Thursday, April 02, 2009

World Cup 2010 Round-up: Europe

With such a huge number of World Cup qualifiers taking place over this last week, we thought we'd split our round-up into three parts so you don't enter a life-threatening torpor via one huge single article. So let's start with...


...where it was business as usual for most of the top teams. Germany continue to cruise along at the top of Group 4 thanks to comfortable wins over Liechtenstein and Wales (4-0 and 2-0 respectively) but their lead over Russia remains at four points. That's because Guus Hiddink's men also earned a maximum six points from their two games, albeit unconvincingly thanks to a 2-0 win over Azerbaijan and a feeble 1-0 over Liechtenstein.

In Group 5, the double header featured teams playing in home-and-away pairings. Spain's great run of form continued with a 1-0 win over Turkey and a 2-1 win in Istanbul (the latter featuring goals from Alonso and Riera) while Bosnia-Herzegovina moved up to second place in the table thanks to a couple of wins against the Belgians. Despite a promising start, Belgium now slip to fourth place below Turkey.

The Dutch now have a huge eight-point lead at the top of Group 9 and are achingly close to confirming their place in the Finals. A competent 3-0 victory over the Scots and a 4-0 win over Macedonia both featured goals from Klaas Huntelaar and Dirk Kuyt with Robin Van Persie and Rafael Van Der Vaart making single contributions of their own.

That means the Netherlands have won all five of their matches thus far and if they beat Iceland in June, their place at World Cup 2010 will be assured.

Also proudly boasting five wins out of five in Group 6 are England, thanks to last night's 2-1 win over Ukraine. John Terry was on hand to grab a late goal with the game heading for a draw after Peter Crouch and Andriy Shevchenko had scored earlier on. That means England have a five-point lead over Croatia who bagged a 2-0 win over lowly Andorra with Ukraine a further three points behind.

Elsewhere, Italy have opened up a two-point lead at the top of Group 8 thanks to the Republic of Ireland dropping points in their 1-1 draw with Bulgaria at the weekend. With Italy busy beating Montenegro 2-0, the 1-1 draw between the Italians and the Irish last night leaves both team well clear of Bulgaria going into the next round of games.

France finally returned to winning ways this week with two 1-0 wins over Lithuania. Both goals were scored by Bayern's Frank Ribery but the French looked a little unsure of themselves and will be glad to face the Faroes in June having returned to second spot in Group 7. Serbia remain top of the group following their 3-2 win over a fast-faltering Romania.

Northern Ireland impressively took control of Group 3 with a 3-2 win over Poland (who last night beat San Marino 10-0) and a 1-0 win over Slovenia. Dundee United's Warren Feeney was 'Johnny On The Spot' with a goal in both games, although Man United's Jonny Evans was on the spot for Northern Ireland's first goal against Poland. Michael Zewlakov put through his own net for the third in Belfast on Saturday.

Nigel Worthington's men will be pleased with their progress, but Slovakia look set to oust them from their top spot when they face San Marino in June. Northern Ireland's next match is in September when they play Poland once again - this time in Szczecin.

As for the Czech Republic, their dismal run continues after they could only draw 0-0 against Slovenia and lose 2-1 to Slovakia. The remain fourth in the group - level on points with Slovenia.

Denmark and Hungary remained level on points at the top of Group 1 after both teams picked up victories against Albania and Malta. Portugal remain seven points behind them in third having drawn their only game against Sweden (who are fourth in the group) 0-0.

Finally, Greece have been joined on 13 points at the top of Group 2 by Switzerland who picked up a pair of 2-0 wins over Moldova. The Greeks could only draw 1-1 with Israel at the weekend before beating them 2-1 in Heraklion last night, leaving Israel fourth in the group behind Latvia who are third.

Coming up next, our look at what's happening in South America...

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