The past week has seen a multitude of international games played across Europe with many countries across the continent vying to mark their place in the World Cup Finals next year whilst others are already out of contention.
Group A saw Belgium remain on top after a hard fought 1-0 victory against Macedonia, with Chelsea striker Edin Hazard neatly finishing with his left foot just past the hour mark to seal back to back victories for the Belgians against Macedonia. Croatia came back from 1-0 to beat Wales 2-1 at the Liberty Stadium, with Dejan Lovren and Eduardo sealing out a first half penalty by Welsh talisman Gareth Bale. The win maintained a strong second place position for Croatia, who are only behind Belgium due to goal difference. And a Filip Duricic brace in the second half was enough to see Serbia end any chance of a World Cup place for Scotland whilst attempting to maintain their own slim chances of qualification.
In Group B a brace from the in form Mario Balotelli was enough to remove any doubt for Malta, who are bottom after so far failing to gain a single point in their efforts. The win puts Italy 3 points clear of second place Bulgaria, who were held to a 1-1 draw in Copenhagen as a Daniel Agger penalty for the Danes just past the hour mark cancelled out Stanislav Manolev thunderous effort into the top left corner. The Czech Republic were back to winning ways with a 3-0 victory over Armenia, with two goals in the last ten minutes sealing the fate of Armenia whilst giving the third place Czech’s something to cling onto.
Group C saw Germany ease past Kazakhstan with the Borrusia Dortmund trio of Marca Reus, Mario Gotze and Ilkay Gundogan getting on the scoresheet in their 4-1 victory at the Astana Arena. The win just solidifies Germany’s dominance of the group but it wasn’t without fault – Heinrich Schmidtgal did gain a consolation goal just after the break due to a lapse of concentration within the back line, which may be enough to worry Germany’s coach Joachim Low. And the Republic of Ireland’s comeback was thwarted in the dying minutes after a David Alaba strike for Austria cancelled out Jonathan Walters 1st half double which had put them in the lead after Martin Harnik’s 11th minute goal.
The Netherlands decimated Romania to go 7 point clear in Group D and maintain their 100% record with a decisive 4-0 victory. Rafael van der Vaart opened the scoring just after the 10 minute mark and Robin van Persie got two in 10 minutes in the second half, the latter of which being a penalty after Florin Gardos was judged to have fouled Jeremain Lens. Lens was involved again in the last goal, when he tapped in from close range at the last minute to seal the rout. Estonia added to the misery for lowly Andorra, who have yet to pick up a point, beating them 2-0 thanks to goals from Henri Anier and Joel Lindpere at the 45th and 61st minute, respectively. Meanwhile Hungary moved up to 2nd place after a 1-1 draw with Turkey, with Dániel Böde cancelling out Burak Yılmaz’s earlier goal for the Turks.
Tuesday saw no games in Group E so it’s onto Group F, with Northern Ireland losing 2-0 to Israel in Belfast thanks to second half goals from Lior Refaelov and Eden Ben Basat, putting Israel in 2nd place above Portugal and almost completely cancelling any chance of progression for the Northern Irish. Meanwhile Portugal remain in 3rd behind Israel based on goal difference after a 2-0 victory over Azerbaijan at the Tofiq Bahramov Stadium, although it took over an hour for the visitors to break 10 man Azerbaijan down, with Bruno Alves scoring at the 63rd minute. The decisive goal came just over 10 minutes from time, when Hugo Almeida headed in from close range to earn a much needed win for the stuttering Portuguese.
Group G was inactive Tuesday so onto Group H, where England played a game of two halves in more way than one, dominating proceedings in the first and then struggling against a far improved Montenegro in the second. England played assured football for the majority of the first half, and got a deserved goal just 6 minutes in when Wayne Rooney headed in powerfully after lacklustre marking by the Montenegro back line. England continued to dominate until half time yet came out a different side after the break – instead of assured controlled play viewers were instead treated to an England performance of old; one of uncertainty and mistake. Montenegro, on the other hand, were far more confident in their play and gained a deserved goal 15 minutes from time after Joe Hart made a vital save that the England back four couldn’t clear, and Dejan Damjanović capitalised with a tap in in the box. England did pick up a bit towards the end but it wasn’t enough and the two teams remain as they were, with Montenegro leading England by 2 points at the top of the table.
Meanwhile Poland demolished lowly San Marino 5-0, with a Robert Lewandowski brace alongside goals from Łukasz Piszczek, Łukasz Teodorczyk and Jakub Kosecki to seal the fate of the 207th ranked team in the world. And Ukraine earned a vital 2-1 win against Moldova, with two goals in ten minutes enough to seal the fate of the visitors and provide Ukraine a slim chance of qualification. Lastly, there was only one game played in Group I, with Spain beating France by 1 goal at the Stade de France, thanks to a single goal by Pedro just before the hour mark to put Spain a point ahead of France.
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