World Cup quallifiers – round-up

In Group Six, England frittered away a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 against Austria in Vienna on Saturday. England goalkeeper David James allowing Andreas Ivanschitz’s long-range shot to slip through him for the equaliser.

Despite inevitable calls for the inconsistent stopper to be dropped and even for a change of leadership, coach Sven-Goran Eriksson said: “He has saved us so many times before so it’s not a problem.”

Elsewhere in the group, Poland opened their account with a comfortable 3-0 victory in Northern Ireland, with Piotr Wlodarczyk scoring the Poles’ second and was then sent off eleven minutes from time for use of the elbow.

Northern Ireland manager Lawrie Sanchez said the Poles underlined why they are eighty ahead of his team in the FIFA rankings, but added that his players were architects of their own downfall.

“When they had chances they took them. They broke with great vigour and athleticism,” said Sanchez.

In Baku, Wales were held 1-1 by Azerbaijan – Dmitriy Kramarenko equalising Gary Speed’s opener with a crashing 40-yard free kick. Although glad at the whistle to have come away with a draw, Wales coach Mark Hughes declared himself unhappy with his team’s performance, especially in the first half.

In Group Two, European Champions Greece had a less than auspicious start to their World Cup campaign, conceding two goals in the first ten minutes to Albania in Tirana. The game finished 2-1 to the Albanians, Stelios Giannakopoulos replying to the early strikes by Edvin Murati and Adriaj Aliaj.

“To us it is an enormous derby. It was such an important match that fireworks were set off before the kick-off,” said an elated Murati.

Greece now face a potentially crucial clash against Turkey who started the group with an equally disappointing 1-1 home draw with Georgia. Fatih Tekke opened the scoring for the Turks in the 49th minute, but the dismissal of Hasan Sas ten minutes later seemed to halt them in their tracks and Georgian substitute Malkhaz Asatiani netted the equaliser in the 84th minute.

Denmark drew 1-1 with Ukraine at Parken Stadium, Copenhagen, despite controlling much of the game. Midfielder Martin Jorgensen scored on nine minutes, the equaliser coming from Andriy Husin in the 56th.

“I’m disappointed. We totally dominated the match and succeeded in playing like we wanted to. We gave away one chance and they scored,” said Danish coach Morten Olsen afterwards.

Group One saw Romania follow up August’s win against Finland with another home victory, this time against Macedonia. Adrian Mutu scored the decisive goal in the 2-1 result just two minutes from time.

Romanian coach Anghel Iordanescu said his team would take confidence from the result.

“It was an important victory even if my players got it with great difficulty, ” he said.

Finland strolled to a straightforward win over Andorra, the 3-0 scoreline could easily have been doubled. As it was, Aleksei Eremenko scored twice, Aki Riihilahti getting the other.

The big-hitters in the group, the Czech Republic and Netherlands, start their qualification with a game against each other in Amsterdam on Wednesday evening.

In Group Three Portugal scored twice in two second-half minutes to beat Latvia in Riga. Cristiano Ronaldo got the first and made the second for Pauleta just before the hour.

Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said he hadn’t underestimated the Latvians.

“We knew it would be difficult,” said Scolari. “We tried to play our own game. It was important for us to be the first to score,” he said.

Russia and Slovakia drew 1-1 in Moscow, Dmitry Bulykin putting the home side ahead after 14 minutes. The Russians missed a chance to put the game out of reach when Andrei Karyaka’s powerful penalty was saved by Slovakian keeper Kamil Contofalsky on 72 minutes. Robert Vittek punished the home side, equalising three minutes from time.

Estonia are the surprise leaders of the group, a 4-0 drubbing of Luxembourg following their 2-1 win away to Liechtenstein last month.

France’s 0-0 draw with Israel was the big shock in Group Four, but new French coach Raymond Domenech asked for patience with his ‘re-building’ process after the retirements of a number of players, including Zinedine Zidane.

“I saw some good effort from my players. It is a new team and new players need time, ” said Domenech.

Ireland and Switzerland both did what was expected of them against weaker opponents. The Irish completed a 3-0 win against Cyprus, Clinton Morrison and Andy Reid both scoring in the first-half, Robbie Keane netting a 55th minute penalty.

Switzerland trounced the Faroe Islands 6-0, with hat-tricks from Johan Volanthen and Alexandre Rey.

“It is always good to see your strikers scoring and they did well, but the other teams in the group will have other strengths for us to overcome,” said Swiss coach Koebi Kuhn after the game that ended a four-game winless streak for his side.

In Group Five Italy survived an early scare in Palermo, conceding a goal after just 42 seconds from Norway’s John Carew, and completing a comeback win in the 80th minute when Luca Toni made it 2-1. Daniele De Rossi had levelled the scores after just four minutes on his debut for the Azzurri.

Slovenia top the group after their 3-0 home win against Moldova, Milenko Acimovic scoring all three goals.

Scotland and Belarus play their first games on Wednesday, taking on Norway and Slovenia respectively.

Belgium will be disappointed with their start to Group Seven, a lacklustre performance leaving them with a 1-1 draw at home to Lithuania in Charleroi. Wesley Sonck’s free kick opened the scoring, but the Belgians couldn’t capitalise on their domination of the second half, eventually conceding an equaliser when Edgaras Jankauskas equalised in the 72nd minute.

Two goals from Nenad Jestrovic and one from Zvonimir Vukic settled Serbia and Montenegro’s game against San Marino, the 3-0 win scarcely accounting for their superiority.

Spain and Bosnia-Herzegovina play each other on Wednesday in their opening games.

Sweden romped to the top of Group Eight with a 7-0 demolition of Malta in Valetta, Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring a hat-trick in the first quarter hour on his way to a personal tally of four. Freddie Ljungberg got a brace and Henrik Larsson added the other.

Croatia also had an impressive win, beating Hungary 3-0 in Zagreb, although the away side made it easier for them when Szabolcs Huszti was sent off in the 11th minute. Dado Prso, Ivan Klasnic and an own goal by Gabor Gyepes were the scorers for Croatia.
“We showed decent creativity for most of the game and it boosts our confidence,” said Croatian coach Zlatko Kranjcar.

Bulgaria won 3-1 away to Iceland, Dimitar Berbatov scoring twice and Hristo Yanev getting the other, Eidur Gudjohnsen scored a penalty for the home side. They join Croatian and Sweden at the top of what looks likely to be a very competitive group.