Teams book their places in World Cup finals
Croatia, The Netherlands, Poland, Italy and England on Saturday booked their places at next year’s World Cup finals to join fellow European qualifiers, Ukraine and Germany.
Croatia beat Sweden 1-0 through Darijo Srna’s 56th minute penalty, while England also needed a penalty—scored by Frank Lampard in the 25th minute—to edge out Austria by the same score.
Netherlands beat the Czech Republic 2-0 in a Group 1 match played in Prague to not only be assured of first place in their group—they are on 31 points, six more than Romania and seven more than the Czechs—the result also saw England, Poland and Croatia qualify for the finals.
In Group Six, England are assured of finishing at least as one of the two best second place finishers—a place that would see them qualify for Germany.
Also through in the same group are Poland, who head the group by two points from England and travel to Manchester for a table-topping clash on Wednesday.
England will be without captain David Beckham, who was sent off in the second half for a second bookable offence.
Croatia, who went into their game against Sweden trailing the Scandinavians in Group Eight by a point, are also assured of finishing as one of the two best second place finishers.
In Group Five, Italy needed only a point from their match against Slovenia, but they were left to struggle as Cristian Zaccardo finally found the winner in the 77th minute.
Norway have secured second spot in the group after beating Moldova 1-0. They are second on 15 points—three ahead of Slovenia, but have the better head to head record.
Elsewhere, Scotland lost at home in Glasgow to Belarus from Vitaly Kutuzov’s low shot in the fifth minute of their Group Five tie.
In Group Seven Serbia beat Lithuania 2-0 to keep their lead at the top of the table from Spain to two.
Goals late in the first and second halves by Mateja Kezman (42) and Zvonimir Vukic (88) gave the Serbians the all-important victory, which means they will qualify for Germany if they beat Bosnia- Herzegovina on Wednesday.
Spain beat Belgium 2-0 through goals by Fernando Torres.
Bosnia-Herzegovina also stay in contention after a Elvir Bolic hattrick gave them a 3-0 victory over San Marino. They now face the Serbs in their final group game on Wednesday.
The winner from each group advances directly to the 2006 finals along with the two best second-place finishers.
The other six number 2 teams meet for three playoff ties.
Slovakia will host Russia for a second-place showdown in Group Three on Wednesday after both sides moved to 22 points on Saturday, Russia beating Luxembourg 5-1 and Slovakia edging Estonia 1-0.
Portugal lead the way with 24 points and are expected to qualify later on Saturday in their home against minnows Liechtenstein.
The position in Group Four remains open with Israel topping the group on 18 points after their 2-1 win against the Faroe Islands.
Switzerland and France are on 17 points after playing to a 1-1 draw in Basle but have a game in hand.
Ireland also kept alive their hopes of qualifying from the group with an unconvincing 1-0 victory in Cyprus with the only goal of the match being scored in the 6th minute through Stephen Elliott.
Ukraine, who went into Saturday’s matches as the only European country apart from the directly qualified hosts, Germany, to have booked their place at the finals, were held to a 2-2 draw by Albania in Group Two, where Georgia and Kazakhstan played to a goalless draw.
Euro champions Greece will need a miracle if they want to make it to Germany after losing 1-0 in Denmark. The Danes are one points behind Turkey and one ahead of Greece with all three teams having one game to play.
A total 21 games were played on Saturday in the European qualifying zone for the 32-team finals next year in Germany.
In another Group Six game, Wales got their first campaign win 3-2 in Northern Ireland, with Manchester United’s Ryan Giggs the hero at Windsor Park with a winning curling freekick just after the hour.
Romania won 1-0 in Finland from Adrian Mutu’s 41st-minute penalty finish their group 1 campaign with 25 points.
In Moscow, a double from Dmitiri Kirichenko in the closing minutes, Marat Izmailov (seventh), Alexander Kerzhakov (18th) and Roman Pavluchenko (65th) gave Russia an easy win over Luxembourg, who scored from a Claude Reiter penalty in the 52nd.
But Slovakia also prevailed from Peter Hlinka’s 76th-minute winner against Estonia which sets up a crucial duel next week.
Bulgaria defeated Hungary 2-0 in a early Group Eight game. - Sapa-DPA