[WORLD CUP 2010 QUALIFYING] There were few surprises and only a handful of really absorbing games in Europe's weekend 2010 World Cup qualifying action,
with Germany's 2-1 win over Russia the pick of the fixtures. England, Spain and the Netherlands all won easy games without too much stress, while Italy and France earned ties on the road in
eastern Europe. The only shock result was Austria being held to a 1-1 draw in the Faroe Islands.
Sweden 0 Portugal 0
Hungary 2 (Torghelle, Juhasz) Albania 0
Denmark 3 (Larsen 2, Agger PK) Malta 0
The group's big game between Sweden and Portugal ended with no goals, but not for a shortage of chances. Both sides went close at either end, though the Swedes had the majority of play. "We should have won, but one point is better than no point," said Swedish captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who received his second yellow card of the campaign and will be suspended for the return game in Lisbon next spring. Denmark took over top spot with an easy 3-0 home win over Malta.
Wednesday October 15 -- Malta vs Hungary (1:30 pm ET) Portugal vs Albania (3:45 pm).
Standings: Denmark (7 points) Sweden (5), Portugal (4), Hungary (4), Albania (4), Malta (0)
Switzerland 2 (Frei, Nkufo) Latvia 1 (Ivanovs)
Luxemburg 1 (Peters) Israel 3 (Benayoun PK, Golan, Toama)
Greece 3 (Charisteas 2, Katsouranis) Moldova 0.
Switzerland made partial atonement for its home loss to Luxemburg by edging Latvia 2-1, although they dominated the game with 85 percent possession. Swiss coach Ottmar Hitzfeld called the win "a first step" but "no reason for euphoria." Luxemburg couldn't carry that form into the next round of games, falling at home to Israel, while Greece kept up its 100 percent record with a convincing 3-0 topping of Moldova. Switzerland needs at least a tie in Greece on Wednesday to stay in contention.
Wednesday October 15 -- Latvia vs Israel (12 pm), Luxemburg vs Moldova (2:15 pm), Greece vs Switzerland (2:30 pm)
Standings: Greece (9 points), Israel (7), Switzerland (4), Latvia (3), Luxemburg (3), Moldova (0).
Poland 2 (Brozek, Blaszczykowski) Czech Republic 1 (Fenin)
San Marino 1 (Selva) Slovakia 3 (Sestak, Kozak, Karhan)
Slovenia 2 (Novakovic, Ljubijankic) Northern Ireland 0
Poland won the group's game of the day with two outstanding goals against the Czechs, then survived a late comeback from the visitors. "We failed," said Czech coach Petr Rada. "The loss is unpleasant. We thought it would be different, because we didn't want to lose points here." His side has just one point from its first two games. There were late goals too in Slovenia's home defeat of Northern Ireland, both Slovene strikes coming within a minute of each other five minutes before the end of the game.
HIGHLIGHT (VIDEO): Pawel Brozek's shot from outside the penalty area to put Poland 1-0 up over the Czechs.
Wednesday October 15 -- Czech Republic vs Slovenia (11:30 am), Slovakia vs Poland (2:30 pm), Northern Ireland vs San Marino (2:45 pm).
Standings: Poland (7 points), Slovenia (7), Slovakia (6), Czech Republic (1), Northern Ireland (1), San Marino (0).
Germany 2 (Podolski, Ballack) Russia 1 (Arshavin)
Finland 1 (Forssell PK) Azerbaijan 0
Wales 2 (Edwards, Evans) Lichtenstein 0
Game of the day across the whole of European qualification was Germany's thrilling 2-1 victory over Russia in Dortmund. Germany took the game to the Russians in the first half, going ahead on a Lukas Podolski goal that saw the forward squeeze through three Russian defenders to shoot home, and a Michael Ballack conversion from close range. In the second half, Russia pulled one back through the scintillating Andrei Arshavin, and threatened to equalize, hitting the post and twice forcing debutant goalkeeper Rene Adler into fingertip saves. "A [Russian] equalizer wouldn't have been undeserved," conceded Ballack. His coach, Joachim Low, praised his side's "excellent passing play" in the first half, but said in the second Germany enjoyed "a little luck."
Wednesday October 15 -- Russia vs Finland (11 am), Germany vs Wales (2:45 pm).
Standings: Germany (7 points), Wales (6), Finland (4), Russia (3), Azerbaijan (1), Lichtenstein (1).
