Spain hold course, Dutch edge Hungary in thriller

Edgaras Cesnauskis (L) of Lithuania fights for the ball with Xabier Alonso of Spain during their Euro 2012 qualifying football match in Kaunas on March 29, 2011. AFP

PARIS, March 30, 2011 (AFP) - Defending champions Spain beat Lithuania 3-1 on Tuesday to remain unbeaten in their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign, while the Netherlands edged Hungary in an eight-goal thriller in Amsterdam.

Spain now have a six-point lead in Group I, after seeing off Lithuania on a wretchedly bare pitch in Kaunas that had prompted calls for the game to be postponed.

"It was important to win today despite the lamentable state of the pitch," Spain midfielder Xavi told Telecinco.

"It's just sand, it's sad to see a pitch like that. You can't play football here. But we're happy. We have a foot and a half in the Euro."

Xavi gave the visitors a 20th-minute lead with a deflected shot but Marius Stankevicius, who plays for Spanish club Valencia, drew Lithuania level in the 57th minute with a sensational low drive from 30 yards.

The world and European champions re-established their advantage just eight minutes later, however, when defender Tadas Kijanskas put through his own goal under pressure from Fernando Llorente.

Stankevicius's Valencia team-mate Juan Manuel Mata finished a slick move to make it 3-1 with seven minutes to play, as Spain recorded their fifth straight victory in the qualifying tournament.

In the evening's other Group I match, the Czech Republic galvanised their grip on second place by winning 2-0 at home to bottom side Liechtenstein.

Holland, beaten 1-0 by Spain in last year's World Cup final in South Africa, needed a late Dirk Kuyt brace to see off Hungary 5-3 in a memorable encounter at the Amsterdam ArenA.

Hungary were gunning for revenge after being thrashed 4-0 by the Dutch last Friday but they fell behind to a 13th-minute strike by Robin van Persie.

The score remained unchanged until half-time but Bari striker Gergely Rudolf drew the visitors level within one minute of kick-off in the second half before a sharp volley from Zoltan Gera nudged Hungary ahead.

Wesley Sneijder drew Holland level on the hour and Ruud van Nistelrooy restored their advantage in the 72nd minute, only for Gera to bring Hungary level again just three minutes later.

Kuyt got on the score-sheet for the first time three minutes after Gera's equaliser and then killed off the game -- and a frantic period of scoring -- with his second and the Netherlands' fifth in the 81st minute.

Like Spain, Holland are yet to drop points in six games in Group E and ended the night nine points clear of Sweden, who beat Moldova 2-1 and have two games in hand.

Hungary are third, level on points with Sweden, but having played two games more.

Elsewhere, Belgium closed to within five points of Group A leaders Germany by beating Azerbaijan 4-1 in Brussels.

Guus Hiddink's Turkey defeated Austria 2-0 and are now a point behind the Belgians in third place with a game in hand.

In Group C, Serbia, Northern Ireland and Slovenia all failed to make up ground on leaders Italy.

An 84th-minute equaliser from Estonian attacking midfielder Konstantin Vassiljev saw Serbia held to a 1-1 draw in Tallinn, while Slovenia's trip to Northern Ireland ended in a goalless stalemate.

Italy are now five points clear of Serbia and Slovenia, with a game in hand.

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