Brazil Here We Come!
A review of Friday night's action in the European World Cup qualifiers, including wins for Spain, Italy and Holland. England 5 San Marino 0Wales 2 Scotland 1Republic of Ireland 1 Germany 6Macedonia 1 Croatia 2Serbia 0 Belgium 3Armenia 1 Italy 3Bulgaria 1 Denmark 1Czech Republic 3 Malta 1Faroe Islands 1 Sweden 2Kazakhstan 0 Austria 0Estonia 0 Hungary 1Holland 3 Andorra 0Turkey 0 Romania 1Albania 1 Iceland 2Slovenia 2 Cyprus 1Switzerland 1 Norway 1Luxembourg 0 Israel 6Russia 1 Portugal 0Greece 0 Bosnia 0Liechtenstein 0 Lithuania 2Slovakia 2 Latvia 1Moldova 0 Ukraine 0Belarus 0 Spain 4Finland 1 Georgia 1
Pedro netted a hat-trick as Spain comfortably made it two wins from two in World Cup qualifying Group I with a thumping 4-0 victory over Belarus in Minsk.
Jordi Alba gave the world and European champions a 12th-minute lead as he was allowed to race onto Pedro's back-heel - despite appearing to be in an offside position - and round goalkeeper Sergei Veremko before slotting home.
Eight minutes later Pedro latched onto a lovely pass from David Silva and dinked over the advancing Veremko to make it 2-0.
The forward completed his first international treble with two further goals in the final quarter - first a lob from Xavi's pass following a swift counter-attack and then another neat finish 18 minutes from time.
In Friday night's other Group I clash, Kasper Hamalainen's strike rescued a 1-1 draw for 10-man Finland against Georgia in Helsinki.
All the action happened in a five-minute spell at the start of the second half, Kuram Gashia putting the visitors ahead in the 57th minute before Finland lost Alexei Eremenko to a red card two minutes later.
Hamalainen nevertheless popped up to equalise for the hosts in the 62nd minute as Finland picked up their first point of the campaign.
Italy laboured to a 3-1 victory over Armenia as their largely unimpressive World Cup qualifying campaign continued.
Goals from Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi and Pablo Osvaldo saw the Italians to the three Group B points.
Armenia Mkhitaryan was the man on target for the hosts.
Denmark were only able to pick up a 1-1 draw from the clash against Bulgaria despite playing with an extra man for more than an hour of the Group B encounter in Sofia.
Dimitar Rangelov's early header gave the hosts the lead at the Vasil Levski National Stadium but Nicklas Bendtner got the visitors back on level terms soon after Ivan Bandalovski's 27th-minute red card.
The Czech Republic overcame dogged resistance by Malta to secure a 3-1 Group B victory at the Doosan Arena in Plzen.
Theodor Gebre Selassie put the Czechs ahead in the 34th minute, but the lead lasted just four minutes before Alex Muscat equalised for Pietro Ghedin's visitors.
Tomas Pekhart restored the hosts' advantage, though, and Jan Rezek sealed the points - but it was by no means the emphatic triumph they would have hoped for.
Holland made it three wins from three in Group D as they coasted to an expected 3-0 victory over an outclassed Andorra at De Kuip Stadion.
The Oranje were off and running in the seventh minute when Rafael van der Vaart hammered home from long range and although a possible landslide did not materialise there were further goals from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and debutant Ruben Schaken.
Gheorghe Grozav ensured a third consecutive qualifying victory for Romania as they beat Turkey 1-0.
Grozav's smash-and-grab goal on the break livened up an otherwise dull encounter in Group D, with Liverpool midfielder Nuri Sahin missing a late chance to salvage a point.
Hungary returned to winning ways in Group D with a narrow 1-0 triumph over Estonia in Tallinn.
Tamas Hajnal netted the game's only goal in the first minute of the second half as Hungary, beaten 4-1 at home by Holland in their last match, secured their second victory of the qualifying campaign.
Alexander Kerzhakov's early strike proved the difference as Russia beat Portugal 1-0 in Moscow.
Kerzhakov's smart finish made it three wins from three at the start of Russia's Group F campaign, while defeat for Portugal ends their 100 per cent start and leaves them trailing Fabio Capello's men by three points.
Russia will fancy their chances of maintaining their perfect start when they play host to Azerbaijan on Tuesday, while on the same night Portugal will bid to get back to winning ways when they welcome Northern Ireland.
