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Oct 11, 2009

World Cup round-up

In a night of drama in World Cup qualifying, Germany, Italy, Serbia, Denmark, the Ivory Coast and Chile all secured safe passage to the 2010 finals in South Africa, while others will have to wait another four years after their dreams were shattered.

UEFA QUALIFICATION

A long-range strike from Jacob Poulsen secured Denmark's passage to the finals as they narrowly defeated neighbours Sweden 1-0 to leave the Group One qualification hopes of Lars Lagerbäck's side in the balance.

The breakthrough came as Poulsen's low drive from 25 yards, after a Nicklas Bendtner lay-off, bounced beyond Isaksson's ineffectual dive to break the midfielder's international duck and put his side in front.

Portugal re-ignited their qualification hopes, climbing above Sweden into second place in the group with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Hungary.

Hungary were level on points with Portugal going into the game at the Estadio da Luz, but two goals from Simao either side of Liedson's header have left the visitors needing a small miracle to qualify. Cristiano Ronaldo limp off in the 25th minute tonight - meaning the Real Madrid star will surely be a major doubt for Wednesday's crunch qualifier against Malta.

Two goals in as many minutes from defender Philippe Senderos teed up a comfortable 3-0 victory against Luxembourg to see Switzerland in pole position in Group Two, three points above second-placed Greece.

Arsenal centre-half Senderos netted in the sixth minute to put his side ahead, before repeating the feat two minutes later as the Swiss took control of both the match and their hopes of a place in South Africa. Benjamin Huggel made it three after 22 minutes, and the hosts were unable to muster a response.

Switzerland must wait until Wednesday's home clash with Israel to book their place at the 2010 World Cup finals, despite securing their sixth win in qualifying.

Greece could yet steal top spot from Switzerland, after Theofanis Gekas hit four goals in a 5-2 defeat of Latvia. Gekas' opener after four minutes was cancelled out by two Maris Verpakovskis strikes.

But a Gekas penalty, after Giorgios Samaras was brought down, brought Greece level - and his third goal of the night put the hosts in front. Celtic forward Samaras then scored with a clever overhead kick 17 minutes from time - and Gekas tapped in his fourth to complete the victory.

Greece require a win over Luxembourg in Athens on Wednesday to secure their play-off place - and a favourable result could see them qualify automatically, if Israel can win in Switzerland.

Israel recorded their fourth win of the campaign in the penultimate round of matches with a 3-1 defeat of Moldova to keep their play-off hopes alive.

Elyaniv Barda struck twice, either side of a David Ben Dayan goal, as Israel established a three-goal cushion at Ramat Gan national stadium before Denis Calincov's late consolation for the visitors.

Slovenia all but assured themselves of at least a play-off place in their World Cup qualifying bid after winning away to Group Three leaders Slovakia.

Valter Birsa's 56th-minute strike from the edge of the box and Nejc Pecnik's late breakaway strike earned the visitors victory which means they need only to beat San Marino - bottom of the group having lost all nine games, scoring one goal and conceding 44 - to assure themselves of second place and push for top spot.

Slovakia, meanwhile, must win in Poland to assure themselves of an automatic presence in South Africa, while the result also meant the Czech Republic's 2-0 win over the Poles counted for little.

Second-half goals from substitute Tomas Necid and Jaroslav Plasil earned Ivan Hasek's team the three points after forward Milan Baros was denied by an offside flag before the interval.

But they still trail Slovenia by two points and must therefore beat Northern Ireland at home in Wednesday's final game and also rely on San Marino - beaten 5-0 in Maribor in August - springing one of the all-time great shocks.

In Group Four, Miroslav Klose scored the only goal of the game in the 34th minute to ensure Germany's passage to the 2010 finals with victory in Russia.

The visitors weathered early and late storms and rode their luck after Jerome Boateng was sent off on his debut in the 69th minute. Joachim Low's side held on to open up an unassailable four-point lead at the top of the group with one game remaining, leaving Guus Hiddink's Russia with the consolation of a place in the play-offs.

