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Associated Press

UEFA Qualifying Wrap: France held by Luxembourg as Group A gets interesting

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Croatia 1-0 Kosovo

After the match on Saturday was called off just 22 minutes in thanks to an unplayable pitch following torrential rain, the game was resumed on Sunday. Real Madrid star Luka Modric fed a free-kick into the box in the 74th minute, and Dynamo Kiev defender Domagoj Vida was there to head it home and give Croatia a narrow victory under dubious circumstances.

Netherlands 3-1 Bulgaria

The Netherlands bounced back from their brutal defeat to France as Davy Propper poached a pair of goals against Bulgaria, with Arjen Robben adding one more. Propper touched home Daley Blind‘s low rifled cross just seven minutes in, and while that was it for a while, Blind fed Robben in the 67th minute from almost exactly the same spot at the left edge of the box. Bulgaria responded just two minutes later through Georgi Kostadinov, but Propper bagged his second to put the game away with 10 minutes to go, heading to the far post off a cross by Spartak Moscow winger Quincy Promes.

The three points is critical for the Netherlands, especially considering the other results around Group A that keep them alive. Robben’s goal was his 34th for country, moving him ahead of Johan Cruyff on the Netherlands scoring charts.

France 0-0 Luxembourg

Easily the most stunning result of the day, a full-strength France squad was held at home by Group A basement-dwellers Luxembourg in a result that not only keeps the Netherlands alive, but also releases France’s chokehold on Group A, leaving them just one point in front of Sweden and four ahead of the Netherlands.

France held 74% possession and mustered 34 shots, nine of them on target, but they couldn’t find a way through goalkeeper Jonathan Joubert. Olivier Giroud, Kylian Mbappe, and Antoine Griezmann all started the game for France, and Alexandre Lacazette played a half-hour off the bench, but none of them had any answers.

Greece 1-2 Belgium

Romelu Lukaku celebrates with Belgium teammate Thorgan Hazard (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images).

A wild finish at Karaiskaki Stadium in Athens saw three total goals pour in across a four-minute span, the decider scored by Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku as Belgium became the first European country to confirm qualification to the 2018 World Cup. Tottenham defender Jan Vertonghen scored a fabulous strike from distance in the 70th minute, but the Spurs man lost Portuguese-born midfielder Zeca who flicked home a cross just two minutes after the opener, just the third goal Belgium has conceded all qualifying. With it all kicking off, Lukaku took a cross from Thomas Meunier and deposited a glancing header inside the far post.

Belarus 0-4 Sweden

Sweden took care of business as they went on the road and torched Belarus 4-0. Emil Forsberg scored the opener in the 18th minute and assisted the second, to Christoffer Nyman. Marcus Berg added a third just before halftime and Andreas Granqvist finished off the scoresheet with a late penalty.

Gibraltar 0-4 Bosnia and Herzegovina

With Belgium clinching Group H, that leaves four other countries to fight for the playoff spot, and Bosnia & Herzegovina took control with a comprehensive victory over point-less Gibraltar. Edin Dzeko scored a pair while Kenan Kodro and Senad Lulic each added one of their own. Bosnia & Herzegovina jumped Greece with the win into the playoff spot, with 14 points to Greece’s 13 and Cyprus’s 10. Estonia remains mathematically alive with eight points.

 

Hungary 0-1 Portugal

Andre Silva celebrates with Cristiano Ronaldo and other Portugal teammates (Tamas Kovacs//MTI via AP).

A red card to Hungary’s Tamas Priskin for elbowing Pepe in the face a half-hour in saw Portugal grab a man advantage, and Andre Silva provided the breakthrough heading in Cristiano Ronaldo’s cross minutes after the halftime break. The win allows Portugal to keep pace with perfect Switzerland, just three points back with the two teams set to meet in the final match of the group stage.

Latvia 0-3 Switzerland

Switzerland remained perfect in the group stage, picking up their eighth win in as many tries with a comprehensive victory over Latvia. An own-goal put Switzerland ahead nine minutes in, and while Blerim Dzemaili missed a penalty past the half-hour mark, he made amends just after halftime for a 2-0 lead, and Ricardo Rodriguez wrapped things up from the spot before an hour had gone by.

 

Faroe Islands 1-0 Andorra

These two sides have already been eliminated, but the Faroe Islands picked up their second win of qualification thanks to a goal by Norwegian top-flight winger Gilli Sorensen in the 31st minute.

Estonia 1-0 Cyprus

Estonia kept its hopes barely alive and dented those of Cyprus in dramatic fashion, with a stoppage-time half-volley from Fulham youth product Mattias Kait two minutes past the 90.

Euro 2016 qualifying roundup: Spain cruises, Germany upset by Poland

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On Saturday and Sunday this weekend, a series of international Euro 2016 qualifying matches took place, and among the more notable competitions, Poland shockingly defeated Germany 2-0. Arkadiusz Milik buried the first score, while star striker Robert Lewandowski played through Sebastian Mila to notch the the second goal for Poland, as the strong German side was held in check.

The Republic of Ireland smashed Gibraltar 7-0. Robbie Keane set Ireland’s all-time goals record with a hat trick.

Today, Spain downed Luxembourg 4-0, with Costa netting a goal in addition to David Silva, Juan Bernat and Paco Alcacer’s scores. England edged Estonia 1-0 on the heels of Wayne Rooney’s magnificent set-piece strike.

Other Euro 2016 qualifier results

Saturday: Romania 1-1 Hungary; Armenia 1-1 Serbia; Scotland 1-0 Georgia; Northern Ireland 2-0 Faroe Islands; Finland 1-1 Greece; Albania 1-1 Denmark

Sunday:  Russia 1-1 Moldova; Austria 1-0 Montenegro; Ukraine 1-0 Macedonia; Sweden 2-0 Liechtenstein; Belarus 1-3 Slovakia; Lithuania 0-2 Slovenia

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

Cristiano Ronaldo: a deliberate booking?

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For much of the match against Israel on Friday night, it seemed Portugal were still in the running to qualify directly for Brazil. Ricardo Costa scored in the 26th minute, and had Portugal managed to run out the clock and get all three points, they would have remained just one point behind Russia. With their final match against last-placed Luxembourg, and Russia facing fourth-place Azerbaijan, Portugal would have still had hope of avoiding the playoffs.

Instead, an error by goalkeeper Rui Patricio allowed Eden Ben Basat to slot in a goal in the 85th minute. At that point, A Selecção had a feeling a loss was out of reach. By injury time, Portugal knew wouldn’t be able to overcome Russia’s seven point advantage on goal difference. The playoffs were a certainty, thus rendering the final match against Luxembourg obsolete.

That makes Cristiano Ronaldo’s booking seem rather suspicious. Or perhaps fortuitous? The Real Madrid forward was shown a yellow card in injury time for protesting, meaning he’ll miss Tuesday’s match — and be available for next month’s playoffs. Pepe, too, picked up a card and will miss the Luxembourg game.

When questioned about whether the booking was deliberate, Ronaldo refused to confirm whether or not it was intentional. The forward said, “”I can’t talk about that [booking]. Fifa is always very attentive to those situations.”

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