Tomer Hemed struck a hat-trick as Israel got their campaign up and running with an emphatic 6-0 win on the road against Luxembourg.
The Real Mallorca striker opened his account in the first half before adding two more after the break as Israel picked up their first victory in Group F.
Maharan Radi, Eden Ben Basat and Maor Melikson were also on target for the visitors.
Ukraine were held to a goalless draw by Moldova in Group H to add to the woes of a turbulent week.
Ukraine made the trip without coach Oleg Blokhin, who underwent surgery to remove a blood clot from a carotid artery earlier this week, days before he planned to step down in order to return to Dynamo Kiev.
Blokhin's absence dominated the agenda in the build-up to the match and although the players had insisted it would not affect them, they certainly looked far from their best as they fluffed their chances to give Moldova a first point of the campaign.
Belgium underlined their reputation as an emerging force on the European stage with a comprehensive 3-0 victory over Serbia in Belgrade.
Christian Benteke opened the scoring for Marc Wilmots' men in the first half before efforts by Kevin De Bruyne and Kevin Mirallas after the break saw the talented Belgians make it two wins and a draw from their opening three Group A outings.
Croatia came from a goal down to claim the second victory of their qualification campaign with a narrow 2-1 win over Macedonia.
Vedran Corluka and Ivan Rakitic scored for Croatia after Agim Ibraimi had given Macedonia the lead.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic denied the Faroe Islands a famous victory over Sweden, with his goal and assist enough to cancel out Rogvi Baldvinsson's shock opener in a 2-1 Group C win.
The north Atlantic minnows had defied expectations in keeping their illustrious visitors at bay until the break, and Baldvinsson's cool conversion increased the pressure on Erik Hamren's men.
A tame Sweden had just enough bite to avoid embarrassment, though, Ibrahimovic setting up Alex Kacaniklic before rubberstamping the points himself in the 75th minute.
Austria had the bulk of the play but failed to find the target during a disappointing 0-0 draw with Kazakhstan at Astana Arena.
While the hosts will consider themselves pleased to have posted a first point in Group C, Austria's qualification hopes will have been dented by failure to see off Kazakhstan.
Austria, who lost their opening fixture against Germany, had no shortage of possession or shots on goal but rarely made the home goalkeeper, Andrey Sidelnikov, work hard.
Two goals in the space of three minutes saw the spoils shared in a 1-1 draw between Switzerland and Norway in Berne.
It took until the 79th minute for Switzerland, who started as Group E leaders, to break the deadlock through Mario Gavranovic.
But Norway, looking to recover from an opening loss to Iceland, were level moments later when Brede Hangeland headed in from a corner.
The only surprise was that there were not more goals in a match that produced endless chances for both teams - and saw three efforts hit posts.
Gylfi Sigurdsson struck the winning goal nine minutes from full-time as Iceland registered a hard-fought 2-1 win over Albania in Tirana.
The Tottenham midfielder lashed home a thumping free-kick from the edge of the area as Iceland picked up their second win in three Group E outings.
Birkir Bjarnason had earlier fired Iceland into the lead before Edgar Cani levelled for Albania, who slipped to their second straight defeat.
Tim Matavz scored twice as Slovenia picked up their first points of the campaign with a 2-1 win against Cyprus in Maribor.
The PSV Eindhoven striker broke the deadlock eight minutes before half-time and doubled his tally just after the hour to put Slovenia firmly in control of the match between Group E's two bottom teams.
Cyprus substitute Efstathios Aloneftis halved the deficit in the 83rd minute, but they could not find an equaliser - despite the dismissal of home defender Bostjan Cesar a minute from time.
Greece and Bosnia-Herzegovina maintained their unbeaten starts to Group G with a hard-fought goalless draw in Piraeus.
The result left both teams, who entered the game with 100 per cent records in the pool, locked together on seven points along with Slovakia after three matches.
Two goals in the first nine minutes guided Slovakia to a 2-1 Group G victory over Latvia in Bratislava.
Marek Hamsik opened the scoring with a sixth-minute penalty before Marek Sapara doubled the lead four minutes later and although Latvia pulled one back with five minutes to go they could not force an equaliser.
Edgaras Cesnauskis struck twice in the second half as visiting Lithuania claimed a 2-0 win against Liechtenstein at Rheinpark Stadion.
It was a third straight defeat for the hosts in Group G, while Lithuania recorded their first win after taking one point from their opening two fixtures.
Lithuania had just the better of a low-key first half and Cesnauskis netted after 51 and 75 minutes to decide the result.
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