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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Sep 6, 2013

Spain take control as France stumble

After Cristiano Ronaldo's stunning hat-trick against Northern Ireland on Friday, Portugal head coach Paulo Bento says the striker will go down as one of the best players in history.

Spain need just three more points to qualify for the 2014 World Cup after defeating Finland 2-0 in Helsinki to extend their lead at the top of Group I.

Jordi Alba opened the scoring for the world and European champions, who were made to suffer until Manchester City striker Alvaro Negredo wrapped up the win late on.

Spain's closest rivals in the group, France, could only draw 0-0 with Georgia and slipped three points behind Vicente del Bosque’s men.

France's scoreless run was extended to five games, with Didier Deschamps' side well below their best in the first half -- and they were almost punished when Tornike Okriashvili hit the woodwork early in the second.

They stepped up a gear after that but could not find a way past home goalkeeper Giorgi Loria, who crowned a good display with two stunning saves in stoppage time to earn his side a point.

England strolled to a 4-0 win over Moldova, but manager Roy Hodgson was left fuming after two-goal striker Danny Welbeck received a soft booking that rules him out of Tuesday's crunch game in Ukraine.

Welbeck scored either side of half-time as England secured a straightforward victory, but the gloss was taken off the United striker's night when he was booked for protesting against a tight line-call against him.

Rickie Lambert took his England tally to two goals in two games with an opportunistic header while man of the match Steven Gerrard also got on the scoresheet with his first international goal in over three years.

Ukraine, meanwhile, sent a stark warning to England ahead of next week's vital World Cup qualifier in Kiev as they took San Marino apart 9-0 on Friday night.

While beating San Marino is the minimum expectation whenever a side plays the minnows, Ukraine were ruthless in their work and could have done little else to prove they are ready for the arrival of Roy Hodgson's men.

Montenegro survived a late onslaught from Poland to walk away with a 1-1 draw that left them level on points with England at the top of Group H.

The visitors made a dream start through Dejan Damjanovic's 12th-minute strike but Robert Lewandowski equalised soon after.

Robin van Persie struck an injury-time penalty as Netherlands maintained their unbeaten record in World Cup qualifying with a 2-2 draw in Estonia.

The Dutch, who had travelled to Tallinn with a 100% record in Group D, were moments away from defeat after Konstantin Vassiljev cancelled out Arjen Robben's first-minute effort and added another. Time looked to be running out for Louis van Gaal's side but Van Persie spared their blushes in the third minute of stoppage time after being fouled by Raio Piiroja.

Galatasaray striker Umut Bulut scored a hat-trick as Turkey cruised to a comfortable Group D qualifying win over strugglers Andorra.

Bulut struck twice in the first half and also scored after the break to complete his treble after Burak Yilmaz had netted Turkey's third goal. The hosts completed the scoring in injury time when Arda Turan headed their fifth to keep alive their hopes of qualifying for next summer's finals in Brazil.

In the same group, Romania eased to a 3-0 win against Hungary.

Miroslav Klose made history in Munich and helped Germany put one foot in Brazil in the process as he kickstarted a 3-0 victory over Austria.

The Lazio striker's 33rd-minute goal was his 68th in German colours and took him level with Gerd Muller as the country's all-time leading scorer.

It was a memorable enough moment in isolation but the goal, added to Toni Kroos' second-half goal, ensured Germany moved on to 19 points in qualifying Group C.

Veteran Anders Svensson left Republic of Ireland's World Cup hopes in tatters as he marked his record-equalling 143rd appearance for Sweden with the goal that secured a 2-1 win.

The 37-year-old midfielder, who matched Thomas Ravelli's leading caps total for their country at the Aviva Stadium, fired home from Zlatan Ibrahimovic's slide-rule 57th-minute pass to help the Swedes complete a stirring comeback in front of a packed house.

Kazakhstan claimed their first win in qualifying, coming from behind to beat Faroe Islands 2-1 in a battle between the bottom two teams in Group C.

Cristiano Ronaldo hit a second-half hat-trick to spare Portugal's blushes in a 4-2 win against Northern Ireland on a night that saw three red cards at Windsor Park.

The hosts looked to be on course for a stunning upset when Jamie Ward's scrambled effort put them 2-1 in front and a man to the good after Helder Postiga's dismissal. But makeshift left-back Chris Brunt saw red on the hour and Ronaldo took control with a pair of powerful headers and a late free-kick before Kyle Lafferty's dismissal completed Northern Ireland's misery.

