Spain, England maintain perfect starts

Striker David Villa maintained European champions Spain’s perfect start to the 2010 Soccer World Cup qualifying with a late winner to sink Belgium 2-1 on Wednesday.

England, who overcame Belarus 3-1, and The Netherlands, 1-0 winners over Norway, also kept their 100% records. Greece, the only other European nation to begin the evening with maximum points, lost 2-1 at home to Switzerland.

Midfielder Alberto Aquilani scored twice for world champions and Group Eight leaders Italy, who beat Montenegro 2-1.

Germany also found it tough going at home against Wales, the Group Four favourites taking the points and a 1-0 win thanks to a long-range strike from Piotr Trochowski.

Spain stretched their unbeaten run to 27 matches and made it four wins from four in Group Five, but they had to come from behind to defeat Belgium in Brussels.

Vicente del Bosque’s team had won their first three games without conceding a goal, but their net was breached by Wesley Sonck after just seven minutes, the striker beating Iker Casillas with a looping header.

Spain striker Fernando Torres then limped out of the game and his replacement, Cesc Fabregas, created the 36th-minute equaliser for Andres Iniesta, who neatly rounded keeper Stijn Stijnen and scored from a tight angle.

Spain enjoyed a let-off in the second half when Carles Puyol cleared off the line to deny Anthony Vanden Borre, before another substitute, Daniel Guiza, crossed for Villa to head in the winner two minutes from time.

Hotshot Rooney
Striker Wayne Rooney’s two second-half goals carried England to a 3-1 win over Belarus in Minsk, continuing their fine form under coach Fabio Capello.

Rooney took his tally to five in three games after a double against Kazakhstan on Saturday and one in the 4-1 win over Croatia last month.

England, who took the lead with Steven Gerrard’s fine strike from distance before Pavel Sitko equalised, had never previously won their four opening matches in a World Cup qualifying campaign dating back to 1949/50. They top Group Six with 12 points, five ahead of Croatia and Ukraine.

“I said before the game Belarus were a very hard team to beat and this win was very important for us,” Capello told Setanta Sports.

The Netherlands maintained their 100% record in Group Nine with a 1-0 success over Norway in Oslo.
Midfielder Mark van Bommel volleyed in a 62nd-minute winner for the Dutch, who have nine points from three games.

Italy’s victory over Montenegro in Lecce meant boss Marcello Lippi, over his two spells in charge, has equalled 1934 and 1938 World Cup-winning coach Vittorio Pozzo’s record of 30 games without defeat.

The Italians have 10 points from four games in Group Eight, three ahead of Ireland, who defeated Cyprus 1-0 with a Robbie Keane header.

Solid Welsh defending frustrated Germany for long periods in Moenchengladbach before Hamburg SV midfielder Trochowski swept in his first international goal with about 20 minutes to go.

“I’ve had a lot of shots and one had to go in some time,” Trochowski told German TV. Germany top Group Four with 10 points, four more than Wales and Russia.

Portugal held
Portugal, the 2006 World Cup semifinalists, continued their slow start in Group One as they failed to break through against a 10-man Albania side who held out for a 0-0 draw in Braga.

Albania had substitute Admir Teli sent off before half-time but their keeper, Arjan Beqaj, was in inspired form. Portugal have just one win from four qualifiers and sit third with five points. Denmark and Hungary lead the way on seven points.

Switzerland appear to have put last month’s shock loss to Luxembourg firmly behind them as Ottmar Hitzfeld’s team followed up Saturday’s win over Latvia with an impressive 2-1 success over Greece in Athens.

Blaise N’Kufo’s quality finish 13 minutes from time kept the Swiss third in Group Two, a point behind Israel and two behind leaders Greece.

A second-half goal from Libor Sionko secured a first Group Three win for the Czech Republic, who edged past Slovenia 1-0 in Teplice. The Czechs are fifth in the group, five behind surprise pacesetters Slovakia, who deposed previous leaders Poland thanks to two late goals from Stanislav Sestak.—Reuters

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