2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™

2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™

9 June - 9 July

2006 FIFA World Cup™

Greek tragedy spells joy for clinical Ukraine

As the curtain came down on a season of qualifiers in the European Zone, continental champions Greece were left nursing their wounds after slumping 1-0 at home to Ukraine.

That setback all but ends Greece hopes of claiming an automatic spot at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ and they will now have to battle with Turkey for a place in the play-offs. The Netherlands and the Czech Republic enjoyed far more enjoyable evenings, once again confirming their credentials with big wins in Group 1.

For the second time in four days, the qualifiers in Europe were marked by a deluge of goals. Nets rippled across the Old Continent no less than 38 times in 12 encounters, as the clement weather continued to inspire the strikers.

Click here to view the European standings

A cut above the rest in Group 1 , the Dutch (top with 22 points) and the Czechs (second with 21 points) are now certain of competing for a berth in the global event when they meet in what promises to be a nail-biting clash in Prague on 8 October.

Both sides registered their second wins in four days, with Marco van Basten's charges passing the hardest test by triumphing 4-0 away to fourth-placed Finland (nine points). Ruud van Nistelrooy, Dirk Kuyt, Phillip Cocu on his return to the side, and Robin van Persie all found the target as the Oranje extended their unbeaten run to 11 games.

For their part, the Czechs offered their fans a festival of attacking football before departing on their summer holidays, taking their tally in their last two matches to 14 goals.

After putting eight past Andorra on Saturday, this time it was the Macedonians who found themselves on the receiving end as they went down 6-1 in Teplice. Jan Koller struck four times, and as a result the giant frontman jumped into the lead as the continent's leading marksman in the qualifiers with nine goals.

All in all, it has been a memorable week for the Borussia Dortmund striker, who became the highest scorer in the Czech Republic's history on Saturday. The other goals were netted by Tomas Rosicky and the top finisher at UEFA EURO 2004, Milan Baros.

Further down the standings, Romania recovered from their loss at the hands of the Dutch at the weekend to secure a morale-boosting 3-0 win at home to Armenia, despite knowing that their qualification chances have already slipped through their fingers.

Ukraine so close to Germany

In Group 2 , European champions Greece fell to a 1-0 defeat by Ukraine on home soil, a result that effectively ends their dreams of finishing the campaign in the top spot.

Andriy Husin scored the decisive goal with just eight minutes remaining to leave the Ukrainians on the brink of qualifying for their first ever FIFA World Cup finals. With three games left to play, Ukraine (top on 23 points) are seven points clear of Turkey (second on 16 points), the team they entertain on 7 September.

The Turks also had cause to celebrate this evening as they inflicted a heavy 6-0 defeat on Kazakhstan which did wonders for their goal difference as they shot above Greece into second place.

Denmark (fourth on 12 points) saw off Albania 3-1 to close the gap on the European champions, who now find themselves in a dogfight for second spot.

In Group 3 , Portugal (top on 20 points) can look back on the past week with some satisfaction. Their vital 1-0 win in Estonia (fourth on 11 points) tonight came courtesy of a Cristiano Ronaldo strike and enabled them to maintain their three-point lead over Slovakia, the side they beat last Saturday.

The Slovakians (second on 17 points) won 4-0 in Luxembourg, but will now be pinning their hopes on Portugal losing in Russia in September. Portugal's three other remaining qualifiers are all at home, so they would appear to have taken a major step towards the finals.

Latvia edged out Liechtenstein 1-0 in the other match in the group, a result that has no immediate bearing on the top two places.

Ireland edge ahead in Group 4

Ireland (top on 13 points) travelled north to the Faroe Islands and came away with all three points after enjoying a 2-0 win. Ian Harte and Kevin Kilbane were the scorers for the Irish, who consequently take the lead in this remarkably tight group. Switzerland (second on 12 points), Israel (third on ten points) and France (fourth on ten points) are all bunched up behind. The top sides have consistently failed to beat each other, yet have also succeeded in not slipping up against Cyprus and the Faroe Islands. As a result, this group looks set to go down to the wire.

Things are getting very tight at the top in Group 7 too, especially after Spain's last-gasp draw with Bosnia-Herzegovina. Zvjezdan Misimovic pounced on an David Albelda error in the first half to open the scoring for the visitors and they held on to that lead until the very last minute of injury time, when Carlos Marchena grabbed an unlikely equaliser.

Two Bosnian players were sent off near the end of a game in which Spain (top on 13 points) were again wasteful in attack. Their cause was not helped by an early injury to Fernando Torres, but the result leaves their automatic qualifying hopes damaged. The Iberians face their closest rivals, Serbia and Montenegro (second on 12 points but with a game in hand), in their next game in September and must win that one to reclaim the initiative in the group.

Belarus v Scotland finished goalless in Group 5 , a scoreline that does nothing for either side, while Iceland beat Malta 4-1 in Group 8 to pull away from their visitors at the bottom of the table. Germany, meanwhile, drew 2-2 with Russia in their last friendly before the FIFA Confederations Cup.

The next qualifiers in the European Zone will be played on 3 September.