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FIFA World Cup 2014 Qualifiers: Netherlands stay perfect while England hold on for a draw

GROUP A

Serbia 2-0 Scotland

Belgium 1-0 Macedonia

Wales 1-2 Croatia

Former Arsenal man Eduardo Da Silva scored a late winner as Croatia came from behind to beat Wales in an entertaining game at the Liberty Stadium. Gareth Bale had earlier given the hosts the lead on 21 minutes from the penalty spot. It was Bale’s 5th goal in his last 6 internationals. The goal spurred the home team on and they finished the half the better side with Bale being denied by Croatian keeper Stipe Pletikosa a few times. The visitors stepped up their game in the second period and their efforts were rewarded when Dejan Lovren’s header pulled them level with 13 minutes to go. Having gotten back into the game, the Croats went for the kill and Eduardo’s low shot guaranteed all 3 points for Croatia.

The late show in Swansea meant Belgium had to win their game to keep pace at the top. Win they did and Eden Hazard was once again on the score-sheet as his goal gave Belgium a narrow 1-0 win over Macedonia. The win keeps them top ahead of Croatia only on goal difference with both teams on 16 points.

Scotland became the first European nation to be eliminated from World Cup qualification after their 2-0 loss in Serbia. The defeat was Scotland’s fourth in a row in competitive matches and means that they have no chance of overhauling either Belgium or Croatia at the top of the group. Filip Djuricic scored both of the home side’s goals within a span of 5 minutes in the second half. Djuricic currently plays for Heerenveen, but will be moving to Benfica in the summer.

GROUP B

Malta 0-2 Italy

Denmark 1-1 Bulgaria

Armenia 0-3 Czech Republic

Malta v Italy - FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier

Mario Balotelli continued his hot streak and was the star man for Italy scoring both goals in a less than convincing 2-0 win away at tiny island nation Malta. Balotelli scored an 8th minute penalty to hand the visitors an early advantage. Gianluigi Buffon then gave away a penalty after Claudio Marchisio’s horror backpass sold him short. But he redeemed himself by saving the penalty and Malta were denied a way back into the game. On the stroke of half-time, Balotelli’s cool finish put the Italians in total control and the ‘Azzuri’ were on cruise control for the rest of the game.

The Czechs rebounded from their loss to Denmark with a victory by an identical score line.  An excellent counter-attacking display away at Armenia saw the Czechs move above Denmark in the group and lie 3rd 2 points behind Bulgaria.

Denmark were held by Bulgaria to a 1-1 draw. Danish skipper Daniel Agger scored from the spot to equalize after Sergiy Manolev had given the Bulgarians the lead on 51 minutes. The result means that both sides are still in the hunt for the second spot which would give them a playoff berth. The result was favourable for the Italians as it pretty much assures them of automatic qualification holding a 3 point lead over  Bulgaria with a game in hand.

GROUP C

Germany 4-1 Kazakhstan

Republic of Ireland 2-2 Austria

Joachim Loew’s German team put in a virtuoso first half performance as they dismantled minnows Kazakhstan in the return fixture at home after a 3-0 win away on Friday. Marko Reus opened the scoring in the 23rd minute and 10 minutes later Germany were up 3-0 with Mario Gotze and Ilkay Gundogan adding to the tally. The Kazakhs pulled one back just after half-time but it was no more than a consolation as Reus rounded things off in style with his second on 90 minutes.

David Alaba’s superb strike deep into injury time with virtually the last kick of the game denied Giovanni Trapattoni’s boys in green a home victory. Ireland had to settle for a share of the spoils and will once again rue a missed opportunity that jeopardizes their hopes of qualification. Ireland were very impressive and got back into the game brilliantly after Martin Harnik put the Austrians ahead on 11 minutes. West Brom striker Shane Long in particular had a stellar outing as the Irish fought back to turn the game in their favour with 2 goals from Jonathan Walters, the first of which was a penalty on 25 minutes. They went into the break ahead 2-1 and the Austrians came out battling in the second period as they laid siege to the Irish goal. They were rewarded ultimately when Alaba was given space just outside the box as he unleashed a left footed drive that looked to have taken a slight deflection on its way to goal.

