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Early Euro roundup: Welbeck shines for England; Minnows earn points

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Saturday’s round of Euro 2016 qualifiers are neatly broken up into five matches at Noon and five more at 245pm ET.

Macedonia/Slovakia, Spain/Belarus, Switzerland/Lithuania and Montenegro/Sweden are still on the schedule, but let’s take a quick run through the matches that just finished up.

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There will be parties in Liechtenstein and San Marino as the minnows picked up points against ‘superior’ competition. The latter picked up its first result in more than a decade.

England 3-1 Slovenia

The highest profile match saw England go behind at home to Slovenia… for less than a minute. After Jordan Henderson put an own goal behind Joe Hart in the 57th minute, Wayne Rooney hit the turf to earn a PK just 15 seconds after the restart. Danny Welbeck netted 7 minutes later to give England its first lead, and the Three Lions are six points atop the group barring a Lithuanian upset of Switzerland later.

Welbeck later added a second off a neat 1-2 with Raheem Sterling as England found cruise control. The match was Rooney’s 100th cap.

Luxembourg 0-3 Ukraine

Andriy Yarmolenko had scored just once for his country this season, against the United States in March, but netted thrice in 23 minutes for Ukraine. The Yellow-Blue are now tied atop the group with Slovakia, which plays later.

source:

Moldova 0-1 Liechtenstein

Franz Burgmeier scored the visitors first goal in five matches, as Liechtenstein snared its first win of this qualifying cycle despite being outshot 19-5.

San Marino 0-0 Estonia

The Estonian coach said his team would dominate and create many scoring chances, but barely held the edge in shots. Instead, the minnows kept their first clean sheet since 2004, which was the last time they picked up a point in any competition. Break up La Serenissima!

Austria 1-0 Russia

No David Alaba, no problem for the hosts, who got a 73rd minute goal from 1860 Munich striker Rubin Okotie in the 73rd minute to take a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Robbie Keane on being dropped to Ireland bench by Martin O’Neill

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The way he’s tearing up Major League Soccer, it’s easy to forget Robbie Keane’s place in any side isn’t concrete.

That was reinforced when Martin O’Neill decided to drop Keane from the Ireland starting lineup for the first time in 13 international matches, as O’Neill unsuccessfully tried to beat Scotland with a lone forward, Shane Long.

Keane subbed on in the 78th minute, and understands O’Neill’s strategy that he’s not the man for a lone-striker set-up. But he’s also adamant he can still be effective for his country, which lost 1-0.

From SkySports:

“If the manager wants to play with one up front, I’m not Niall Quinn or I’m not Shane Long – they are better at that than I am,” Keane said.

“If you play two up front and you want to score goals, that’s my game.

“Listen, I’d prefer to speak about the team rather than an individual, making a big deal out of someone else starting the game.

“The manager made a decision and you have to respect that. Playing one up front doesn’t suit me, I think that’s fairly obvious. I’m 5′ 10″, so it’s not my game.”

Ireland’s loss leaves them in a three-way tie for second place in Group D, and they hold two good cards in their hand: the 1-1 draw in Germany and the fact that they’ve yet to face one of the opponents above them (Poland).

L.A. Galaxy fans can rest well knowing the banged-up forward has been released back to L.A. before the first leg of their Western Conference final next weekend against Seattle.

Complete Euro 2016 Qualifying Preview: Road to France kicks off Sunday

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The endless international cycle is wonderful for viewers and exhausting for players, and European sides get right back to work with Euro 2016 qualifying beginning on Sunday.

Germany, of course, will be favorites to coast through qualifying after this summer’s World Cup title, but there are plenty of questions in what will become an expanded Euro field.

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– Can England do much of anything after bouncing out of the World Cup in the group stages?

– Is France ready to reclaim its place as an elite force in European play?

– Was Spain’s horrible World Cup just a bump in the road?

– Can a number of ‘under-the-radar’ sides announce their arrival as major forces?

