England, Spain, Netherlands march on

[WORLD CUP 2010 QUALIFYING] After four rounds of games, England, Spain and the Netherlands have all made 100 percent starts to their qualifying games for the 2010 World Cup. Germany, Italy and Serbia are also looking strong, while Portugal's campaign continued to stutter with a poor 0-0 home tie against Albania.

GROUP ONE
Malta 0 Hungary 1 (Torghelle)
Portugal 0 Albania 0
There were very few goals in Group One Wednesday, but it's shaping up to be an extremely close contest with two points separating five teams. Only Denmark, with seven points form three games, has looked convincing so far. Portugal, semifinalists at the 2006 World Cup, dropped more important home points by failing to put anything past Albania, despite the visitors being reduced to 10 men. And Hungary's 1-0 win at Malta will hardly provide cause to revive talk of its legendary 1954 team.
Standings: Denmark (7 points) Hungary (7), Portugal (5), Albania (5), Sweden (5), Malta (0)

GROUP TWO
Latvia 1 (Kolesnicenko) Israel 1 (Benayoun)
Luxemburg 0 Moldova 0
Greece (Charisteas) 1 Switzerland (Frei PK, Nkufo) 2
Switzerland is suddenly back in the picture after its enterprising road win at Greece, who had gone into Wednesday's games with a 100 percent record. The Swiss counter-attacked effectively in a second-half performance that saw it take the lead on an Alexander Frei penalty just before half-time, lose it to an opportunistic equalizer from Angelos Charisteas, and then regain when Blaise Nkufo, notching his fourth goal in four successive qualifiers, rounded Greek keeper Konstantinos Chalkias at the end of a flowing move to make the score 2-1.

"My team always firmly believed it could win in Greece," said Swiss coach Ottmar Hitzfeld. "Now we're back in the running and have taken three big points while conquering a direct competitor and can suddenly hope to win the group again." His Greek counterpart Otto Rehhagel complained that the penalty was wrongly awarded, and that his team was punished for being "too open" after it scored the equalizer. "But," he pointed out, "we're still group leader."

Israel missed a good opportunity to take the group leadership when it was held in Latvia after taking the lead. Moldova finally tallied a point, though there would be little dancing in the streets of Chisinau to mark its 0-0 tie in Luxemburg.
Standings: Greece (9 points), Israel (8), Switzerland (7), Latvia (4), Luxemburg (4), Moldova (1).

GROUP THREE
Czech Republic 1 (Sionko) Slovenia 0
Slovakia 2 (Sestak) Poland 1 (Smolarek)
Northern Ireland 4 (Healy, McCann, Lafferty, Davis) San Marino 0
Slovakia is the surprise leader of Group Three after a late comeback win at home to previous leader Poland. The Slovaks trailed to a Jan Smolarek goal until five minutes before the end, when two goals in two minutes from Stanislav Sestak reversed the teams' fortunes. "It was a fantastic performance, with a lucky end for us," said Slovak coach Vladimir Weiss. "Being at the top of the group is a marvelous feeling." Poland's Leo Beenhakker acknowledged it was "a very open game," but added: "Sometimes you make mistakes. We are very disappointed."

At the third attempt, the Czech Republic finally got its first win with a laborious 1-0 home victory over Slovenia, while Northern Ireland avoided tripping up to the whipping boys of San Marino.
Standings: Slovakia (9) Poland (7 points), Slovenia (7), Czech Republic (4), Northern Ireland (4), San Marino (0).

GROUP FOUR
Russia 3 (Pasanen OG, Semak, Arshavin 89) Finland 0
Germany 1 Wales 0
Wales came away from Germany last year with a goalless tie, and it tried the same tactics of playing deep, packing the defense, and hoping for the point. It almost worked, but Piotr Trochowski broke the deadlock after 72 minutes to give Germany the 1-0 win with a wonderful shot. "We're group leader and that's a good foundation," said German coach Joachim Low. "We can build on that in the next year." Midfielder Sebastian Schweinsteiger said Germany "deserved to win, but they made it very difficult for us." Russia easily disposed of Finland, and although it is four points behind the leaders, it has a game in hand on the Germans.
HIGHLIGHT (VIDEO): Trochowski's swerving right-foot shot from outside the penalty area that penetrated the solid Welsh defense.
Standings: Germany (10 points), Russia (6), Wales (6), Finland (4), Azerbaijan (1), Lichtenstein (1).