Alexander Kokorin struck twice as Fabio Capello's Russia crushed Luxembourg 4-1 in Kazan to get back to winning ways in their World Cup qualifying campaign.

After their shock loss to Northern Ireland, the Russians needed to win to keep the pressure on Portugal in the battle for top spot in Group F.

They wasted little time as Kokorin struck inside 20 seconds and doubled his tally ten minutes before the break. Alexander Kerzhakov and Alexander Samedov joined him on the scoresheet while Aurelien Joachim grabbed a Luxembourg consolation.

Genoa striker Alberto Gilardino scored the first-half header that edged Italy closer to a place in the finals with as they beat Bulgaria 1-0.

Italy had gone into the game needing two wins from four remaining matches and victory put them seven points clear of nearest challengers Bulgaria in Group B.

Armenia's Gevorg Ghazaryan struck in injury time to claim a 2-1 win that harms Czech Republic's qualification chances.

The Shakhter Karagandy striker's goal, which arrived in the 92nd minute, gave the minnows an unexpected win on the road and allowed them to move level on points with their hosts.

Also in Group B, Denmark earned three welcome points to keep their dream alive but were anything but convincing as they laboured to a 2-1 victory over Malta in Ta'Qali.

Three months on from a humiliating 4-0 home loss to Armenia in their last Group B outing, Morten Olsen's men again looked far from assured and needed a 53rd-minute own goal from Ryan Camilleri to seal a nervy win.

Denmark had earlier taken the lead inside 90 seconds through Leon Andreasen, but group minnows Malta levelled through Clayton Failla's wonderful free-kick seven minutes before the interval and Denmark struggled to assert themselves in the second period.

Belgium took another massive step towards Brazil as they saw off Scotland 2-0 at Hampden.

A goal in each half from Steven Defour and Kevin Mirallas secured victory for Belgium and kept them top of Group A against a Scotland side that was by no means disgraced.

Second-placed Croatia lost ground as they were held 1-1 by rivals Serbia in Belgrade.

Mario Mandzukic put Croatia ahead after 53 minutes but Aleksandar Mitrovic responded 13 minutes later. Both sides ended with ten men after Serbia's Nemanja Matic and Croatia's Josip Simunic were sent off.

Wales lost 2-1 to Macedonia in Skopje as new Real Madrid signing Gareth Bale sat the game out on the bench.

Ivan Trickovski fired the home side in front in the 21st minute and, though the excellent Aaron Ramsey equalised from the penalty spot for Wales, but substitute Aleksandar Trajkovski struck the winner ten minutes from time.

Johann Berg Gudmundsson scored a last-minute equaliser as his hat-trick saw Iceland come back from three goals down to claim a stunning 4-4 draw with Group E leaders Switzerland in Bern.

Gudmundsson had given the visitors an early lead but Stephan Lichtsteiner scored twice along with Fabian Schar and a Blerim Dzemaili penalty as the hosts went 4-1 up with less than an hour played.

However, Kolbeinn Sigthorsson pulled one back before Gudmundsson struck twice to complete an unlikely comeback.

Goals either side of half-time from Tarik Elyounoussi and Joshua King boosted Norway's slim World Cup qualification hopes after easing past minnows Cyprus 2-0.

The hosts, six points behind Group E leaders Switzerland before the latest round of fixtures, took their time to get going before taking the lead through Elyounoussi's 43rd-minute header. Goalkeeper Rune Almenning Jarstein pulled off a magnificent save to keep the scores level just after the interval before King made sure Norway walked away with the spoils in the 66th minute.

Albania's World Cup qualifying hopes suffered a blow as Kevin Kampl's first-half goal gave Slovenia a 1-0 win.

Bosnia's hopes suffered a setback as the Group G leaders lost 1-0 at home to Slovakia in Zenica.

Viktor Pecovsk's long-range effort settled the contest in the 77th minute as Slovakia breathed new life into their own hopes of reaching the finals in Brazil next year.

Bosnia led the way by three points at the start of the night but saw their advantage wiped out by Greece - 1-0 winners over Liechtenstein - and now sit top on goal difference alone.

Greece and Liechtenstein had a man sent off -- Jose Holebas for Greece and David Hasler for Liechtenstein -- before Kostas Mitroglou finally broke the deadlock in the 73rd minute.

Nauris Bulvitis and Arturs Zjuzins struck to hand former Southampton striker Marian Pahars his first win as Latvia manager with a 2-1 win over neighbours Lithuania.

Information from the Press Association was used in this report.

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