Italy drew 0-0 with France in their World Cup final repeat, Germany and England notched easy wins and 10-man Spain were frustrated by a 1-1 draw in Iceland in Saturday’s Euro 2008 qualifiers.
The battle to reach the finals in Austria and Switzerland also saw The Netherlands beat Bulgaria 2-0, while the day’s other upset left Turkey with only a 2-2 draw in Malta.
The showcase game was at Milan’s San Siro stadium, where 2006 World Cup winners Italy took on the French in a game which provided plenty of tension and passion.
The best chance fell to Filippo Inzaghi, whose goals won this year’s Champions League final for AC Milan against Liverpool but whose touch deserted him at his home ground when he hit the bar on the half-hour mark.
Chances also fell to teammates Alessandro Del Piero and captain Fabio Cannavaro, while Nicolas Anelka had the best opportunities for the visitors, who finished up by putting a small dent in Italy’s qualifying hopes.
France coach Raymond Domenech, who watched from the stands due to a UEFA touchline ban, kept his side top of Group B with 19 points.
Scotland, who beat Lithuania 3-1 in Glasgow, are a point behind, while Italy to third on 17 after eight matches.
Germany showed the rest of Europe how it should be done. Their 2-0 Group D win over Wales in Cardiff gave them 22 points from a possible 24 and at least one foot in the finals.
Striker Miroslav Klose, top scorer at the 2006 World Cup on home soil, claimed both the goals, a neat low finish after five minutes and a second-half header.
The Czech Republic staked their claim to the runners-up slot, beating 10-man San Marino 3-0 to move clear of Ireland, who conceded a stoppage-time goal to draw 2-2 in Slovakia.
England coach Steve McClaren could afford a smile after his previously misfiring side trounced Israel 3-0 at Wembley to move up to third in Group E.
Goals from winger Shaun Wright-Phillips, striker Michael Owen and teenage defender Micah Richards will lift the pressure on McClaren before Wednesday’s key game in north-west London against second-placed Russia.
Group leaders Croatia stayed on course for the finals, their Brazilian-born striker Eduardo da Silva scoring both goals in a 2-0 win over Estonia.
The day’s upsets were in Iceland and Malta.
Spain lost midfielder Xabi Alonso to a 19th-minute red card for stamping and fell behind to Emil Hallfredsson’s strike shortly before halftime.
Just as embarrassing defeat beckoned, Spain snatched a point through Andres Iniesta’s equaliser in the 86th minute.
The draw will have provided a crumb of comfort for Northern Ireland, who stay second in Group F but level on 16 points with the Spaniards after they lost 1-0 to Latvia courtesy of a Chris Baird own goal.
Leaders Sweden drew 0-0 with Denmark.
Turkey’s draw in Malta, which needed a 76th-minute equaliser from Servet Cetin to secure, left them third in Group C.
Group A leaders Poland grabbed a late point in Portugal, with Krzysztof Lagiewka making it 2-2 against the Euro 2004 hosts in the 87th minute. – Reuters