Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Mon 9 October 2006

Euro 2008 Round-Up

Sweeping aside the aberration that was England’s performance against Macedonia, let’s take in all the news from around the groups in Saturday’s Euro 2008 qualifiers:

In Group A, Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice and Chelsea’s Ricardo Carvalho got the other in Portugal’s 3-0 over Azerbaijan. It was their first win of the campaign after drawing away to Finland last month, but top spot in the group goes to Serbia who inflicted a 1-0 defeat of Belgium to remain unbeaten after three games.

All the headlines in the Sunday papers were squarely focused on Group B where Scotland secured their third straight win of the competition against World Cup finalists France. The Scots put in a disciplined and heroic performance at Hampden Park that was topped off by a Gary Caldwell goal midway through the second half. It was the first time France had been beaten in a major tournament qualifying match since 1999 and they’ll go into their next match away to Ukraine on Wednesday with a genuine belief that they can reach the Finals in 2008 after such an impressive start.

Scotland will no doubt also be buoyed by the news that Italy picked up their first win at home to the Ukrainians at the weekend, thanks to two goals from Oddi and Toni. The Italians now face Georgia away from home on Wednesday while France play host to the Faroe Islands.

Group C has turned into a three-horse race as Greece beat group leaders Norway 1-0 and Turkey beat Hungary away by the same score. Norway, Turkey and Greece all now have six points and though the Norwegians are ahead on goal difference, Turkey and Greece have a game in hand over them with two wins out of two so far.

In Group D, the Czech Republic put seven past San Marino to add to the thirteen that Germany scored against them last month. The Czechs have now won all three of their games so far and lead the group, but Slovakia joined the Germans on six points after an emphatic 5-1 win away to Wales. It was the worst home defeat for the Welsh since a 7-1 home loss to England in 1908, and a win in their next match at home to Cyprus on Wednesday will now be seen as essential if they’re to salvage any hopes of qualifying from a strong group.

Cyprus themselves will think they’re in with a chance of qualifying after a remarkable 5-2 win at home to Ireland. Richard Dunne was sent off late on in what was the worst result in a competitive match for the Irish since a 7-0 defeat to Austria in 1971. They next face the Czechs and will hope that they too can upset the form books in order to belatedly kick-start their Euro 2008 campaign.

OK, here goes. Group E was no stranger to eyebrow-raising results as England failed to defeat the Macedonians at home and Israel battled to a 1-1 draw away to Russia. Croatia picked up their first win with a 7-0 thrashing of Andorra and await the visit of England on Wednesday.

England’s inability to supply the likes of Crouch and Rooney with scoring chances was offset by the (at times) seven- and eight-man defence of the visitors, but it was again the overall quality of the passing that let England down. The ‘Bring Back Beckham’ campaign strengthens apace, but of more concern to most people will be the absence of Steven Gerrard against the Russians who was booked for a second consecutive match.

The team to watch in Group F is clearly Sweden who picked up an excellent 2-0 win over Spain at the weekend. They now have a maximum nine points from three games while their opponents languish in fifth place having picked up only three. Spain must now be reeling after losing to Northern Ireland in their last match, but even Denmark were unable to break down the Ulstermen on Saturday as both teams settled for a point after their 0-0 draw.

Finally, as expected, Group G is headed by Holland and Romania, but Holland stay in second on goal difference following their hard-fought 1-1 draw away to Bulgaria. Arsenal’s Robin Van Persie headed the equaliser for the Dutch after Martin Petrov had given the home side the lead on twelve minutes. Romania stayed ahead of Holland at the top of the group after a 3-1 home win against Belarus. They’ll be keeping a close eye on Holland’s midweek game against Albania as they next see action away to the Dutch in March.

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