The European section of qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil continued on Friday night with 48 of the 53 participating nations in action. Here's how those nations got on:
Serbia 0-3 Belgium
Belgium are starting to impress now after a convincing 3-0 victory in Serbia to put them joint top of group A with Croatia on 7 points. Aston Villa's Christian Benteke opened the scoring in the 34th minute before Kevin De Bruyne doubled the score midway through the first half. Kevin Mirallas put an emphasis on the scoreline in stoppage time. 8 of the starters in Marc Wilmots side are owned by Premier League sides, although Thibaut Courtois is currently on loan to Atletico Madrid from Chelsea and de Bruyne loaned to Werder Bremen from the Champions of Europe. Wilmots' side have now picked up maximum points away from home on two trips but will a 1-1 draw at home to Croatia come back to haunt them? There's a long way to go with Scotland the visitors on Tuesday. This result was a big blow for Serbia who had thrashed Wales 6-1 last time out.
FYR of Macedonia 1-2 Croatia
Croatia completed the double over their fellow former Yugoslavia enemies after having won 1-0 at home last month. Macedonia had been ahead on 16 minutes before Vedran Corluka equalised with little more than half hour played. Ivan Rakitic scored the only goal of the second half on the hour mark as Igor Stimac's side held on. Macedonia drop to bottom of the group with 1 point from 3 games whilst Croatia move above Serbia and co-lead the group with Belgium who they drew with last month. The third place finishers at the 1998 World Cup host Wales on Tuesday night in Osijek.
Wales 2-1 Scotland
James Morrison had poked Scotland into a first half lead against the run of play at the Millennium Stadium after neither of the two nearby defenders picked up the West Bromwich Albion midfielder's run following Steven Fletcher's flick-on. The visitors deserved to be 2 up with quarter of an hour remaining when Steven Fletcher headed home Charlie Adam's cross from close range. However, the referee's assistant flagged for the ball apparently going out of play. Replays showed the ball didn't come close to crossing the line. The Gareth Bale won a controversial penalty in the final 10 minutes after he tripped himself in the box. The Tottenham winger converted before hitting a stunning winner in the final few minutes. Bale has scored all 3 of Wales' goals so far in this campaign and his brave against Scotland earned manager Chris Coleman his first victory at this level.
Armenia 1-3 Italy
The home side made the most successful European nation in World Cup history work for a hard-fought victory to take them top of the group on Friday night. After Andrea Pirlo's 11th minute penalty gave Italy the lead it may have been easy to think they were going to stroll for a victory. The nation ranked 64th in FIFA's World Rankings came back into it after the opening goal and particularly looked threatening on the counter attack, especially when their players ran with the ball at the Italian defence. There was some fortune in Armenia's equaliser on 27 minutes when referee Marijo Strahonja of Croatia allowed play to continue when players from either sides clashed heads. This allowed Henrikh Mkhitaryan a wealth of space to run into before firing across Gianluigi Buffon for the equaliser. Both sides had chances in the second half before Daniele De Rossi powerfully headed home Andrea Pirlo's delicious cross from 5 yards midway through the second half. Pablo Osvaldo scored his third goal in the qualifying campaign in the final 10 minutes as this result sent Italy 2 points ahead of Bulgaria at the top of group B.
Bulgaria 1-1 Denmark
Nicklas Bendtner cancelled out Dimitar Rangelov's 7th minute opener as both these sides settled for a point in Sofia. The Bulgarians were actually played with 10 men for more than an hour in this game following Ivan Bandalovski's straight red card. Lubo Penev's side are second in the group with 5 points from 3 home games. This result may be seen as key points dropped if they are to have any chance of making it out the group with return games in Italy, Denmark and Armenia. They're away to the Czech Republic on Tuesday whilst Denmark are in Italy.
Czech Republic 3-1 Malta
Despite the half time score reading 1-1 a Czech Republic victory was never really in doubt in this game. Theodor Gebre Selassie's opener was quickly cancelled out by a surprise Malta equaliser. In the second half, goals from Tomas Pekhart and Jan Rezek meant the host side picked up their first victory in the group having been held in Denmark previously. A home game with Bulgaria is to come on Tuesday whilst Malta have 0 points from their opening 3. No real surprise.
