FIFA WC qualifiers: Champions Spain held as Germany, England stroll

Reigning champions Spain saw their chances of direct qualification for next year’s World Cup finals suffer a setback on Friday, a home draw against Finland leaving them two points adrift of new Group I leaders France.

Sergio Ramos celebrated winning his 100th cap by heading Spain in front early in the second-half.

But that was as good as it got in the northern city of Gijon and Teemu Pukki’s goal 12 minutes from time stunned the reigning world and European champions.

With France beating Georgia 3-1 in Paris it is Les Bleus who top the table by two points at the halfway stage.

The French, now led by 1998 World Cup-winning skipper Didier Deschamps, had proved their mettle by drawing in Spain and goals by Olivier Giroud on the stroke of half-time, Mathieu Valbuena and Franck Ribery saw off the Georgians.

Spain now have to look for a result in France on Tuesday and hope they will not be so profligate as they were on Friday, a series of missed chances prompting Vicente Del Bosque to bring on Pedro Rodriguez, who had scored nine times in his last six internationals, for Santi Cazorla.

An effort from the Barcelona man earned a corner and it was from the set-piece that Ramos headed in his ninth international goal.

Thereafter, however, Spain drew a blank and Pukki snatched a point for the Finns as he ghosted in between Ramos and Gerard Pique to poke home.

“It’s a real shame this one got away from us,” said Ramos.

“We controlled the match but it slipped away in the final minutes. Doubtless we were thinking too much about France – now we really do have to think about that one. They are a great team, but we can beat them.”

England stay firmly in the Group H mix after trouncing hapless San Marino 8-0 away, Jermain Defoe bagging a brace.

But Roy Hodgson’s side still trail Montenegro by two points after the latter thanked a Mirko Vucinic goal for a 1-0 success at Moldova.

“It was good that so many players got a chance to play. Everyone brought their straw to the water. Even at 5-0 at half-time, we kept playing,” said Hodgson whose team travel to Montenegro on Tuesday.

Germany were almost as businesslike as England, two quickfire first half goals and a second-half clincher cementing their remarkable record of never having lost an away World Cup qualifier after swatting Kazakhstan 3-0 in Astana.

The win made it 13 points from five Group C games for Joachim Loew’s side and lifted them five points clear of Sweden, who could only manage a goalless home draw against Ireland.

Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mario Goetze took the sting out of the game with two goals in as many first-half minutes and Thomas Mueller drove home low and hard for the third for Germany.

In Group A, Croatia took the honours in their Balkan grudge match against Serbia.

First-half goals from Mario Mandzukic and Ivica Olic proved sufficient in a meeting in Zagreb which was the first between the two former foes as independent nations since the bloody 1990s war that tore apart the former Yugoslavia.

Belgium’s 2-0 win in Macedonia ensured they stay level on 13 points at the top with the Croatians.

Elsewhere, Cristiano Ronaldo picked up a booking and with it a one-match ban as Portugal could only manage a 3-3 draw in Israel, leaving the Real Madrid star’s side four points adrift of Group F leaders Russia.

Russia had hoped to bolster that margin with a win in Northern Ireland but Fabio Capello’s men must wait 24 hours after heavy snow in Belfast forced a postponement.

Fabio Coentrao rescued a point for Paulo Bento’s side in injury time after Hugo Almeida nodded on a Carlos Martins cross.

“The goal after just two minutes should have buoyed us but instead it ended up doing the opposite — we let our intensity drop and weren’t aggressive defensively,” said Bento.

The Netherlands, who were 2010 runners-up, eased past Estonia 3-0 to claim a fifth win in five and go five points clear in Group D.

Read more :
  • Dapudong to defend title on August 31
    Edrin “The Sting” Dapudong connects a solid left to the face of Zulu fighter Gideon Buthelezi. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO SOUTH African boxing, apparently stung by Edrin “The Sting” Dapu­dong’s sen...
  • Djokovic at his peak in Wimbledon lucky dip
    PARIS: Novak Djokovic believes he is at the peak of his powers as he targets a second Wimbledon title with his confidence buoyed by avoiding Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal in t...
  • Froome likely to lead Sky on Tour de France: Wiggins
    PARIS - Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins has hinted that fellow Briton Chris Froome is likely to replace him as Team Sky leader for this year's race, which is expected to favor the p...
  • Carles Puyol’s season at risk following surgery
    Barcelona defender Carles Puyol could miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery on an ongoing knee problem, club doctors confirmed on Saturday. Puyol finally had the surgery on ...
  • Italian international Cassano names son after Lionel Messi
    Antonio Cassano has named his newborn son after "the greatest player of all time", namely Lionel Messi, according to the Inter Milan striker. Cassano's wife Carolina gave birth to t...
  • Garcia, Bersamina score in Asian Youth
    INTERNATIONAL Master Jan Emmanuel Garcia and FIDE Master (FM) Paulo Bersamina claimed back-to-back wins in the Asian Youth Chess Championship 2013 in Sari, Iran on Saturday. Garcia beat Fa...
  • Eric Abidal plays first match since liver transplant
    Barcelona says Eric Abidal has played his first match since receiving a liver transplant and club officials say he is almost fit enough for first-team selection. The 33-year-old France def...
  • Rio Ferdinand still has England future: Lampard
    Frank Lampard believes that Rio Ferdinand has not yet played his last game for England, despite the defender having withdrawn from the national squad this week. England manager Roy Hodgson...