Two nations from each group and the highest-ranked third-place team automatically advance to the tournament in France, while the remaining eight third-place teams will duke it out in a playoff tie.

Oh, international football, how we love you!

Group A
source: APTeams: Netherlands, Czech Republic, Turkey, Latvia, Iceland, Kazakhstan
The favorites: Netherlands, Czech Republic
First up: Tuesday — Netherlands at Czech Republic, Turkey at Iceland, Latvia at Kazakhstan

Prognosis: Would be a shock if the Dutch don’t progress, while Iceland, Turkey and the Czechs will be favored to duke it out for the second and third place spots. Ultimately, we’ll peg Turkey to finish second with the Czechs to snare third (although Iceland taught us a lot about resilience in nearly qualifying for the World Cup)

Group B
Teams: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Belgium, Israel, Wales, Cyprus, Andorra
The favorites: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Belgium
First up: Tuesday — Wales at Andorra, Cyprus at BNH

Prognosis: Hard to imagine the first two spots aren’t settled with Belgium followed by Bosnia-Herzegovina, but perhaps Gareth Bale can inject Wales into the discussion. Israel, Cyprus or Andorra finishing anything other than 4th through 6th would be quite the surprise.

 

Group C
Teams: Spain, Ukraine, Slovakia, Belarus, Macedonia, Luxembourg
The favorites: Spain, Ukraine
First up: Monday — Macedonia at Spain, Slovakia at Ukraine, Belarus at Luxembourg

Prognosis: It’s a little interesting after Spain’s fall-off this summer, but surely the death of tiki-taka has been greatly exaggerated. Could Ukraine or Slovakia pull off a surprise dash to the top of the group? It’s possible, but more likely that they’ll be working for second while Belarus hopes the group sleeps on its BATE Borisov-heavy roster.

Group D
source: APTeams: Germany, Ireland, Poland, Scotland, Georgia, Gibraltar
The favorites: Germany, Poland
First up: Sunday — Scotland at Germany, Poland at Gibraltar, Ireland at Georgia

Prognosis: Between Bayern Munich stars on Poland (Robert Lewandowski) and Germany (seemingly everyone else), the first two spots can be settled if Germany avoids a historically-bad hangover and Poland gets past its World Cup qualifying ghosts. It doesn’t get much better than Scotland and Ireland in the same group, though, and surely they’ll try to put a charge into Poland… and each other.

 

Group E
Teams: England, Switzerland, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania, San Marino
The favorites: Switzerland, England
First up: Monday — England at Switzerland, Lithuania at San Marino, Slovenia at Estonia
Prognosis: England can cast aside plenty of demons by picking up three points in its opener against the Swiss, though one gets the feeling Roy Hodgson would take a single point with glee. Slovenia is the class of the remaining four teams and has proven it can scare the Three Lions, but surely England will be a Top Two side, right? Right?

 

Group F
Teams: Greece, Hungary, Romania, Finland, Northern Ireland, Faroe Islands
The favorites: Greece, Hungary
First up: Sunday — Finland at Faroe Islands, Romania at Greece, Northern Ireland

Prognosis: While the Greeks will be favored to put the rest of the group into a slumber to win the way Downtown Abbey must clinch its many awards, this group could see just about anything happen. I like Hungary and Finland, while Vlad Chiriches and Romania did get to the World Cup qualifying playoff before falling to Greece (who actually scored thrice in the match). All bets are off.

 

Group G
source: Getty ImagesTeams: Russia, Sweden, Austria, Montenegro, Moldova, Liechtenstein
The favorites: Sweden, Russia
First up: Monday — Sweden at Austria, Moldova at Montenegro, Liechtenstein at Russia

Prognosis: Surely Zlatan will be charged up to lead Sweden to the top of the group after the nation’s World Cup qualifying failure, while Russia will be keen to erase its summer failings. Austria should have David Alaba and Andreas Weimann in the fold in an effort to hold off the other three — and make a charge at a Top Two spot — while Stevan Jovetic and Montenegro beg to differ.

