Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Sun 7 September 2008

World Cup 2010 Update: Europe

At long last, the European section of the 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign got underway this weekend*, so let's take you through the action in each group.

Group 1
Carlos Queiroz's first competitive game of his second spell in charge of Portugal couldn't have been more successful as his side demolished Malta 4-0. Goals from Hugo Almeida, Simao and Nani, plus an own goal by Brain Said helped the Portuguese race to the top of the group table as Albania and Sweden drew 0-0 as did Denmark and Hungary.

Next up for the Portuguese is a tricky home tie against Denmark on Wednesday while Hungary travel to Sweden and Albania host Malta.

Group 2
Israel's Ben Sahar scored in stoppage time to salvage a 2-2 draw at home to Ottmar Hitzfeld's Switzerland. Hakan Yakin had opened the scoring for the Euro 2008 co-hosts at the end of the first half and Blaise Nkufo made it two after 56 minutes, but a Yossi Benayoun effort set up a thrilling finale to the game before Chelsea's Sahar (currently on loan with Portsmouth) secured two points for the home side.

Elsewhere, Latvia picked up a 2-1 win from their visit to Moldova while Greece cruised to a comfortable 3-0 win away to Luxembourg with their goals coming from Torosidis, Gekas and Charsiteas.

Greece and Latvia will both be hoping to retain their 100% record in Riga this Wednesday while Switzerland play Luxembourg in Zurich and Israel travel to Moldova.

Group 3
Michael Zewlakow's 17th minute penalty proved to be the only bright spark of a lacklustre performance against Slovenia which ended 1-1 in Wroclaw. In Bratislava, however, it was a different story as Slovakia picked up a 2-1 win over Northern Ireland thanks to a goal each from Liverpool's Martin Skrtel and Napoli's Marek Hamsik. Northern Ireland coach Nigel Worthington put his side's defeat down to poor discipline and a lack of focus early on and is hoping for much better when his side face the Czech Republic in Belfast this Wednesday.

The same night sees San Marino begin their campaign at home to Poland while Slovenia and Slovakia face each other in Maribor.

Group 4
It was all too easy for Germany as they put six goals past Liechtenstein without reply. Lukas Podolski was on hand with a couple as Rolfes, Schweinsteiger, Hitzlsperger and Westermann completed the job in Vaduz.

Wolverhampton Wanderers' Sam Vokes came on as a substitute to save Wales' blushes in their 1-0 win over Azerbaijan. His goal came in the last ten minutes and must have come as a blessed relief for most of the 15,000 fans in Cardiff who'd seen Jason Koumas miss a penalty and Azerbaijan reduced to ten men after Fabio Luis Ramim received his second yellow card.

Though grateful of the three points, John Toshack's men know they'll have to play an awful lot better against a resurgent Russian side in Moscow on Wednesday. Germany, however, face a less arduous trip to Finland in three days time while Azerbaijan and Liechtenstein come together in Group 4's real 'battle of the giants' in Baku.

Group 5
David Villa made up for a missed penalty in the first half by hitting the net after 57 minutes to hand the European champions a 1-0 win at home to Bosnia-Herzegovina. Elsewhere, Middlesbrough's Tuncay Sanli and Semih Senturk were on the scoresheet to give Turkey a 2-0 win away to Armenia, while the Red Devils of Belgium beat Estonia 3-2 in a more comfortable fashion than the scoreline may suggest. Wesley Sonck scored two as the Belgians went 3-1 up before Andres Oper grabbed a consolation goal three minutes into stoppage time.

Belgium visit Turkey this week for the second game of the October double-header with Spain looking for a better result at home to Armenia. Bosnia-Herzegovina will be hoping to get their first points on the board as they play host to Estonia.

Group 6
England began their 'Road to South Africa' with an unconvincing 2-0 win over Andorra in Barcelona. Joe Cole was on hand with both goals in a second half that saw coach Fabio Capello alter England's playing style to better cope with Andorra's highly defensive strategy. Though all three points were eventually secured, many will be left wondering what chance they stand of beating a Croatia team that bulldozed their way past Kazakhstan 3-0 yesterday in Zagreb.