Finland made sure of third place with a 2-1 home victory over Wales in Helsinki. Craig Bellamy's first-half equaliser was his 17th for his country, and he is now Wales' fifth highest all-time scorer. The hosts led early on through Roni Porokara, and grabbed a late winner from defender Niklas Moisander in a barely half-full stadium in the Finnish capital.

Azerbaijan moved off the bottom of the table courtesy of their first win of the qualifying campaign - 2-0 over Liechtenstein in Vaduz. Vagif Javadov and Elvin Mammadov were the men on target in the second half.

Spain remain on course to complete a perfect record in World Cup qualifying Group Five as they made it nine wins from nine with a 2-1 victory over Armenia in a rain-drenched Yerevan today.

In a clash between a Spanish side who had already secured their spot in next year's finals and an Armenia team whose outside hopes of going to South Africa had vanished long ago, it was the European champions who came out on top thanks to Juan Mata's second-half penalty.

Mata coolly slotted home what would prove to be the winning goal from the spot in the 64th minute, just six minutes after Armenia had stunned their visitors by equalising through Robert Arzumanyan. Spain had earlier taken the lead with a brilliant goal from Cesc Fabregas midway through the first half.

Bosnia-Herzegovina beat Estonia 2-0 in Tallinn to ensure they will finish second in the pool and face a play-off for a World Cup berth. Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic were the men on target for Miroslav Blazevic's side.

Emile Mpenza's double earned Belgium a 2-0 victory over Turkey in Brussels, in a result that condemned 2002 World Cup semi-finalists Turkey to qualification heartache. Ukraine moved into pole position to make the play-offs and potentially join England at the World Cup next summer after ending the Three Lions' 100% World Cup Group Six qualifying record with a 1-0 victory of Fabio Capello's side.

England were always on the backfoot following the 15th minute dismissal of goalkeeper Robert Green for a professional foul on Artem Milevskiy and, although Andriy Shevchenko smashed the resulting penalty off the post, Serhiy Nazarenko's shot diverted into the net off Ashley Cole to win it 1-0.

The result sees Ukraine jump above Croatia, who did not play today, into second place in Group Six. Both teams have one game left to play, with Ukraine strongly favoured as they travel to play group whipping boys Andorra on Wednesday.

Croatia face a Kazakhstan side thrashed 4-0 today in Belarus. Timofei Kalachev scored twice for the hosts with Maksim Bordachev and Leonid Kovel also getting on the scoresheet.

The result was vindication for home coach Bernd Stange's decision to omit several big-name players, including Stuttgart star Alexander Hleb, brother Vyacheslav and BATE Borisov midfielder Igor Stasevich, in an attempt to look to the future.

Serbia booked their place in next year's finals with a 5-0 thrashing of ten-man Romania in Group Seven.

Nikola Zigic put the home side in front after 37 minutes and Marko Pantelic, Zdravko Kuzmanovic and a double from Milan Jovanovic - all in the second half - completed the rout. A miserable night for Romania was completed by a red card for captain Cristian Chivu in the 84th minute.

The win puts Serbia four points clear of France, with Raymond Domenech's side forced to acccept a place in the play-offs after also winning 5-0 against the Faroe Islands.

Andre-Pierre Gignac, who had scored his first goal for France against the Faroes in the 1-0 victory last year, set Les Bleus on their way with a first-half brace and William Gallas extended their lead shortly after the break. Late goals from Nicolas Anelka and substitute Karim Benzema put the icing on the cake and helped ease the pressure on under-fire coach Raymond Domenech.

Roman Wallner converted a penalty 10 minutes from time as Austria defeated Lithuania 2-1 to secure third place in the group. Marc Janko fired the hosts into a 16th-minute lead but Marius Stankevicius levelled for the visitors after 66 minutes.