GROUP D

Netherlands 4-0 Romania

Turkey 1-1 Hungary

Estonia 2-0 Andorra

Netherlands v Romania - FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier

Robin Van Persie scored a brace as the Dutch continued their impressive form registering their 6th successive win of the campaign to maintain their perfect record. The victory also means that the Netherlands have won their last 16 qualifying games, both Euros and World Cup put together. Van Persie passed Dutch legend Johann Cruyff in the goal scoring charts with his double strike at the Amsterdam Arena. He now has 17 qualifier goals (again, both Euros and World Cup) and is level with Denis Bergkamp. Rafael Van der Vaart also scored for the second game running with Jermaine Lens adding one in the 90th minute.

Turkey and Hungary played out a 1-1 draw in Istanbul. Burak Yilmaz has been a goal machine this season and he gave the Turks the lead yet again. Hungary though found the equalizer on 73 minutes to earn a point. The Hungarians will see it as a point gained as it moves them ahead of Romania to second place in the group.

GROUP E (no Group E games scheduled for midweek)

GROUP F

Azerbaijan 0-2 Portugal

Northern Ireland 0-2 Israel

Portugal got back to winning ways with a comfortable win over Azerbaijan. Bruno Alves once again was on the score-sheet for the Portuguese for whom the win was a much needed one after they only managed a 3-3 draw on Friday against Israel.

Israel also won by the same margin beating Northern Ireland at Belfast with goals from Lior Rafaelov and Eden Ben Basat.

GROUP G (no games played in GROUP G)

GROUP H

Montenegro 1-1 England

Poland 5-0 San Marino

Ukraine 2-1 Moldova

In a game of two halves, England surrendered the early initiative to return home from Podgorica with a 1-1 draw. England were superb in the first half and dismal in the second. Slick passing with excellent ball movement saw the English assert their dominance in the first period and Wayne Rooney on his return to Montenegro got the opening goal. But in the second half, England wilted under the constant pressure of the home side and in the end were lucky to emerge with a point as they withstood a battering from the Montenegrins in the second half. Dejan Damjanovic scored the equalizer for the hosts. The draw means England stay 2 points behind Montenegro and if they finish second would have to go through the playoffs to secure a place in Brazil next year.

Poland hammered whipping boys San Marino for five as Robert Lewandowski bagged a brace and his Borussia Dortmund colleague Tomasz Piszczek also scored.

Ukraine beat Moldova 2-1 to keep up with the leading pack. They are level on points with Poland, 4 points behind England, but both sides have played a game less and can cut the gap to one.

GROUP I

France 0-1 Spain

World and European champions Spain got back to the top of Group I with a 1-0 victory at the Stade de France courtesy a Pedro Rodrigues goal. In a game with chances for both sides, France had their  opportunities , but they lacked the cutting edge up front as Karim Benzema continued his barren run in front of goal which is now in excess of 1000 minutes of football after yesterday’s game.

In the only game on the night in Group I, Pedro’s strike helped lift the Spaniards over France in the standings. The first half saw both teams go close with Andres Iniesta and Franck Ribery missing gilt-edged chances. The two keepers, Hugo Lloris for France and Victor Valdes for Spain, were also in top form as they kept their sides in the game. Pedro then broke the deadlock in the second half after latching on to a lovely cut back from Nacho Monreal who was deputising for the injured Jordi Alba at left-back.

France’s attempts to get back in the game got that much harder when they were reduced to 10 men following the dismissal of midfielder Paul Pogba. The young French midfielder earned 2 quick yellows in less than 60 seconds for a couple of dangerous tackles that brought his participation to an early end.

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