Turkey 2 (Dzeko OG, Erdinc) Bosnia-Herzegovina 1 (Dzeko)
Belgium 2 (Sonck, Fellaini) Armenia 0
Estonia 0 Spain 3 (Juanito, Villa PK, Puyol)
Turkey took three vital points from a comeback home win against emerging Bosnia-Herzegovina, while Belgium dutifully dispatched Armenia. The Spaniards didn't always look fluent against Estonia, but did enough to make the scoreline look comfortable with three goals from set-pieces. Meanwhile, the Estonians failed to make the most of their chances. "There were several lapses of concentration, which we have already talked about," said Spain coach Vicente del Bosque. "We know it will be more demanding against Belgium [Wednesday]."
Wednesday October 15 -- Bosnia vs Armenia (2:15 pm), Estonia vs Turkey (2:30 pm), Belgium vs Spain (2:45 pm)
Standings: Spain (9 points), Turkey (7), Belgium (7), Bosnia (3), Armenia (0), Estonia (0).
Ukraine 0 Croatia 0
England 5 (Ferdinand, Kuchma OG, Rooney 2, Defoe) Kazakhstan 1 (Kukeyev)
A good day for England, which extended its lead at the top with an easy win over Kazakhstan while its main rivals were canceling each other out in Kiev. England was booed off at halftime with the score at 0-0, but knocked in five after halftime, despite a brief Kazakh comeback at 2-1. There's no over-confidence from England coach Fabio Capello, though, who's already worrying about mighty Belarus on Wednesday. "It is not going to be easy," he said. "They are very organized with good forwards. They are a dangerous side."
HIGHLIGHT (VIDEO): Wayne Rooney's text book header from Wes Brown's cross to make the score 3-1.
Wednesday October 15 -- Croatia vs Andorra (2:15 pm), Belarus vs England (2:30 pm).
Standings: England (9 points), Ukraine (7), Croatia (4), Belarus (3), Kazakhstan (3), Andorra (0).
Romania 2 (Petre, Goain) France 2 (Ribery, Gourcuff)
Faroe Islands 1 (Lokin) Austria 1 (Stranzl)
Serbia 3 (Ivanovic, Krasic, Zigic) Lithuania 0
Romania and France thankfully failed to produce the 0-0 draw they staged at Euro 2008, with Romania coming out the blocks fast and going 2-0 up in the first quarter of an hour. France came back with two superb goals, just about saving coach Raymond Domenech's job until spring at least. Striker Thierry Henry said that the French team is "progressing" and had "showed it has a soul." Austria, meanwhile, showed that its opening victory against France was perhaps a fluke, given its inability to win in the Faeroe Islands. "It's a huge loss," said Austrian coach Karel Bruckner. "We lost two points, and now we have to get three against Serbia [Wednesday]." Serbia, though, may not be in the mood to be beaten, having smashed Lithuania's 100 percent record with a 3-0 win in Belgrade.
HIGHLIGHT (VIDEO): The passing move and then the finish by Franck Ribery for France's comeback goal against Romania.
Wednesday October 15 -- Lithuania vs Faroe Islands (12 pm), Austria vs Serbia (2:30 pm).
Standings: Serbia (6), Lithuania (6 points), Austria (4), France (4), Romania (4), Faroe Islands (1).
Georgia 1 (Kobiashvili) Cyprus 1 (Konstantinou)
Bulgaria 0 Italy 0
Few thrills in this group, as Italy did enough to grasp a point from a poor game in Sofia. Cyprus kicked off its points tally with a useful draw in Georgia in only its second game of the campaign so far.
Wednesday October 15 -- Georgia vs Bulgaria (12:30 pm), Italy vs Montenegro (2:50 pm), Ireland vs Cyprus (2:45 pm).
Standings: Italy (7 points), Ireland (4), Montenegro (2), Bulgaria (2), Cyprus (1), Georgia (1).
Scotland 0 Norway 0
Netherlands 2 (Mathijsen, Huntelaar) Iceland 0
No surprises in group nine, as Scotland failed to penetrate a Norwegian side that always looked more dangerous than the home team on the break, with John Carew a permanent threat. Scotland's substitute striker, debutant Chris Iwelumo, missed possibly the easiest chance in the history of professional soccer when he somehow put the ball wide from two yards out with no one in front of him. But his side didn't deserve the win. The Netherlands disposed of Iceland, 2-0, without much exerting itself.
Wednesday October 15 -- Norway vs Netherlands (1 pm), Iceland vs Macedonia (2 pm).
Standings: Netherlands (6 points), Scotland (4), Macedonia (3), Norway (2), Iceland (1).
Format: Nine group winners qualify directly for South Africa 2010. Eight best runners-up compete in a home-and-away series for the final four spots.
(Kickoff times U.S. ET)