Tottenham's Luka Modric, Niko Kovac and Hamburg striker Mladen Petric all scored a goal each as Croatia dominated the match leaving *Kazakhstan with three points from two matches after their 3-0 victory over Andorra last month. Ukraine's late winner at home to Belarus, four minutes into stoppage time, came courtesy of Andriy Shevchenko which leaves them third in the group behind Croatia and England after one match.

As well as Wednesday's crunch match between Croatia and England, Ukraine travel to Kazakhstan while Andorra play at home again, this time against Belarus.

Group 7
Raymond Domenech's France were stunned 3-1 by Austria in their opening qualifier. Marc Janko, Rene Aufhauser and Andrea Ivanschitz all put the game beyond the reach of the French whose only goal came from Lyon's Sidney Govou after 61 minutes.

There was a similarly surprising win for Lithuania away to Romania, 3-0, although the home side were ravaged by a number of injuries prior to the game. Even so, the Lithuanians went 2-0 up thanks to a couple of excellent long-range efforts by Marius Stankevicius and Saulius Mikoliunas. Substitute Mindaugas Kalonas finished off a quick counter-attack just before the end of the game to seal a memorable win which puts the Lithuanians top of the group ahead of Austria and Serbia, who picked up a 2-0 win against the Faroe Islands.

Wednesday night sees France playing at home to Serbia while Austria go to Lithuania and Romania play the Faroes.

Group 8
Antonio Di Natale followed up his two goals for Udinese last weekend with another brace for Italy in their tie away to Cyprus yesterday, but both his goals came at either ends of a match which saw Efstathios Alonefitis pick up an equaliser on the half-way mark. The Italians were regularly on the back foot throughout the game as Cyprus launched a number of attacks on the opposing goal, and with Fabio Grosso and Alessandro Gamberini picking up early injuries, the final result looked far from certain. Fortunately for the returning coach Marcello Lippi, Di Natale scored the winning goal two minutes into stoppage time but questions will be asked as to the overall quality of his team's performance going into this week's match at home to Georgia.

The Republic of Ireland looked relatively comfortable in their 2-1 win away to the Georgians. It was the first competitive match in charge for Giovanni Trapattoni and he didn't have to wait long to see his first goal which came via the head of Kevin Doyle after 13 minutes. Glenn Whelan's long range effort spilled through the hands of Georgian keeper George Loria in the 70th minute and that was pretty much 'game over' save for a consolation goal two minutes into time added on from Levan Kenia.

In the other game in Group 8, Bulgaria battled to a 2-2 draw with Montenegro thanks to, yes - you've guessed it - yet another vital goal two minutes into stoppage time, on this occasion coming from Blagoi Georgiev. This was the first game ever played by Montenegro as a fully independent state and they almost one it having fought back from 1-0 to go 2-1 ahead with only moments remaining. Their next match will be at home to Ireland on Wednesday while Italy play hosts to Georgia.

Group 9
Finally (and at this point it's only fair to check that you're still awake), George Burley's first competitive match in charge of Scotland didn't quite go according to plan as his team lost 1-0 in Macedonia. Playing in temperatures peaking at 35 degrees, the Scots went behind after just five minutes through a goal by Ilco Naumoski. Despite dominating the second half play, Burley's men were unable to find the equaliser and that means Scotland are yet to win under Burley in their four matches so far. Burley's fifth comes this Wednesday as his Scotland side travel to Iceland.

Iceland themselves had a better start to their campaign, getting a creditable 2-2 draw away in Norway. The scoresheet will have had a familiar look to English fans as both Norway goals were scored by Steffen Iversen and Iceland's came from Heidar Helguson and Eidur Gudjohnsen.

This Wednesday's other Group 9 match takes place in Skopje as Macedonia welcome the arrival of that Dutch team from Euro 2008. Will we see more breathtaking and clinical counter-attacking from the Dutch as we did three months ago? Watch this space and find out...

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