Alberto Gilardino's last-minute equaliser broke Republic of Ireland hearts and ensured Italy will finish top of Group Eight and be able to defend their World Cup next year in South Africa

Sean St Ledger's 87th minute header looked to have won the game for the Irish at Croke Park, but Gilardino took advantage of poor marking to make it 2-2 as time ran out in the Group Eight clash. Ireland, who claimed a play-off spot by virtue of the draw, had taken the lead through Glenn Whelan's eighth-minute strike, but Mauro Camoranesi levelled with 26 minutes to go.

Ireland's only challengers for a play-off place, Bulgaria, wrote themselves out of the story earlier in the evening as they went down to a heavy 4-1 loss in Cyprus.

Constantinos Charalambides' early brace put the hosts in the ascendancy and, although Dimitar Berbatov halved the deficit on the stroke of half-time, second-half goals from Michalis Constantinou and Stathis Aloneftis sealed the rout.

Montenegro won their first World Cup qualifier, beating fellow strugglers Georgia 2-1. Andrija Delibasic scored the winner on his debut after Georgia's Vladimir Dvalishvili cancelled out Radoslav Batak's opener.

SOUTH AMERICAN QUALIFYING

While Chile are celebrating their return to the World Cup for the first time since 1998, the story from CONMEBOL centres around the soap opera that is Diego Maradona's Argentina.

They looked dead and buried when Peru's Hernan Rengifo equalised in injury time to cancel out a goal from Gonzalo Higuain. But Martin Palermo, back after a decade in the wilderness, poked home from a yard out in rain-wracked conditions in Buenos Aires. Maradona celebrated the 2-1 win in comedic style in sliding on his belly in the mud.

Argentina stay fourth but must play Uruguay on Wednesday and their opponents are celebrating their own late show after a 90th minute penalty from Diego Forlan saw off Ecuador for a dramatic 2-1 win.

Chile demolished Colombia 4-2 in Medellin, and now head to South Africa after a win that kills off Colombian hopes.

Venezuela too are now out, having been beaten by already-qualified Paraguay. A 2-1 win cemented Paraguay's place in second of the qualifying group.

AFRICAN QUALIFYING

Didier Drogba came off the bench to secure Ivory Coast a place in the World Cup finals with a 1-1 draw against Malawi on Saturday. The Ivorian captain scored the equaliser just two minutes after his introduction and helped secure a second successive World Cup trip for the west Africans.

The Group E result made sure the Elephants would join Ghana and hosts South Africa in next year's tournament but the battle for three remaining berths from the region hang in the balance.

Cameroon stayed one point ahead of Gabon in Group A after dispatching Togo 3-0 in Yaounde, former Chelsea midfielder Geremi scoring seconds after missing a first half penalty before Jean Makoun and Achille Emana added second half goals in the rout.

Gabon ended Morocco's slim hopes of qualification with Hull City's Daniel Cousin among the goal scorers as they destroyed the north African's 3-0. Cameroon and Gabon will both play their last qualifiers away next month.

African champions Egypt kept alive their hopes of qualification alive with a 1-0 away win in Zambia, which moves them level on 10 points with Algeria. Hosni Abd Rabou scored with a thunderous long-range effort in the 69th minute to give Egypt a 1-0 win in Chililabombwe.

Algeria are expected to restore their three-point lead when they host bottom-placed Rwanda in Blida on Sunday, setting up a potentially thrilling deciding match in Cairo between Egypt and Algeria next month.

WORLD CUP PLAY-OFF

Salman Isa wasted the best of several second-half goal-scoring opportunities for Bahrain as New Zealand battled to a 0-0 draw in their Asia/Oceania World Cup qualifier playoff first leg on Saturday.

Marshalled by Blackburn Rovers captain Nelsen, the All Whites defended well and while they were exposed from time to time by the speedy Bahrainis, Paston was truly tested only three times.

The advantage may now have shifted towards Oceania champions New Zealand, who are seeking to make the finals for the first time since 1982.

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