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UEFA: England win in Lithuania, Lewy leads Poland to WC berth

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It wasn’t pretty, but England got the job done.

The Three Lions picked up a 1-0 win over Lithuania in the cold, rainy evening in Vilnus, Lithuania, with Harry Kane‘s first half penalty kick serving as the difference between the two sides.

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England controlled the match with 72 percent possession, had 10 corners and took 12 shots, but just four were on target.

With the win, England confirms their place atop Group F.

Here’s a look at some other action around UEFA World Cup qualifying:

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Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery, scores in England win

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Jermain Defoe’s friendship with terminally-ill Bradley Lowery has been special to watch unfold, and the Sunderland striker brought his little buddy to Wembley today.

Then he notched a match-winner.

Lowery walked Defoe out onto the field in a replica England kit before Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania, and then Defoe scored his 20th goal for country.

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It was his first since 2013, the last year Defoe was called up for the Three Lions.

Here’s the goal, which was followed by a second-half Jamie Vardy tally as England stayed atop Group F with a 2-0 win over Lithuania.

Euro 2016 qualifier roundup: Montenegro-Russia match abandoned; Spain edges Ukraine

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With Premier League teams taking the weekend off, international competition, notably Euro 2016 qualifiers, have taken center stage for anyone wanting to catch a game or two over the next couple of days.

The biggest headlines from Saturday centered around Harry Kane’s debut goal for England, which was scored almost immediately following his 72nd-minute substitution en route to a 4-0 defeat of Lithuania.

[RELATED: Euro 2016 weekend preview]

After Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev was hit with a flare by fans and tensions had mounted to the point of brawl, the Montenegro-Russia fixture was stopped dead in its tracks and suspended.

Here are the results of Saturday’s action.

Spain 1-0 Ukraine:¬†Spain is no longer the clear best international side in the world, and this slim win over Ukraine ultimately shows us, once again, that Vicente del Bosque’s side is very beatable. Goalkeeper Iker Casillas was forced into making multiple stops in the second half, and¬†La Roja’s defense¬†held on to seal the victory, putting them at second place in Group C’s table, three points ahead of their opponent.¬†The lone goal of the match was netted by 22-year-old Juventus striker Alvaro Morata, one of the more dynamic up-and-coming Spaniards. It was Morata’s first start on his country’s first team.

Moldova 0-2 Sweden:¬†If you were to pick a man on Sweden to convert his opportunities and lead his country to victory, Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s name would surface right off the bat. And on the heels of the former Inter striker’s brace, the Swedes successfully battled Moldova to widen the gap between their second-place standing and Russia in third. One of his goals was strikingly odd, while the other was a penalty kick effort with five minutes left before stoppage time. The best chances Moldova could muster were a few initially promising counter-attacks, but Sweden had their opposition’s attack soundly under control for the game’s majority.

England 4-0 Lithuania:¬†England¬†flexed their muscles once again, awarded with their seventh-consecutive victory in a convincing game vs. Lithuania. Rooney begun the scoring with a header in the 6th minute in classic style, and seconds before the half, Danny Welbeck, who has enjoyed an exceptional Euro qualifying campaign so far, found the back of the net by heading in a deflected ball. Sterling added a third when England’s captain fed him with a cross, and Kane headed Sterling’s ball at the far post for the fourth tally of the contest. Roy Hodgson and Co. now have a six point advantage over Slovenia in Group E’s first place.

Switzerland 3-0 Estonia:¬†Another game ended with a considerable range¬†between both teams, as the star power of Xherdan Shaqiri, assisting every Swiss goal, was on full display. Estonia netminder¬†Sergei Pareiko got a hand on Fabian Schar’s header in the 17th minute but couldn’t prevent it from counting as Switzerland’s first goal.¬†Granit Xhaka struck a hard, low shot from outside the penalty area that created the 2-0 scoreline ten minutes later, and then in the 80th minute¬†Haris Seferovic pounced on a loose ball in the box that the Blueshirts failed to clear away. Switzerland, sitting in Group E’s third place with nine points, is now tied with Slovenia.

Other results

Japan 2-0 Tunisia

Slovenia 6-0 San Marino

Slovakia 3-0 Luxembourg

Macedonia FYR 1-2 Belarus

Liechtenstein 0-5 Austria

Montenegro 0-0 Russia (suspended)

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.

[ MORE: Sturridge to miss England opener ]

– 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

Vedad Ibisevic goal puts Bosnia and Herzegovina into their first World Cup

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For 60 minutes, Bosnia and Herzegovina supporters were left pondering a missed opportunity. Lithuania were holding their team, first in UEFA’s Group G, to a nil-nil after an hour in Kaunas. Meanwhile, Greece had done up through Dimitris Salpigidis after seven minutes at home against Liechtenstein. If those results held, Greece would win the group, qualify for Brazil 2014, and send Bosnia and Herzegovina to another playoff.

Then the breakthrough – the team’s two star forwards combining to alleviate their fans’ festering worry. Lithuania did their part, too, their defense falling to stop Edin Dzeko from reaching byline left of goal before crossing for an unmarked Vedad Ibisevic in the six-yard box. The Stuttgart striker’s redirection past a helpless Giedrius Arlauskis not only put his team in front, it gave soccer fans among his nation’s 3.8 million reason to hope this close call would fall in Bosnia’s favor.

Twenty-five minutes later, their hopes were realized. Bosnia had qualified for the first World Cup in the nation’s 21-year history/ The 1-0 result leaves them with 25 points in 10 games, same as Greece, but thanks to a +26 goal difference (Greece: +8), a team that’s been playing under their own name for just over 10 years has made their first major soccer tournament.

They’d come close in 2010, qualifying for a playoff before losing to Portugal, 2-0 over two legs. The failure to reach South Africa emboldened hopes to qualify for Euro 2012, dreams dashed by another playoff loss. This time, the Portuguese sent them crashing out with a 6-2 romp.

That’s why avoiding a playoff was so vital. Perhaps Safet Susic’s team could finally tame that beast, but there was a feeling of inevitability about going to another winner-take-all match. Been there, done that, and especially having to go through it again after having Group G in their grasp, Bosnia and Herzegovina had more reason than most to avoid a playoff.

Instead, the team’s made history, something that could prove significant for a country that was set up and still exists as a divided entity. Those divides aren’t formally maintained in the national team, so although it’s always a bit altruistic to assume sport can serve as a rallying point, in Bosnia, there is a chance World Cup 2014 can have symbolic value. The potential for a divided nation to function as a unit exists. At least, it does on the soccer field.

In time the Ibisevic goal could become to Bosnian soccer what Paul Caligiuri’s “Shot Heard Around The World” is in the U.S., only its potential importance could be much greater. Both goals sent their countries to World Cups, but in the case of Bosnia, Ibisevic’s goal has the potential to symbolize much more.