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INTERNATIONAL ROUND-UP: EUROPE

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Last night saw many countries across the globe go head-to-head for a place in next summer’s World Cup in Brazil.

 

In Group A, Belgium took a huge step towards qualification by beating Scotland 2-0 away in Glasgow. A goal in each half by Steven Defour and substitute Kevin Mirallas capped of a wonderful performance which proved too much for the Scots to handle.

 

Serbia and Croatia battled to a 1-1 draw, in Serbia. Croatia, who look set for a play-off spot, scored first through Bayern Munich striker Mario Mandzukic in the 53rd minute. Aleksandar Mitrovic then equalised for Serbia in the 66th minute. Both teams had a player sent off. Nemanja Matic was first to receive his marching orders for a second bookable offence. Josip Simunic also received his marching orders just five minutes after Matic was sent off.

 

In Group B, Italy moved seven points clear off Bulgaria at the top of Group B with a 1-0 win over their closest challengers, in Palermo. Alberto Gilardino scored the only goal after 38 minutes of what had been a crunch clash for Italy, who were missing Mario Balotelli, Pablo Osvaldo and Riccardo Montolivo through suspension.

 

The consolation for Bulgaria after missing the opportunity to move within a point of Italy was that they remained second in the group.

 

The Czech Republic stumbled to a shock 2-1 loss to Armenia as Gevorg Ghazaryan struck in the closing moments for the visitors in Prague. Tomas Rosicky looked to have claimed a draw by cancelling out Karlen Mkrtchyan's opener but Ghazaryan's last-gasp effort kept Armenia's qualification hopes alive.

 

Denmark won 2-1 in Malta courtesy of a Leon Andreasen effort and a Ryan Camilleri own goal.

 

Sweden's win against the Republic of Ireland moved them three points ahead of Austria, who were beaten 3-0 by group leaders Germany in Munich. Miroslav Klose, Toni Kroos and Thomas Muller were the scorers for the Germans, who remain five points clear at the top.

 

In the clash between the group's bottom two, a Kairat Nurdauletov penalty and an Andrey Finonchenko goal saw Kazakhstan come from behind to beat the Faroe Islands 2-1.

 

In England's group, Montenegro were held 1-1 in Poland after Robert Lewandowski cancelled out Dejan Damjanovic's early goal.

 

Ukraine hammered San Marino 9-0 in Lviv with eight different names on the scoresheet. Yevhen Khacheridi was the only player to score more than one.

 

A stunning second half hat-trick from captain Cristiano Ronaldo completed a wonderful comeback over Northern Ireland in a pulsating match that saw three men sent off. Bruno Alves opened the scoring midway through the first half but the goal was cancelled out by Gareth McAuley in the 36th minute. Jamie Ward put Northern Ireland in front early in the second half but Ronaldo’s run of three goals in 15 minutes simply won the game for the Portuguese.

 

Johann Gudmundsson completed a hat-trick in injury time as Iceland came from 4-1 down to hold Group E leaders Switzerland to a 4-4 draw in Berne. Gudmundsson's third-minute opener looked to have counted for little as Stephan Lichtsteiner hit back with two and Fabian Schaer and Blerim Dzemaili (penalty) also scored for the Swiss. But Kolbeinn Sigthorsson began the fightback and Gudmundsson netted twice more.

 

Tarik El Younoussi and Blackburn's Josh King were on target as Norway beat Cyprus 2-0 in Oslo to move second in the group. Kevin Kampl's goal gave Slovenia a 1-0 win over Albania.

 

Group G leaders Bosnia-Herzegovina lost 1-0 to Slovakia after a late Viktor Pecovsky goal. They now lead only on goal difference from Greece, who beat Liechtenstein 1-0 with a Konstantinos Mitroglou strike.

 

Nauris Bulvitis and Arturs Zjuzins struck as Latvia held off neighbours Lithuania 2-1 in new manager Marian Pahars' first competitive game.

 

Spain were 2-0 winners over Finland in Helsinki. The win put Spain firmly in the driving seat on the road to Brazil 2014.

 

France and Georgia played a very quiet 0-0 match.

 

 

By Eben Kofi Eshun

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