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Germany lead Euro giants in qualifying for 2012
Former champions Germany were given an early chance for celebration on Friday after becoming the first team to qualify for the 2012 European Championship finals.
A 6-2 hammering of neighbours Austria means Joachim Loew's Germany side have now taken their tally in Group A to an unassailable 24 points after winning all of their eight games to date.
France edged closer to qualification but had to survive a scare in Tirana before running out 2-1 winners against Albania, a result that allowed Laurent Blanc's side to move three points clear at the top of Group D.
A resurgent Wayne Rooney meanwhile played a starring role as England romped to a 3-0 victory over hapless Bulgaria which leaves Fabio Capello's men firmly in control at the top of Group G with only two games remaining.
Italy also edged closer to securing automatic qualification but, like France, had to survive an edgy away encounter, away to the Faroe Islands, before running out 1-0 winners.
Elsewhere, Ireland's qualifying hopes suffered a blow when they were held to a scoreless draw in Dublin by Slovakia. Following Russia's victory over Macedonia earlier, Dick Advocaat's men top Group B and welcome Ireland to Moscow on Tuesday in what may be the defining clash of the campaign.
The Netherlands, ranked the world's number one team, claimed a record 11-0 win against minnows San Marino to claim their seventh qualifying win on the trot as they inch closer to qualifying from Group E with three games remaining.
Germany have been one of the form teams in Europe going into and since the 2010 World Cup, where they finished third behind Spain and the Netherlands.
And despite showing some chinks in defence Loew's men maintained their discipline and poise against a plucky Austrian side to show they will be one of the teams to beat in Poland and Ukraine next year.
"We have qualified for the finals at the earliest available opportunity," said Loew, with his side still to play Belgium and Turkey next month in their two remaining qualifiers.
"We got caught out twice defensively, but I think we restricted the Austrians to just two chances and I prefer to focus on the fact that we created so many chances ourselves."
Former world champions France led 2-0 at half-time through goals from Karim Benzema and Yann M'Vila.
However Les Bleus conceded the initiative to their hosts after the restart when a defensive mix-up enabled Erjon Bogdani to pull a goal back, and they were made to sweat during an uncomfortable second half.
Victory puts Blanc's side in a strong position with three games to play, although Bosnia-Herzegovina remain on their tails after winning 2-0 in Belarus.
"Creatively, we did quite well," said Blanc.
"Up front we created a lot of scoring chances and we're starting to gel better. A third goal (for France) would have made all the difference for us."
Rooney scored twice as new-look England edged closer to qualification with a comprehensive 3-0 win in Sofia which left Capello's men three points clear at the top of Group G after Wales defeated second-placed Montenegro 2-1 in the pool's other game.
If England pick up a further three points against Wales at Wembley next week, they will need only a point from their final game in Montenegro on October 7 to guarantee qualification.
"All the team was really focused," Capello said. "I'm really happy with the performance of the whole team.
Italy, who have three games remaining, will secure their Euro 2012 ticket if they beat Slovenia in Florence on Tuesday.
But after Antonio Cassano's strike secured the points in the Faroe Islands, 'keeper Gianluigi Buffon -- who saw the hosts hit the woodwork twice -- was less than impressed.
"The good thing is that we've got three points and that's a good step forward in terms of qualification," he said.
"We did really well in the first 10 minutes and created loads of chances but after the goal we seemed to slow down.
"If we don't suffer in the easiest games then we're not happy and we maintained that tradition," he added with a touch of irony.
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