Republic of Ireland 1-6 Germany
The Republic of Ireland were lambs to the slaughter as Germany fired 6 past the hosts in an emphatic victory. Marco Reus capitalised on poor defending to score the opener for Joachim Löw's side just after half hour. The Borussia Dortmund star doubled that lead 8 minutes later. At 0-0, Reus had been booked for diving after John O'Shea clearly hauled him down inside the penalty area. A let-off for Ireland who with 11 men were bad enough. After Mesut Özil converted a penalty 10 minutes into the second half Irish heads began to fall. Miroslav Klose scored from an acute angle as he got within 3 of Gerd Müller's national record 68 goals before Toni Kroos added to excellently struck goals. Keiren Westwood didn't make his first save until the 79th minute from a tame long range effort from Jerome Boateng when the score was 5-0. Substitute Andy Keogh headed home a stoppage time corner from close range for Ireland. Özil is now the joint-top scorer in European qualifying with 4 goals.
Faroe Islands 1-2 Sweden
The Faroe Islands with a population of around 50,000 people gave their 5,000 fans something to cheer when they took a surprise 1-0 lead after 57 minutes against a Swedish side that included Zlatan Ibrahimovic as per normal. The Scandinavian nation ranked 21 by FIFA escaped a shock thanks to Alexander Kacaniklic (within 4 minutes of coming on) and Ibrahimovic himself 15 minutes from time. That's two unconvincing victories for Erik Hamren's side who travel to Germany on Tuesday. Second is the best they can hope for in this group.
Kazakhstan 0-0 Austria
Kazakhstan picked up their 8th point in UEFA World Cup qualifying history with a 0-0 draw at home to Austria. The country which is situated in both Eastern Europe and Central Asia joined UEFA in 2002, picked up just 1 point; a 0-0 draw in Georgia, finishing bottom of their group with a -23 goal difference in the 2006 qualifying. 6 points were taken off Andorra 4 years later but this point against Austria will certainly be considered their best performance yet. Marcel Koller's side were narrowly beaten in their opener by Germany but will be expected to pick up 3 points when these two sides meet in Vienna on Tuesday.
Netherlands 3-0 Andorra
Louis van Gaal's national side failed to produce the emphatic victory many were expecting but remain joint-top of group D with a perfect record after 3 games. A large number of goals for the Oranje could have been expected after Rafal van der Vaart and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar both scored inside 15 minutes. Robin van Persie was rested in what was otherwise a very strong Netherlands team. Ruben Schaken made it 3-0 early in the second half as that remained the scoreline at full-time.
Turkey 0-1 Romania
Romania made 3 wins from 3 and 3 clean sheets in the process after they pulled off a 1-0 victory in Turkey. Gheorghe Grozav latched onto a through ball in first half stoppage time and finished from 25 yards after goalkeeper Volkan Demirel rushed out of his box in an unsuccessful attempt to reach the ball first. Turkey had most of the possession in this game but failed to do anything with it; forcing 4 saves from Ciprian Tatarusanu who kept his fourth consecutive clean sheet as the national team goalkeeper. His country welcome the Netherlands on Tuesday.
Estonia 0-1 Hungary
Hungary moved 3 points ahead of Turkey in group C but remain 3 points behind both the Netherlands and Romania after VfB Stuttgart's Tamas Hajnal scored the only goal of the game moments into the second half. Second place is not out of sight for the Hungarians, with matches against Romania and Turkey likely to decide where each of those three teams finish. Hungary host Turkey on Tuesday.
Switzerland 1-1 Norway
The Swiss dropped points in group E for the first time but remain top after a 1-1 draw at home to Norway. The best goal attempts in this match came from set pieces. Switzerland's Diego Benaglio saving two headed attempts in the 17th minute alone. Substitute Marko Gavranovic may have thought he'd scored the winner in the 79th minute with a decent finish after Granit Xhaka flicked-on Xherdan Shaqiri's corner. The lead lasted 2 minutes as Brede Hangeland headed home directly from a corner after beating Benaglio to John Arne Riise's inswinging corner. Switzerland have now only lost 1 of their last 11 competitive matches at home after a shock 2-1 defeat in Zurch by Luxembourg back in 2008.
Albania 1-2 Iceland
Iceland got to within 1 point of Switzerland at the top with victory in Tirana. Newly-promoted Serie A side Pescara provided the opening scorer when Birkir Bjarnason gave the visitors the lead in the 19th minute. The hosts struck back 10 minutes later when Edgar Cani registered his 3rd goal of this qualifying campaign. Tottenham Hotspur's Gylfi Sigurdsson gave his nation and Lars Lagerback's team 3 points from the second time in qualifying with the winner coming in the final 10 minutes. This victory means the top 2 in group A will go head-to-head in Reykjavik on Tuesday.
