With three matchdays left in the qualifiers, Germany became the first team to book their ticket to the UEFA Euro 2008 finals after a goalless draw in Dublin that stretches their unbeaten run in the competition to nine games (seven wins and two draws). This result also helps the Czech Republic in Group D. While they did not play on Saturday, they now find themselves five points clear of Republic of Ireland with a game in hand.
|German footballer Per Mertesacker (R) hugs goalkeeper Jens Lehmann (C) (Photo: AFP)|
Meanwhile in Group A, leaders Poland have hat-trick hero Ebi Smolarek to thank for their 3-1 win over Kazakhstan, who had opened the scoring through Dmitriy Byakov. Finland were held 0-0 in Belgium, which allowed Portugal to draw level with them after their comfortable 2-0 win in Azerbaijan. The two teams will clash on 21 November. Serbia were also held to a goalless draw in Armenia and now find themselves playing catch-up.
The last three matchdays in Group B will see three teams fighting it out for two places. Scotland did what they had to do at home and proved that they are now a force to be reckoned with by beating Ukraine 3-1, putting their opponents out of the running for qualification. Kenny Miller, Lee McCulloch and James McFadden scored Scotland's goals in a match which saw eight yellow cards, while Andriy Shevchenko scored a consolation goal for the visitors.
After France finally managed to get to the Faroe Islands, Les Bleus ran out 6-0 winners, Thierry Henry scoring his 41st goal for his country (to draw level with Michel Platini as the national team's all-time top scorer) and rising star Karim Benzema netting a brace. World champions Italy overcame a number of absences to beat Georgia 2-0 thanks to goals from Andrea Pirlo and Fabio Grosso. It is as you were at the top of the group, therefore, with Scotland-Italy on 17 November likely to decide the fate of the top three.
Turkey found themselves chasing the game for 50 minutes in Moldova before grabbing a point thanks to Umit Karan, which keeps them in contention in Group C. They still have two tough ties ahead of them, facing Greece at home and then Norway away. For their part, Greece secured three points with a 3-2 win over a tough Bosnia-Herzegovina outfit thanks to goals from Angelos Charisteas, Teofanis Gekas and Nikolaos Liberopoulos.
In Group E, Eduardo da Silva scored his ninth international goal to give Croatia a 1-0 win over Israel, preserving their unbeaten run in the campaign and keeping them three points clear at the top of the group. England remain in second place following a 3-0 defeat of Estonia, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Wayne Rooney and an own goal from Taavi Rahn securing victory for Steve McClaren's side, who will face third-placed Russia on Wednesday.
In Group F, Sweden and Spain each secured important away wins to edge closer towards qualification. Freddie Ljungberg, Christian Wilhelmsson and Anders Svensson were on the score-sheet in the Scandinavians' 3-0 win over Liechtenstein, while Spain, without David Villa (injured), Raul and Fernando Morientes (dropped), managed a 3-1 win in Denmark courtesy of goals from Raul Tamudo, Sergio Ramos and Albert Riera. Despite having a game in hand, Northern Ireland are now six points adrift with two tough away matches to negotiate against the leaders. Latvia, meanwhile, upset Iceland with a 4-2 away win.
Romania also took a huge step towards qualification by winning their Group G showdown with Netherlands 1-0 in Constanza. Due to the absence of six regulars, coach Victor Piturca called up a number of players who had not featured in the past two years and Dorin Goian grabbed the winner in the 71st minute.
Romania are now five points clear of Bulgaria, who they still have to visit. Marco van Basten's men, meanwhile, are two behind but with the easier run-in. Minnows Luxembourg also scored their first win in the group, beating Belarus 1-0 away.