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By ESPN Staff

Owen spurs England past Israel

LONDON -- Italy made its bid to qualify for next year's European Championship a lot more difficult Saturday, and England made it much more likely.

The World Cup champions, playing France for the second time since beating Les Bleus on penalties last year in Germany, were held to a 0-0 draw, dropping them into third place in Group B with four matches to go.

England, however, successfully completed the first step of its six-point plan Saturday, beating Israel 3-0 in a European Championship qualifying match.

The other three points in the plan could come Wednesday, when England hosts Russia in a key Group E match that is likely to leave one of the two teams facing elimination.

Russia beat Macedonia 3-0 to stay one point ahead of England with four matches to go. Croatia, which had a chance take over the lead by beating Estonia later Saturday, and Israel were also in position to claim one of the two qualifying spots from the group.

There were 20 Euro 2008 qualifying matches scheduled for Saturday, with World Cup finalists Italy and France playing in Milan in the most anticipated game of the day. Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal and the Czech Republic were also playing later.

Shaun Wright-Phillips, Michael Owen and Micah Richards each scored for England, which entered the day in fourth place in Group E.

"It was important to win," England coach Steve McClaren said. "It does our goal difference a world of good. The performance was just the icing on the cake. We made Israel look ordinary."

Wright-Phillips, who scored his first competitive international goal, made it 1-0 in the 20th minute with a volley after Joe Cole's cross. Owen added another in the 49th -- his 38th goal in his 85th international appearance -- and Richards scored his first international goal in the 66th, jumping to head in a corner from Gareth Barry.

England has 17 points from eight games and Israel has 17 from nine.

"There's obvious gaps between us and the England side, and it was a well-known fact," Israel coach Dror Kashtan said. "These are not excuses, these are plain, simple facts."

Russia improved to 18 points by beating Macedonia with goals from Vasiliy Berezutskiy, Andrei Arshavin and Alexander Kerzhakov.

The Russians scored twice after being to reduced to 10 men in the 70th when goalkeeper Vladimir Gabulov was sent off for fouling Goran Maznov.

Zenit St. Petersburg goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeyev, who came on for striker Dmitry Sychev, blocked Igor Mitreski's ensuing penalty kick and Maznov's header off the rebound.

Northern Ireland, which had been a surprise in qualifying after beating both Spain and Sweden in Group F, lost to Latvia 1-0. Northern Ireland's Chris Baird scored an own-goal, tapping in a low cross from Imants Bleidelis in the 56th.

Also, it was: Georgia 1, Ukraine 1; Scotland 3, Lithuania 1; Hungary 1, Bosnia-Herzegovina 0; Belarus 1, Romania 3; and Luxembourg 0, Slovenia 3.