Italy were beaten 1-0 by Slovenia and Euro 2004 runners-up, Portugal, were held to a 2-2 draw by Liechtenstein, on a day of shocks in the European World Cup qualifiers.
Italy, who under new coach Marcello Lippi, looked odds-on to progress from an easy looking Group Five, are now locked in a tight battle with Slovenia, whose home win on Saturday took them top on seven points, one ahead of the Italians.
The only goal came late in the game through a Bostjan Cesar header. It was Italy’s first defeat in a World Cup qualifier since May 1993.
Lippi, refused to blanme his players, claiming that they did not deserve to lose.
“I’m bitter, sad, annoyed, angry take your pick because you can’t lose a game like that,” said Lippi.
“We have to avoid becoming unfocused now because we made one mistake and we paid for it. In the entire game they had two chances, one would have been an own-goal from (Gianluca) Zambrotta and the other was the goal,” he added.
“We have to win in Parma (against Belarus), end of story. What would be really negative about this defeat is if we, as a team, made a drama out of it.
“We have to realise that we are still developing as a group and at this phase of development you can have a game that you lose after they had just one real chance,” he said.
Meanwhile, Portugal who began their World Cup campaign with two comfortable wins and looked set for a third when they took a 2-0 at the break with a goal for Pauleta and an own-goal. But Liechtenstein, who have never earned a point in World Cup qualifying matches, levelled through Franz Burgmeier and Thomas Beck.
The result improved Slovakia’s hopes of reaching the finals for the first time as they are now clear leaders of Group Three after beating Latvia 4-1.
Elsewhere, draws for France and Holland to Ireland and Macedonia respectively, adds credence to the theory that there has been a levelling of standards at international level in recent years.
France were unable to break down a well-organised Irish team in a goalless draw in Paris, while Holland twice led in Macedonia but were denied the three points as Goran Pandev and Ace Stojkov earned the hosts a deserved draw.
Despite the result, France coach Raymond Domenech pronounced himself pleased with his team’s performance.
“We are rebuilding this team. It takes time and we are improving on every outing.
“We have not conceded goal which means something to me.”
“What pleased me tonight is that we played much better than we did against Israel,” Domenech told reporters.
David Beckham enjoyed a day of mixed fortunes on his return to Old Trafford.
The England captain scored a spectacular goal 25-yard shot to help England to an easy 2-0 win over Wales, but he failed to complete the match following a clash with Wales ful-back Ben Thatcher. Early reports suggest Beckham will be out for up to six weeks with a fractured rib.
“It was a special goal,” England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson said of Beckham’s goal.
“To find that shot was extremely good. As long as it is 1-0 you never know, but 2-0 killed the game.”
The Czech Republic, who needed a win after their defeat to Holland, beat Romania 1-0 in Prague.
“Nothing but victory would’ve worked for us, and we got it,” Czech coach Karel Bruckner said.
There also were victories for Norway, Spain, Sweden, Russia, Finland, Denmark, Slovenia and Slovakia while European champions Greece continue to struggle, managing a 1-1 draw with the Ukraine.
In South America, Luciano Figueroa scored two goals and Luis Gonzalez and Javier Zanetti one apiece as Argentina beat Uruguay 4-2. Kaka and Ronaldo each scored two goals as Brazil strolled to a 5-2 win over Venezuela.