Holland’s march towards the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa finals contined as the Dutch strolled to a 3-0 win over Scotland. First-half headers from Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Robin van Persie were followed by a late penalty from Dirk Kuyt as the Dutch chalked up their fourth straight win in Group 9, extending their lead at the top of the section to eight points ahead of Macedonia’s visit on 1 April. The Scots, in contrast, find themselves in desperate need of a win over Iceland at Hampden in four days time to bolster their chances of securing a chance to qualify via the play-offs.
Franck Ribery breathed new life into France’s stuttering World Cup qualifying campaign with the only goal against Lithuania in Kaunas. The Bayern Munich winger’s swerving left-foot shot in the 67th minute earned Les Bleus a deserved three points that keeps them in the hunt for top spot in Group Seven. The French remain in third place but narrow the gap to the second-placed Lithuanians to just two points.
Group Seven leaders Serbia ground out a 3-2 win against Romania. Milan Jovanovic put them ahead in the 18th minute and it was 2-0 to the visitors when Dorel Stoica put through his own net in the 44th minute. But Romania would not go away, with Ciprian Marica getting them back in it five minutes after the re-start. Branislav Ivanovic extended the Serbia lead in the 59th minute, but Stoica ensured a nervy finish as he found the right net 16 minutes from time.
Germany cruised to a comfortable 4-0 home victory over Liechtenstein to remain four points clear at the top Group Four. Captain Michael Ballack opened the scoring in the fourth minute and Daniel Jansen made it 2-0 after just nine minutes in Leipzig’s Zentralstadion. The Euro 2008 runners-up needed until the 48th minute to make it three through Bastian Schweinsteiger, but then quickly added a fourth two minutes later courtesy of Lukas Podolski. Joachim Low’s team dominated the rest of the contest but were unable to convert a number of chances to extend their lead.
Giampaolo Pazzini came off the bench to score on his Italy debut as the Azzurri beat Montenegro 2-0 in Podgorica. After Andrea Pirlo had put Marcelo Lippi’s team in front from the spot in the first half, Sampdoria striker Pazzini came on as a second-half substitute and found the back of the net in the 72nd minute. The Italians now lead Group Eight on 13 points – two clear of Wednesday’s opponents Republic of Ireland, who were held to a 1-1 draw by Bulgaria.
Cyprus survived late pressure in Larnaca to post their first victory in Group Eight with a 2-1 win over Georgia. Michalis Constantinou opened the scoring for the hosts in the 33rd minute and Demetris Christofi doubled their advantage 11 minutes after the interval. Levan Kobiashvili pulled one back for Georgia 19 minutes from time from the penalty spot.
Tottenham striker Roman Pavlyuchenko scored one and created another as Guus Hiddink’s Russia recorded a straightforward 2-0 win over Azerbaijan in Moscow. Pavlyuchenko opened the scoring on 32 minutes when he curled home a free-kick which had been retaken after encroachment by an Azerbaijan defender. And Russia wrapped things up with 20 minutes left as Pavlyuchenko slipped a ball through for Konstantin Zyryanov to rattle home the second goal.
Latvia overwhelmed Luxembourg 4-0 at the Stade Josy Barthel to keep alive their hopes of qualifying. The visitors led at half-time of the Group Two game through Girts Karlsons and doubled their lead two minutes after the restart courtesy of Aleksandrs Cauna’s strike. Aleksejs Visnakovs and Andrejs Pereplotkins gave the scoreline a more one-sided look with goals in the 71st and 86th minutes.
Spain continued their seemingly unstoppable march towards the World Cup finals by edging out Turkey 1-0 in the battle between the top two teams in Group Five. Gerard Pique scored the only goal of a closely-fought encounter at the Bernabeu as Spain made it five wins out of five in qualifying, leaving them six points clear of second-placed Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Bosnia-Herzegovina catapulted themselves into contention in Group Five after an impressive 4-2 away win over Belgium in Genk. However, the victory was marred by an incident in the second half where smoke bombs were thrown on to the pitch by some away fans. The referee had to take the players off while Bosnia coach Miroslav Blazevic appealed for calm.
A late goal from substitute Gevorg Ghazarian saw Armenia pick up their first point as they held Estonia to a 1-1 draw to finally get off the mark in Group Five. Henrikh Mkhitarian put Armenia ahead in the 33rd minute but their lead lasted just five minutes before Konstantin Vassiljev equalised. Sergei Zeniov’s 67th-minute goal looked to have won it for Estonia but Ghazarian pounced three minutes from time to clinch a point for rock-bottom Armenia.
Greece maintained their position at the top of Group Two by grinding out a hard-fought 1-1 draw against Israel at the Ramat Gan stadium in Tel Aviv. Theofanis Gekas put Otto Rehhagel’s team ahead three minutes before half-time with an opportunist strike but the 2004 European champions were pegged back when Omer Golan levelled 11 minutes after the break.
Switzerland moved level on points with Greece after a 2-0 victory over minnows Moldova, but they were made to sweat in the second half. Goals from captain Alexander Frei and substitute Gelson Fernandes moved Switzerland on to 10 points.
Portugal’s hopes of getting back into contention for the top two slots in Group One took a blow after a disappointing stalemate at home to Sweden, whose qualification hopes are also in the balance. There was no shortage of half-chances in the match but a lack of cutting edge in the final third leaves both teams trailing in the wake of pace-setters Denmark and Hungary.
Denmark consolidated their lead at the top of Group One with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Malta at the National Stadium, leaving the hosts still searching for their first goal of the campaign. Soren Larsen opened the scoring for the Danes in the 12th minute before doubling his and his side’s tally 11 minutes later and substitute Morten Nordenstrand added a third two minutes from time.
Sandor Torghelle’s strike was enough to sink Albania and keep Hungary in second place in Group One. The FC Augsburg striker got the only goal in the 38th minute in a hard-fought encounter in Tirana.
Slovenia and Czech Republic had to settle for a point apiece in Maribor after cancelling each other out in a tense World Cup Group Three qualifier. The result ensured Northern Ireland – 3-2 winners against Poland at Windsor Park earlier today – finished the night atop the pool, a point clear of Slovakia and two ahead of Slovenia and the Czechs.