Slovenia 2-1 Cyprus
Slovenia registered their first points of qualification with a victory over Cyprus. PSV Eindhoven's Tim Matavz scored the home side's two goals in either half before Efstathios Aloneftis gave the visitors a lifeline in the 83rd minute. Bostjan Cesar was sent off even later but the hosts held on. He will be suspended for their trip to Albania on Tuesday. A win there will bring Slavisa Stojanovic's side back into qualification contention days before his 1 year anniversary in charge of the national team.
Russia 1-0 Portugal
In the earliest kick off of the day, Russia picked up a big 3 points top top group F with a 1-0 victory over Portugal. Fabio Capello's side scored the only goal as early as the 6th minute when Aleksandr Kerzhakov raced past the Portuguese defence before beating Rui Patricio one-on-one. The Euro 2012 mishitter now has 3 goals in Russia's 3 qualifying games. Portugal actually had twice as many attempts at goal than the home side, but failed to greatly test Igor Akinfeev. Capello had a great qualifying record with England and has continued that with Russia with 9 points from 3 games. His side take on Azerbaijan in Moscow on Tuesday whilst Paulo Bento's Portugal host Northern Ireland later that evening.
Luxembourg 0-6 Israel
Israel are winning the battle for third spot in group F after the biggest victory of round 3 with a 6-0 thumping of Luxembourg. RCD Mallorca's Tomer Hemed netted himself a hat trick as Luxembourg fell to bottom of the group on goal difference. The nation ranked 142 in the world have to travel to Tel Aviv on Tuesday for a second encounter.
Greece 0-0 Bosnia and Herzegovina
These two sides are part of a three-way tie at the top of group G following a 0-0 draw in Athens. This result will no doubt suit the visitors before Greece travel to the third nation involved in the leadership at the top of the group, Slovakia, on Tuesday. Bosnia and Herzegovina had scored 12 goals in their first two games before being shut out in this one. Edin Dzeko and Zvjezdan Misimovic remain amongst the joint-top scorers prior to Tuesday's meeting with Lithuania.
Slovakia 2-1 Latvia
Latvia were handed their second 2-1 defeat of the group as they remain on 0 points with 3 games played and all but out of qualification. The experienced Maris Verpakovskis scored a late consolation penalty after the hosts had strolled into a 2-0 lead after just 9 minutes.
Liechtenstein 0-2 Lithuania
The only nation ever to lose a football match to San Marino didn't have any more lucky on Friday as they were downed 2-0 by the travelling Lithuania. Both goals came in the second half an
d both were scored by Edgaras Cesnauskis.
England 5-0 San Marino
Davide Gualtieri got some attention to the media the week leading up to this match – he the current holder of the fastest goal in FIFA World Cup qualifying history when he pounced on Stuart Pearce's mistake to score after 8.3 seconds against England in 1993. San Marino failed to score in this one, but England had to wait until the 35th minute and a Wayne Rooney to break the deadlock in what expected to be an emphatic England victory. Danny Welbeck added a second 2 minutes later but it wouldn't be until the final 20 minutes that England increased their lead over the part-timers. Rooney and Welbeck scored within 3 minutes of each other again before Arsenal's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain curled the ball home to make it 5-0. England face a tougher opposition away to Poland on Tuesday but top group H prior to that.
Moldova 0-0 Ukraine
In the only other game in group H that took place this weekend, Ukraine were frustratingly held to a goalless draw in Moldova. After starting their group with a surprising and impressive point in England, this has certainly come as a step backwards for Oleh Blokhin's side. 5 points off the top but with a game in hand, Ukraine's first home game of this qualification is against Montenegro on Tuesday.
Belarus 0-4 Spain
Spain backed up their 1-0 victory in Georgia with a more-convincing 4-0 win in Minsk. Barcelona's Pedro scored his first international hat trick after club team mate Jordi Alba had opened the scoring in the 12th minute. Belarus have 3rd spot to fight for in this group but after bottom having lost all 3 games. Spain host France on Tuesday with both nations taking 6 points from their first two games.
Finland 1-1 Georgia
10-man Finland fought from a goal down to rescue their first point in qualifying at home to Georgia. All the action came within a 6 minute spell in the second half. First the visitors took the lead when Guram Kashia's header from a corner managed to beat Niki Maenpaa at his near post in which he was standing on, in the 57th minute. 2 minutes later and Finland were down to 10 when Alexei Eremenko received his second yellow card for attempting to fist home a right wing cross. 3 minutes later the hosts equalised through Kasper Hamalainen who managed to beat the Georgian goalkeeper from a tight angle at his near post. Finland don't play another qualifier until March, whilst Georgia travel to Belarus having won the first meeting between these two nations last month.
A full programme of qualifying games takes place on Tuesday before all but Azerbaijan Montenegro, Northern Ireland and San Marino take a break until March. Those 4 play again in November.