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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Mar 26, 2013

Spain back on top, England let it slip

Spain took a huge step towards qualifying for the 2014 World Cup after beating France 1-0 in Paris to reclaim their place at the top of Group I.

• England slip after second-half salvo
• Maher: Ireland's hopes fade
• World Cup Qualifying Gallery Photo Gallery

A goal by Pedro on 58 minutes was enough to give Vicente Del Bosque's side the three points, and they will guarantee their place in Brazil next year if they can gain seven points from their final three qualifiers.

France gave a good showing of themselves but Spain created the better of the chances, and their task was made far easier when Paul Pogba was sent off on 78 minutes after picking up two yellow cards.

England's passage to the World Cup just got distinctly more hazardous after a Jekyll and Hyde performance in Montenegro condemned them to a 1-1 draw.

Leading through Wayne Rooney's 35th international goal after six minutes, England reached half-time still ahead, having produced possibly their best 45 minutes under Roy Hodgson.

But as good as England were before the break, they were bad afterwards. Twice Joe Hart was forced to make excellent saves as the visitors found it impossible to relieve the pressure around their goal.

Substitute Dejan Damjanovic eventually found the net, prodding home from close range to defy further heroics from Hart and Joleon Lescott. It was the least Montenegro deserved, even though Steven Gerrard almost won it for England in stoppage time, and kept the hosts two points clear at the head of Group H.

Robert Lewandowski scored two penalties as Poland bounced back from their World Cup qualifying defeat to Ukraine by thumping Group H minnows San Marino 5-0.

The Borussia Dortmund striker netted twice from the spot either side of Lukasz Piszczek's close-range strike while Lukasz Teodorczyk and Jakub Kosecki were also on the scoresheet to complete an easy night's work for the hosts, who suffered their first defeat of the campaign against Ukraine on Friday. San Marino, meanwhile, have predictably lost all six matches and have now shipped 29 goals in that time.

Goals from Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Khacheridi earned Ukraine a 2-1 win and all three points against Moldova but only after the visitors had nearly caused an upset in Odessa.

Alexandr Suvorov netted what turned out to be a consolation for the visitors but meant a tense finish to the World Cup Group H qualifier for the home side, who also played out the final minutes with 10 men after losing Taras Stepanenko to a red card in stoppage time.

Germany took another step towards next year's World Cup thanks to their Borussia Dortmund connection in a 4-1 win over Kazakhstan.

Marco Reus was on target twice with Mario Gotze and Ilkay Gundogan also scoring for Joachim Low's men.

Greuther Furth's Heinrich Schmidtgal scored a consolation for the visitors, who caused Germany an unexpectedly high number of problems in the second half, leaving Low with plenty to ponder despite the victory.

Austria midfielder David Alaba left the Republic of Ireland's World Cup qualifying hopes in tatters as he edged manager Giovanni Trapattoni closer to the exit with a dramatic late equaliser in a 2-2 draw in Dublin.

Ireland were within a minute of securing a precious victory which would have propelled them into second place in Group C when the Bayern Munich man smashed an injury-time equaliser past goalkeeper David Forde to snatch a point which left his side in pole position to claim the runners-up spot instead.

Wales saw their hopes of World Cup qualification all but ended as Croatia came from a goal down to claim a 2-1 victory at the Liberty Stadium.

Gareth Bale had given Wales the lead from the penalty spot after Dejan Lovren had brought down Joe Ledley. But goals inside the final 15 minutes from Lovren and Eduardo leave Wales 10 points adrift of the Group A pacesetters with only 12 left on the table for Chris Coleman's side.

The result was poor reward for a fine first-half performance from the hosts, but their inability to retain possession after the break eventually proved costly.

Belgium maintained their narrow advantage over Croatia at the top of World Cup qualifying Group A after a 1-0 reverse completed back-to-back wins over Macedonia.

