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South Africa

WC: Portugal woe, Dutch and England march on

Portugal's stuttering form continued as a goalless draw at home to 10-man Albania on Wednesday left them in third place in Group One.

The Portuguese have now gone three World Cup qualifiers without a win and lie two points behind joint group leaders Denmark - who have a game in hand - and Hungary. Perhaps more worryingly for coach Carlos Queiroz, his side, which on paper boast a wealth of attacking talent, have not scored in their last two games.

Albania played the entire second half with a man less after substitute Admir Teli was sent off in the 42nd minute - just 18 minutes after coming off the bench. But they battled for a draw which leaves them level on five points with Portugal and Sweden.

In the other game in the group, a goal midway through the first half from Sandor Torghelle gave Hungary a 1-0 over Malta.

The decisive blow came in the 23rd minute when a cross from the right by Roland Juhasz was headed home by Torghelle to give Hungary their second win in a row.

Malta are still looking for their first point and goal of the campaign after a fourth consecutive defeat.

Two goals from Wayne Rooney helped England continue their flying start in World Cup Qualifying Group Six with a 3-1 win over Belarus on Wednesday.

Steven Gerrard's stunning strike after 11 minutes temporarily silenced the passionate Belarus crowd, but a spell of pressure from the home side paid off after 28 minutes when Pavel Sitko restored parity.

England needed only five minutes of the second half though to regain the advantage through Rooney, and the Manchester United striker found the target again with 15 minutes remaining to kill off the match.

It marked the fourth successive win in qualifying for Fabio Capello's men and moves them five points clear of Croatia, who hammered group minnows Andorra 4-0 in Zagreb.

Schalke winger Ivan Rakitic opened the scoring after 17 minutes and completed the rout three minutes from full-time from the penalty spot. In between, Ivica Olic made it 2-0 and Luka Modric added a third.

Croatia move level on seven points with Ukraine while Andorra have yet to register a point and sit at the foot of the table having conceded 12 goals in four matches.

Stanislav Sestak struck twice in as many minutes late into Slovakia's World Cup qualifier with Poland to clinch an unlikely victory and fire his team to the top of Group Three.

Veteran midfielder Libor Sionko scored the only goal of the game to get Czech Republic's qualification campaign on track against Slovenia.

In Belfast Northern Ireland posted their biggest win in 13 years to thrash minnows San Marino 4-0. David Healy scored the opener after half an hour and Grant McCann doubled the lead on the stroke of half-time, before Kyle Lafferty (56) and Steven Davis (75) sealed an emphatic win in the second half.

Spain maintained their remarkable unbeaten run on Wednesday as they posted a come-from-behind 2-1 win against Belgium in a Group Five World Cup qualifier in Brussels.

Belgium's in-form striker Wesley Sonck hit his fifth goal in four qualifiers to hand the hosts the lead after seven minutes, but Spain hit back with a memorable effort from Andres Iniesta before David Villa bagged an 88th-minute winner.

Second-placed Turkey fell off the coat-tails of the leaders as they were held to a frustrating goalless draw by second-bottom Estonia in Tallin. The point leaves Turkey trailing Spain by four points after four games, one point and one place ahead of Belgium.

Bosnia-Herzegovina are next up on six points after they returned to winning ways with a comfortable 4-1 victory over Armenia, who remain without a point and prop up the group.

Alberto Aquilani's first goals for his country saw Italy hold off a strong challenge from Montenegro with a 2-1 win that maintained their position as Group Eight leaders.

Giovanni Trapattoni's side kept in touch with the Italians after striker Robbie Keane scored the only goal of the game against Cyprus in Dublin. The Liverpool hitman headed home the 35th goal of his senior international career with just five minutes gone to extend Trapattoni's unbeaten run to six games and put his side firmly in the race for top spot.

Georgia and Bulgaria are still winless after playing out a goalless draw which leaves both teams struggling to qualify for the finals in South Africa. Bulgaria were considered favourites for the tie having held world champions Italy to a draw at the weekend, but it was the hosts who played the better of the two countries and deserved all three points rather than one which did neither nation any favours.

Holland maintained their 100% record in World Cup qualifying Group Nine thanks to a 1-0 win over Norway in Oslo. Mark van Bommel scored the only goal after 64 minutes with a well-struck volley.

Norway fell to the bottom of the standings with two points after Iceland enjoyed their first win in qualifying with a 1-0 victory over FYR Macedonia.

In Group Four, Finland shot themselves in the foot against Russia as two own goals handed the hosts a 3-0 victory in Moscow.

Defender Petri Pasanen turned into his own net in the 23rd minute, Veli Lampi did the same shortly after the hour mark and one-time Tottenham target Andrei Arshavin added a third right at the death.

Russia are now second, four points behind leaders Germany who beat Wales 1-0, and on the same as the Welsh in third.

Switzerland ended Greece's 100% record after a deserved 2-1 victory in a closely-contested Group Two encounter in Athens. Alexander Frei's first-half penalty gave Ottmar Hitzfeld's men the lead before Angelos Charisteas levelled for Greece.

But Blaise Nkufo latched on to substitute Hakan Yakin's superb threaded pass to slot home 13 minutes from full-time to snatch three precious points for the Swiss.

Vladimirs Kolesnichenko struck a late leveller to secure a point for Latvia in a 1-1 draw against Israel who had taken the lead through Liverpool's Yossi Benayoun.

Elsewhere, Luxembourg were twice denied by the woodwork as they let slip a glorious chance to claim only their second ever World Cup qualifying win against Moldova with the match ending goalless.

Serbia and Lithuania have a five-point cushion at the top of Group Seven after both sides picked up their third World Cup Qualifying win on Wednesday.

Serbia produced a devastating first-half spell to claim a 3-1 victory in Austria, while a Tomas Danilevicius goal gave Lithuania a rather more low-key 1-0 success at home to the Faroe Islands.

The duo now head the group on nine points, with Austria, France and Romania - the latter two having a game in hand - all on four.

In Kaunas Danilevicius scored his third goal of qualifying as Lithuania squeaked past their visitors. The Livorno man - whose career has taken him to Serie A via the likes of Dynamo Moscow, Arsenal and Dunfermline - struck a long-range winner in the 22nd minute to keep his side on track to reach their first ever World Cup finals.


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