GROUP FIVE
Bosnia-Herzegovina 4 (Spahic, Dzeko, Muslimovic 2) Armenia 1 (Minasian)
Estonia 0 Turkey 0
Belgium (Sonck) 1 Spain (Iniesta, Villa) 2
Spain looks set to wrap up Group Five after a road win in Belgium thanks to David Villa's headed winner two minutes from time. On the down side (especially for his club Liverpool), it lost Fernando Torres to a hamstring injury 10 minutes into the game. Turkey dropped points in its 0-0 tie at Estonia, while Bosnia-Herzegovina put four past Armenia -- although in fourth place, it is the group's top scorer with 12 and could still cause problems for both Belgium and Turkey in the fight for second spot.
HIGHLIGHT (VIDEO): Andres Iniesta's run and finish through the Belgian backline to level the scores in Brussels.
Standings: Spain (12 points), Turkey (8), Belgium (7), Bosnia (6), Estonia (1), Armenia (0).

GROUP SIX
Croatia 4 (Rakitic 2, Olic, Modric) Andorra 0
Belarus (Sitko) 1 England 3 (Gerrard, Rooney 2)
England heads into the winter five points clear at the top of Group Six, with a 100 percent record following a handy win in Belarus. Wayne Rooney continued his stellar from at international level by scoring twice and setting up the team's opening goal for Steven Gerrard. "It was a significant win for us but it's only one step further for us, nothing more," said England coach Fabio Capello. "But it was a very important step because the style we played, and the confidence we had, was so good. We have that confidence now." Croatia's 4-0 win over micro-state Andorra pushed it up to a flattering second place.
Standings: England (12 points), Croatia (7), Ukraine (7), Belarus (3), Kazakhstan (3), Andorra (0).

GROUP SEVEN
Lithuania 1 (Danelivicius) Faeroe Islands 0
Austria 1 (Janko) Serbia 3 (Krasic, Jovanovic, Obradovic)
Austria's campaign has gone horribly wrong -- after defeating France it has lost in Lithuania, only tied the Faeroe Islands, and on Wednesday crashed at home to Serbia, conceding three goals in a 10-minute first half spell that has effectively ended its World Cup qualification chances. "The first goal paralyzed us," said Austrian captain Andreas Ivanschitz. "Then we had a disastrous 15 minutes that gave up the game." Serbian defender Nemanja Vidic described his team as "phenomenal. With this young team we can approach the next qualification games with a lot of optimism." Lithuania remained level on points with Serbia after squeezing past the Faeroe Islands at home.
Standings: Serbia (9 points), Lithuania (9), France (4), Austria (4), Romania (4), Faroe Islands (1).

GROUP EIGHT
Georgia 0 Bulgaria 0
Italy 2 (Aquilani, Tanasijevic OG) Montenegro 1 (Vucinic)
Ireland 1 (Keane) Cyprus 0
Another less than absorbing night in Group Eight with Italy, as ever, doing just enough to beat Montenegro, with the help of an own goal. Bulgaria, which has tied all of its three games, playing out its second goalless draw in four days, this time against Georgia. Ireland edged past Cyprus on an early goal from Robbie Keane to keep a firm hold on second place. "We could have scored another goal," said Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni. "Only in the last minute was the situation very difficult," he added, referring to a late save that goalkeeper Shay Given made to keep the Irish in front.
Standings: Italy (10 points), Ireland (7), Bulgaria (3), Montenegro (2), Georgia (2), Cyprus (1).

GROUP NINE
Norway 0 Netherlands 1 (Van Bommel)
Iceland 1 (Pall Gunnarson) Macedonia 0
The Netherlands strode away at the top of group nine after edging an even game in Norway thanks to a cogent volley from the top of the box by Mark Van Bommel into the bottom corner of the Norwegian net. Norway again relied on John Carew to get it on the score sheet, but despite one nice effort on the turn that was held by Edwin van der Sar, he was prodigiously shadowed by the Dutch defense. Iceland moved up to third with its first win of the campaign, at the fourth attempt, over Macedonia.
HIGHLIGHT (VIDEO): Van Bommel pummeling the ball into the net after watching it carefully in the air and taking two strides to meet it.
Standings: Netherlands (9 points), Scotland (4), Iceland (4), Macedonia (3), Norway (2).

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.

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