By Ross CraeFollow @JfGpodcasts
In Group A, Scotland somehowmanaged to keep Belgium out in the first half, Allan McGregor pulling off some crucial saves to keep wave after wave of attack out. Shaun Maloney and Kris Commons both had free-kicks saved well by Thibaut Courtois. Christian Benteke’s far post header eventually put the Belgians ahead after 69 minutes. Almost instantly, Vincent Kompany was given space in the box to unleash a sensational shot past McGregor and the game and qualification hopes slipped away from the Scots.
Wales, buoyed by victory over Scotland, had a tricky and ultimately disappointing trip to Croatia. The home side were dominant, and Mario Mandzukic opened the scoring in the first half, taking advantage of a poor backpass from Ashley Williams to Lewis Price. Eduardo’s second half tap-in sealed the three points for the Croatians.
In the Group’s other game, Maribor striker Agim Ibraimi’s penalty gave Macedonia a 1-0 win over 10 man Serbia.
It was a Group B goal-fest in the first half between Italy and Denmark. Against the run of play, Riccardo Montolivo opened the scoring for the Azzurri and Daniele De Rossi soon added a second. William Kvist pulled one back for the Danes on the stroke of half time. Pablo Osvaldo was sent off for the Italians early in the second half, but a Mario Balotelli strike ten minutes into the second half killed off the Danes. Bulgaria drew 0-0 in the Czech Republic.
It turned out to be a high scoring night in Group C. Ireland travelled to the Faroe Islands, hoping to put themselves back on track after a footballing lesson from Germany. The Irish took the lead at the start of the second half from Marc Wilson’s deflected shot and a Jon Walters header doubled their lead. Arnbjørn Hansen pulled one back for the Faroes, but a spectacular own goal from Pol Johannes Justinussen and a Darren O’Dea header gave Trapattoni’s men a 4-1 win.
Austria beat Kazakhstan 4-0,a Marc Janko double and strikes from David Alaba and Martin Harnik making Borat very unhappy. I haven’t even seen that film, that’s just lazy convenient stereotyping.
The result of the night came as Germany looked to havecruised to a win against Sweden. A Miroslav Klose double within the first 15 minutes and a third from Per Mertesaker in the first half gave the Germans a comfortable lead.
Mesut Ozil’s neat finish looked to have ended the contest, but in the space of half an hour, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Mikael Lustig (yes really), Johan Elmander and, in the last minute, Rasmus Elm all scored to complete an incredible comeback and the game ended with an astonishing 4-4 scoreline.
In Group D, Holland beat Romania 4-1 as PSV’s Jeremain Lens opened the scoring and Bruno Martins Indi added a second before Schalke star Ciprian Marica’s wonderful solo effort put the Romanians back in the game. In first half injury time, Rafael van der Vaart scored a penalty to preserve the two goal cushion. The Dutch controlled the second half and Robin van Persie’s late goal made sure of the result.
Elsewhere, Hungary came from a goal down to beat Turkey 3-1 and Estonia won 1-0 away to Andorra, record goalscorer Andres Oper with the only goal of the game.
In Group E, Norway came from behind towin 3-1 in Cyprus. Switzerland took a 2-0 win home in their hand baggage from Iceland and Odise Roshi scored the only goal of the game as Albania beat Slovenia.
Having been battered at home on Friday night, Luxembourg had a second Group F encounter with Israel. The Israelis were obviously only feeling half as mean as they had felt on Friday, this time they had only a 3-0 victory. Tomer Hemed had scored a hat-trick last time around, but only got two this time. Sloppy. Ex-England manager Fabio Capello’s Russia required a late Roman Shirokov penalty to scrape past ex-Scotland manager Berti Vogts’ Azerbaijan.
Top billing in the group was Northern Ireland’s visit to Portugal. Aberdeen striker Niall McGinn gave Northern Ireland a shock lead on the counter attack after half an hour. Resilient defending from the away side threatened to spoil Cristiano Ronaldo’s 100th international cap celebrations. Portugal finally scored with ten minutes to go, Helder Postiga netting from close range. Northern Ireland held on to earn an unexpected yet well-deserved point.
In Group G, Bosnia stormed their way to a 3-0 victory against Lithuania, with Manchester City’s Edin Dzeko getting on the scoresheet. Dimitris Salpingidis’s second half goal was enough for Greece to win in Slovakia and Latvia cruised to a 2-0 home win against 10-man Liechtenstein.
England’s much anticipated clash with Poland in Group Hwas postponed due to a waterlogged pitch at the national stadium in Warsaw. The other matches in the group went ahead as planned, Ukraine slumped to a 1-0 home defeat to Montenegro andpoor old San Marino lost 2-0 at home to Moldova. England v Poland will be played at 4pm on Wednesday the 17th.
Group I threw up a tasty clash as France travelled to Spain. Sergio Ramos gave the Spaniards the lead after 25 minutes and France had a Karim Benzema headed goal ruled out for offside before Cesc Fabregas had a penalty saved by Hugo Lloris. The French were lively in the second half and Olivier Giroud popped up to score a 93rd minute equaliser, ruining Spain’s hopes of a 25th consecutive win in qualifying. Handsome devil. In the group’s other game Belarus beat Georgia 2-0.