 

Group H
Teams: Italy, Croatia, Norway, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Malta
The favorites: Italy, Croatia
First up: Tuesday — Bulgaria at Azerbaijan, Malta at Croatia, Italy at Norway

Prognosis: It’s a battle for third, if we’re honest, and even that fight should fit neatly into Norway’s favor. US, or at least Jurgen Klinsmann, fans will be hoping that special advisor Berti Vogts can help the Milli or Azerbaijan into shockingly-good form.

Group I
Teams: Portugal, Denmark, Serbia, Armenia, Albania
The favorites: Portugal, Serbia
First up: Sunday — Portugal at Albania, Denmark at Armenia

Prognosis: This group is tricky tough, with Armenia and Albania each finding their way into the Top 40 since 2013. It’s very possible that the top-ranked third place team deserves to come from this group, but they are going to take a lot of points off each other.

source: APFinal prognosis:

Group winners: Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Hungary, Sweden, Italy, Serbia

Second place: Turkey, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ukraine, Poland, England, Russia, Croatia, Portugal

Highest-ranked third place: Austria

Playoff qualifiers: Czech Republic, Wales, Slovakia, Ireland, Slovenia, Finland, Norway, Denmark

European qualifying roundup: Two qualify, while four groups remain tight

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The first two European teams clinched their places in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil by virtue of their victories on Tuesday. While Italy and the Czech Republic celebrate, the day’s results left four groups in which the top two spots are separated by four or less points, while two of those groups have ties at the top.

Russia 3-1 Israel

Russia retook control of Group F in an easy victory. Eran Zahavi scored a consolation goal in the 90th minute for Israel, but Russia scored three goals in the second half after a scoreless opening stanza to take the game.

Armenia 0-1 Denmark

Denmark still has a chance to catch Bulgaria and battle for a playoff spot in Group B. Daniel Agger scored the only goal of this game on a 73rd-minute penalty, which also saw Varazdat Haroyan sent off for Armenia.

Kazakhstan 0-1 Sweden

After falling to third place in Group C, Sweden regained its playoff positioning with a narrow victory in Kazakhstan. Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored 27 seconds into the game on what is the quickest goal the Swedish team has ever scored.

Norway 0-2 Switzerland

The Swiss needed a result away from home to stave off advances from Iceland and Slovenia at the top of Group E. All three of the top teams in the group won today, but Switzerland still has a five-point lead on Iceland and a six-point lead on Slovenia.

Romania 0-2 Turkey

Turkey’s win in Bucharest not only put the away team ahead of Romania in the Group D standings on goal difference, but it also assured that the Netherlands qualified for Brazil on Tuesday. The next three spots are separated by just one point, as Hungary also defeated Estonia.

Slovakia 1-2 Bosnia-Herzegovina

An away win in Slovakia keeps Bosnia-Herzegovina in first place in Group G, thanks to its plus-15 goal difference. Slovakia can help its opponent in the next match, against the other top team in the group, Greece.

Cyprus 0-2 Slovenia

The tight pack in Group E continues to be the closest race, with all but one team in the group still in the hunt for a qualification spot. Unfortunately for Cyprus, its 2-0 home loss to Slovenia only reaffirmed that it is the odd team out, while first through fifth places are separated by just eight points — and second through fifth have just three points between them.

Andorra 0-2 Netherlands

Robin van Persie’s second-half double sent the Netherlands into the World Cup.

Hungary 5-1 Estonia

After a humiliating 3-0 loss in Romania on Friday, Hungary turned the tables in a 5-1 home win over Estonia. Hungary now sits in second place in Group D by one point over Romania and Turkey.

