Sunday, 6 September 2009

Swedes surge as France flounder

Sweden gave some much-needed impetus to their qualification hopes with a 2-1 victory over Hungary on Saturday, while 2006 FIFA World Cup™ runners-up France were held 1-1 at home by Romania and look to be heading towards the play-offs.
In total, 21 qualifiers were held across Europe, but despite a raft of goals no team was able to join the Netherlands in sealing themselves a place in South Africa next summer. Game of the dayDenmark 1-1 PortugalGoals: Nicklas Bendtner 42; Liedson 86
Semi-finalists in Germany three years ago, Portugal can still hope to complete a miraculous comeback and book themselves a ticket to the global showcase. If they do pull it off they can thank newcomer Liedson, their Brazilian-born striker, who equalised four minutes from time in Denmark. The hosts seemed to have the match under control after taking the lead through Arsenal forward Nicklas Bendtner on 42 minutes, but they were unable to hold on and now Portugal must win their last three matches - including two meetings with Hungary - to give themselves a chance of reaching South Africa. Surprise of the dayFrance 1-1 RomaniaGoals: Thierry Henry 48; Julien Escude 55 og
Held at home by Romania, France no longer control their own destiny in the race for top spot in Group 7 and automatic qualification. Les Bleus managed to open the scoring through Thierry Henry but had to settle for a point following a Julien Escude own goal, with their big-name forwards failing to conjure up a winner. Raymond Domenech's side now need all three points in Serbia on Wednesday to secure at least a play-off berth. The other gamesSweden owe the unique talent that is Zlatan Ibrahimovic a debt of gratitude after the Barcelona forward earned them a 2-1 victory over Hungary in the dying moments. That result brought Sweden to within a point of the play-off spot in Group 1 and five points shy of leaders Denmark in a pool where anything can still happen. Earlier, they had broken the deadlock through Olympiakos defender Olof Mellberg, only for their opponents to draw level via Szabolcs Huszti's 79th-minute penalty.Switzerland also had cause to celebrate an excellent win after they beat Greece 2-0 in Group 2, with Stephane Grichting and Marco Padalino grabbing late goals. The Swiss now hold a three-point advantage over the former European champions and enjoy the same gap to surprise contenders Latvia, who triumphed 1-0 in Israel.
In Group 3, meanwhile, Czech Republic still refuse to let their chances die once and for all. Twice behind in Slovakia, they managed to pull themselves level on both occasions. Daniel Pudil's 68th minute strike responded to Stanislav Sestak's 59th-minute opener before Milan Baros' 83rd minute effort restored parity following a Marek Hamsik strike on 73 minutes. Elsewhere in the section, Northern Ireland picked up a precious 1-1 draw in Poland, all of which leaves five teams still hopeful of going through.
Russia moved to within a point of frontrunners Germany in Group 4 thanks to a 3-0 win over Liechtenstein, Roman Pavlyuchenko firing two of their goals from the penalty spot. First place in the pool will no doubt come down to the 10 October meeting between the leading duo in Moscow, with Finland five points out of second despite their 2-1 success in Azerbaijan.
In Group 5, the battle for second spot continues between Bosnia-Herzegovina, who won 2-0 in Armenia, and Turkey, 4-2 victors over Estonia. Turkey visit their main rivals on Wednesday in what will surely be a decisive game in the race for a play-off ticket. European champions Spain are out of sight after clinching their seventh consecutive victory in the group, 5-0 against Belgium.
Ukraine saw off visitors Andorra 5-0 to boost their goal difference in Group 6 and stay close to Croatia, who needed Ivan Rakitic's 24th-minute effort to overcome Belarus. The two play-off place hopefuls both face away games in midweek, Ukraine travelling to Belarus and Croatia visiting comfortable leaders England.
In Group 8, the top three all won, with Bulgaria managing to prevail in style, downing Montenegro 4-1 after being level 1-1 at the break. Pacesetters Italy won 2-0 in Georgia, thanks in part to a Kakha Kaladze own goal, while Republic of Ireland grabbed a 2-1 victory in Cyprus courtesy of an 83rd-minute Robbie Keane strike. Bulgaria will put their qualification dreams on the line in Italy on Wednesday.
Lastly, Scotland gave their prospects of finishing second in Group 9 a serious shot in the arm by seeing off Macedonia 2-0, a result which lifted them to within a mere 11 points of the already-qualified Netherlands. That is unlikely to be enough to guarantee the Scots a play-off place just yet, however, with just five teams in the section.The statEngland have scored 26 goals through 11 different players since the start of the qualifiers - the same number of goalscorers as Slovakia, who have registered seven fewer strikes. Germany, on the other hand, have hit 20 goals with nine players finding the net.Goal of the dayDenmark 1-1 Portugal: Nicklas Bendtner 42
Denmark's Nicklas Bendtner scored a stunning goal in the shadows of half-time to help his side to a 1-1 draw against Portugal and within touching distance of South Africa 2010. Bendtner leapt high to control a cross from the right on his chest and in one deft movement the Arsenal man thrashed the ball home with his left foot before any defenders could react.
What they said"What can we do to put these chances away? We can't do anything more in our approach play. It'll have to happen eventually," Raymond Domenech, France coach Have your sayWill Portugal and Sweden be able to turn their situation around in Group 1? Can France still go through after their latest disappointment?

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