Football: French, Dutch, Italians cruising as Villa sets Spain mark

PARIS, March 26, 2011 (AFP) - France, World Cup finalists Holland and Italy all moved closer to qualification for the 2012 European Championships Friday with away successes - while David Villa's predatory qualities rescued world champions Spain as they beat the Czech Republic.

France saw off tiny Luxembourg 2-0 to continue their resurrection under new boss Laurent Blanc after a catastrophic World Cup under predecessor Raymond Domenech - although Blanc admitted that "we weren't great and they were very defensive. Even so, the objective was to get the win."

Philippe Mexes and Yoann Gourcuff were the men on target in either half and the win means France now lead opening day Group D conquerors Belarus by four points - having played a game more - after posting a sixth win on the trot to all but erase the traumas of the World Cup.

Italy meanwhile thanked Brazilian-born Thiago Motta's late goal for a typically gritty 1-0 win in Slovenia.

But it was Villa who stole the show as he became Spain's all-time top marksman with a late brace - one from the penalty spot - to floor the Czechs 2-1 in Grenada after Jaroslav Plasil had broken the deadlock.

David Villa celebrates after scoring during their Euro 2012 qualifier round match Spain vs Czech Republic at Los Carmenes Stadium on March 25, 2011, in Granada. AFP

Spain roared back and Villa claimed his 45th and 46th goals for La Furia Roja in quick succession to surpass Raul in the goalscoring charts.

Raul scored his 44 goals in 102 matches but Villa has outdone him in just 72 appearances.

Spain, for whom Villa's Barcelona teammate Xavi won his 100th cap, are romping through Group I with four wins in as many matches for a six-point cushion over the Czechs.

Xavi, who praised the Czechs for giving as good as they got, told Spanish television: "It was a very tough match but we really fought hard in the second half."

On winning his 100th cap he added: "I'm delighted and I want to keep on in this vein."

The Barca star made his debut in 2000 in a loss to Holland, the side the Spanish beat to win the World Cup last summer.

Motta, in only his second game for the Italians, netted with 17 minutes remaining in Ljubljana, ensuring the Azzurri took charge of Group C.

Slovenia managed few attempts on goal and much of the hosts' passion could be seen not on the pitch but in the stands as supporters of rival outfits Maribor and Olimpia Ljubljana fought amongst themselves before kick-off.

With Serbia coming from behind to edge out battling Northern Ireland 2-1 in Belgrade, unbeaten Italy are now six points clear with half the qualification campaign behind them.

Northern Ireland looked set to cause a stir at the Serbs' expense when Gareth McAuley headed the visitors into the lead from Chris Brunt's free-kick in the 15th minute for his second international goal.

But Marko Pantelic levelled 20 minutes after the break and Zoran Tosic then scored a neat winner after a surging run by Milos Ninkovic with 16 minutes remaining at a practically empty Red Star Stadium.

Serbia had to play the match behind closed doors after crowd trouble marred their match against Italy last year.

World Cup finalists Holland are going well in Group E, and made it five wins out of five in outclassing second-placed Hungary 4-0 in Budapest.

Rafael van der Vaart bagged the opener after just eight minutes and Ibrahim Afellay made it 2-0 on the stroke of half-time before Dirk Kuyt and Robin van Persie wrapped up a one-sided affair.

Belgium were another side who pulled out a win on their travels with a 2-0 success at Austria in Group A, where Germany are five points clear ahead of Saturday's home banker against Kazakhstan.

Axel Witsel scored both the Red Devils' goals as the Belgians went joint second with the Austrians.

Joining Germany in action Saturday are Fabio Capello's England, who travel to Wales looking to overhaul Montenegro in Group G.

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