Italy 2-1 Czech Republic

Italy overcame an early deficit to clinch qualification with a 2-1 win in Turin. Mario Balotelli scored the winning goal on a penalty, extending his perfect record from the spot in competitive matches.

Austria 1-0 Ireland

Austria extended its hopes of earning a playoff spot with a crucial 1-0 win over Ireland. The next match, against current second-placed team Sweden, could be decisive in Group C.

Faroe Islands 0-3 Germany

Germany rolled over last-placed Faroe Islands and remained well on top of Group C. Per Mertesacker, Mesut Özil and Thomas Müller provided the German goals.

Ukraine 0-0 England

A scoreless tie was enough for England to maintain its one-point lead on top of Group H in a hostile environment in Kiev. With its final two games at home, against lowly Montenegro and Poland, England will be confident of its chances to clinch a spot in Brazil.

Greece 1-0 Latvia

With a narrow win over Latvia, delivered by a Dimitris Salpingidis goal in the 58th minute, Greece stayed tied atop Group G with Bosnia-Herzegovina. However, the Greeks trail by a large margin in goal difference, making its final two games against Slovakia and Liechtenstein ones that it must try to win by large margins to assure automatic qualification.

Iceland 2-1 Albania

Iceland moved into second place, a position it holds by one point over Slovenia, with a 2-1 win against Albania in freezing Reykjavík. Albania struck first, in the ninth minute through Valdet Rama, but Birkir Bjarnason responded in the 14th, and Kolbeinn Sigþórsson secured the win in the 47th minute.

Belarus 2-4 France

France tied Spain on top of Group I with a 4-2 win in Belarus, but Spain has a game in hand, as it played a friendly against Chile. At least a playoff spot seems safe, as third-place Finland trails by five points; the two teams meet in the last qualifier of the group stage on Oct. 15.

Other results: Lithuania 2-0 Liechtenstein, Georgia 0-1 Finland, Malta 1-2 Bulgaria, Luxembourg 3-2 Northern Ireland, Macedonia 1-2 Scotland, Wales 0-3 Serbia, San Marino 1-5 Poland

UEFA World Cup Qualification roundup – England get the help they need

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There were some decisive matches today as Europe’s qualifying for Brazil 2014 is nearing a close.  Many groups have just one or two rounds left, so the races are shaping up.

If you’re unaware of how UEFA’s World Cup qualifying works, there are nine groups of 6 teams each (except one which has 5).  The top team in each group qualifies automatically, and the next highest eight teams then play a two-leg playoff round for four spots.  Thus a total of 13 teams make it to Brazil.

For an up-to-date look at the groups, here’s FIFA’s site.

Portugal 1-0 Russia

Helder Postiga scored early and Portugal withstood a vicious Russia assault down the stretch to take over control of Group F.  The result is massive for Portugal, who were propelled from third to first in the table.  Cristiano Ronaldo and company have 14 points which leads Russia by 2 and Israel by 3.

Montenegro 0-4 Ukraine

A match with huge reverberations for England, the Group H leaders fell when 10-men Ukraine scored a goal against the run of play, and then Montenegro themselves were reduced a man down when Vladimir Vokov received his second yellow in the 74th minute, and then dropped to nine men Savo Pavocevic befell the same fate.  Ukraine doubled their lead through Dnipro Dnipropetrivsk’s Yevhen Konoplyanka to sink the Falcons, and defender Artem Fedetskyy added a third.

England still trails Montenegro by 2 points in the group, but now they will have a game in hand to make up the ground.  Ukraine is one point back of England in third.

Moldova 1-1 Poland

Also helping the Three Lions in Group H, Poland were held to just a point, keeping them 3 back of England.  Borussia Dortmund’s Jakub Blaszczykowski put Poland up early, set up by Robert Lewandowski, but Moldova’s Eugen Sidorenco drew level before the break and they held tight from there.

