tight 1-0 win in Moldova, with Mirko Vucinic’s 78th-minute strike securing all three points.

England, meanwhile, enjoyed some shooting practice in San Marino, as Jermain Defoe recorded a brace and seven other goalscorers found the net.

Finally, Poland, shell-shocked by goals from Andriy Yarmolenko and Oleg Gusev in the opening seven minutes of their contest with Ukraine, began some semblance of a comeback before they were caught out on the break by Roman Zozulya before half-time.

Group I Spain 1-1 Finland France 3-1 Georgia The night’s most unexpected result came in Gijon, where the mighty Spain, who dominated opponents Finland from the outset (recording a ball possession statistic of 84 per cent), conceded a leveller eleven minutes from time.

Sergio Ramos, leading by example, had set La Roja on the right track just after half-time, celebrating his 100th cap with a cushioned header that found its way into the net. But on one of their rare forays into Spanish territory, Finland hit back through Teemu Pukki, who beat the offside trap to poke the ball past Victor Valdes.

Spain’s upcoming encounter with leaders France on Tuesday at the Stade de France now appears even more crucial to deciding the outcome of the group. Les Bleus, courtesy of an exceptional performance from Mathieu Valbuena, who scored a goal and set up two others, beat a solid Georgia team, whose counter-attacks stretched the French rearguard at times. France’s decision to play two up front bore fruit, but whether or not Didier Deschamps will retain the same system against Spain is a matter for debate.

The player Gylfi Sigurdssonwas instrumental in Iceland’s impressive 2-1 triumph in Slovenia, first curling home a long-range free-kick, and then scoring a fine winner by beating a defender and slipping the ball into the net with aplomb.

March appears to be the time of the year during which the Tottenham Hotspur attacking midfielder excels, as his performances for former club Swansea saw him named Premier League Player of the Month in March 2012. In addition, he scored a superb goal on 7 March 2013 against Inter Milan in the UEFA Europa League.

The goal Kazakhstan 0-1 Germany (Bastian Schweinsteiger 20) Bastian Schweinsteiger paved the way for Germany’s 3-0 success in Astana by opening the scoring against Kazakhstan with a fine piece of individual skill, chipping the ball over the head of an oncoming defender before prodding the ball past Andrey Sidelnikov on the volley.

The stat  35 –The number of goals registered by David Villa while Vicente Del Bosque has been in charge of the Spanish national side. The Spaniards’ all-time leading scorer with 53, Villa has been responsible for 20.9 per cent of the goals scored in the Del Bosque era, racking up the same total as all of his different strike partners put together: Fernando Torres (14), Fernando Llorente (7), Alvaro Negredo (6), Roberto Soldado (4) and Daniel Guiza (4).

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