Eden Hazard struck the only goal just after the hour as Belgium followed up their 2-0 away win over Macedonia on Friday with another triumph. That lifted them onto 16 points at the top of Group A but they only remain ahead of Croatia on goal difference after their rivals fought back from a goal down to beat Wales 2-1

Scotland were once again off the pace as they slumped to their fourth successive 2014 World Cup qualifying defeat, 2-0 against Serbia in Novi Sad.

Gordon Strachan's much-changed side held out at the Karadjorje Stadium until the break but a second-half double by Heerenveen striker Filip Duricic gave the home side a deserved win. Scotland remain bottom of Group A with two points from six games ahead of the trip to Croatia in June and on this evid

Mario Balotelli continued his hot streak in front of goal with a brace to fire Italy to a 2-0 victory over Malta in World Cup qualifying Group B.

The AC Milan striker has now scored 10 goals in nine appearances for club and country since leaving Manchester City in January, with his seventh-minute penalty putting Italy on the right track at Ta' Qali.

Gianluigi Buffon did have to deny Malta's Michael Mifsud from the spot, though, before Balotelli found his second goal at the end of a devastating team move just before the break.

Italy did enough against a lacklustre Malta side to pull three points clear of Bulgaria, who reached 10 points with a 1-1 draw in Denmark.

Matej Vydra kept the Czech Republic in the hunt for qualification from Group B with a well-taken brace to help down Armenia 3-0 in Yerevan.

Vydra, on loan at Watford from Udinese, won the Championship player of the season award this week and celebrated by heading his country ahead two minutes after half-time. Substitute Daniel Kolar then scored to rubberstamp a win that moves Michal Bilek's men on to eight points in their bid to reach next year's World Cup, while Armenia remain in fifth place with three points.

Second-half goals from Bruno Alves and Hugo Almeida helped stuttering Portugal to a much-needed 2-0 World Cup qualifying victory over 10-man Azerbaijan in Baku.

Portugal went into the match having picked up only two points from their previous three qualifiers and having survived a huge scare on Friday when they needed a stoppage-time equaliser to draw 3-3 at Israel.

They were also without suspended talisman Cristiano Ronaldo for Tuesday's clash, but Paulo Bento's men eventually overcame a stubborn Azerbaijan to boost their hopes of claiming a top two berth in Group F.

After a goalless first half Portugal received a huge fillip when home striker Rauf Aliyev was sent off after picking up two bookings in quick succession, and the visitors took advantage through headed goals from Alves and substitute Postiga in the final half-hour to claim the victory.

Northern Ireland's Windsor Park woes continued as two late goals from Israel saw them defeated 2-0 despite dominating for much of the game.

After disappointing home draws against Luxembourg and Azerbaijan in their last two World Cup qualifiers they failed to convert possession and territory into goals before sucker punch strikes from Lior Refaelov (77) and Eden Ben Basat (84) cost them dear.

Netherlands maintained their perfect record as two goals from Robin van Persie helped them earn a convincing 4-1 Group D win over Romania at the Amsterdam ArenA.

Rafael van der Vaart opened the scoring in the 11th minute, while after the break Van Persie struck twice, the second a penalty, and Jeremain Lens added a fourth in the last minute, as Netherlands extended their lead at the top of the pool to seven points.

While the hosts' spot in Brazil next year seems almost secure, Romania are scrapping for the play-off place and this defeat did not damage their hopes too much, leaving them a point off second-placed Hungary.

The Dutch endured such a disappointing Euro 2012 campaign, but they have won all of their opening six qualifiers in the current campaign by at least two goals.

Substitute Daniel Bode scored two minutes after coming on as Hungary earned a valuable 1-1 Group D draw with Turkey in Istanbul.

Burak Yilmaz had given Turkey the lead eight minutes earlier, but Bode ensured honours were shared as both sides looked for a win to improve their play-off hopes.

Estonia won the battle of the minnows at the foot of Group D with a routine 2-0 victory at home to Andorra. Goals either side of half-time from Henri Anier and Joel Lindpere earned the hosts their second win in the pool. It doubled their points tally to six while their opponents remain without a single one.

Information from the Press Association was used in this report

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