Austria 2-1 Sweden

In a massive result for Austria, they stayed tight on second place in Group C after defeating Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden.  David Alaba converted a penalty in the 26th minute and Marc Janko doubled the lead just 6 minutes later.  Johan Elmander gave Sweden a lifeline eight minutes before the death but it wasn’t enough.

Germany has a firm grip on Group C with 16 points, but that second spot will be crucial for the team that wants to have a chance in a playoff.  Coming into the match, three teams (Austria, Sweden, and Ireland) were all tied for second with 8 points, but now it’s just Austria and Ireland with 11.

Ireland 3-0 Faroe Islands

A hat trick from LA Galaxy’s very own Robbie Keane also kept Ireland in the hunt for that second spot.  Keane became Ireland’s most capped player in the process. Their goal differential is way less than Austria’s though so they’ll need some outside help to make the playoff round in Group C.

Albania 1-1 Norway

The Norwegians fought from a goal down to grab a valuable point, but still have work to do for a playoff spot in Group E.  The draw gives Norway a 2-point deficit for second place held by Albania, with Iceland sandwiched in between.  Switzerland remain in first place 3 points ahead of Norway.

Iceland 2-4 Slovenia

A heartbreaking result for Iceland, they fell from 2-1 up and could not capitalize on Albania’s misstep, and instead find themselves in a dire position a point down of Albania for second place instead of two up in Group E.  The game started at a blistering pace, with the scoreline 2-2 by the 30th minute before things shut down.  Bostjan Cesar of Serie A’s Chievo Verona was the hero for Slovenia, scoring in the 60th minute to secure the victory, and Rene Krhin gave Slovenia a 2-goal advantage late.

The group is still wide open, with just three points separating the top 4 spots (Switzerland, Albania, Iceland, Norway in that order).

Liechtenstein 1-1 Slovakia

Slovakia rescued a valuable point to keep pressure on Greece for second place in Group G. Jan Durica leveled the match in the 73rd minute to make sure not all was lost.  A loss for Slovakia would have surely ended their hopes for the second spot.

Lithuania 0-1 Greece

A goal from Bologna’s Lazaros Christodoulopoulos allowed Greece to pull away from Slovakia for second place in Group G.  All three points put them three up in second place with a game in hand.  They’re still 3 points behind Bosnia-Herzegovina for first.

Latvia 0-5 Bosnia-Herzegovina

Nothing really to see here. The Group G leaders grabbed an easy 3 points after Latvia’s Aleksandrs Fertovs was sent off in the 10th minute.  Five different goalscorers bagged goals for B-H, including Edin Dzeko who scored the fifth and final goal in the 82nd minute.  They’re now 3 points ahead of Greece.

Belgium 2-1 Serbia

Belgium capitalized on a slipup by Croatia to take sole possession of first place in Group A as they beat third-place Serbia on goals from Kevin de Bruyne and Marouane Fellaini.  De Bruyne’s goal is his third international goal for the Belgians, all coming in qualification for Brazil. For Fellaini it’s his seventh, with the previous one coming against the Americans this week in a friendly.

Croatia 0-1 Scotland

Group A bottomfeeders Scotland are unable to qualify, but they did their best to play the part of spoiler.  Ranked #4 in the world, Croatia were unable to keep pace with Belgium for first place in Group A after Norwich’s Robert Snodgrass scored midway through the first half to lead Scotland to victory.

Czech Republic 0-0 Italy

In a disappointing result for both countries, the Czechs and Petr Cech are all but eliminated now, and Italy have lost their game advantage over second-place Bulgaria in Group B.  Italy do move to 4 points ahead in first, but a win would have wrapped up the group’s top spot.  Already struggling to find a goal, Mario Balotelli was sent off in the 72nd minute after his second yellow. He wasn’t too happy about it.

Finland 1-0 Belarus

Group I, the only 5-team group in the qualification, is pretty much over for the lower teams as Spain and France battle for first and second.  Finland’s win keeps them in the hunt with 8 points, 2 behind France and 3 back of Spain.