England held by Swiss, Pav fires Russia
England fought back from two goals down but still dropped two precious points in a 2-2 draw with Switzerland as their bid to reach next summer's European Championship finals stuttered.
Switzerland profited from a pair of inexplicable errors from the normally solid Joe Hart to establish a two-goal cushion. England rallied through a Frank Lampard penalty and a superb second-half effort from Ashley Young, who had replaced the Chelsea man at half-time, but the hosts could not force home a third.
Darren Bent blew their best chance when he blasted over with the goal at his mercy and Stewart Downing also wasted a glorious opportunity right at the death. But a year after their World Cup misery, England extended a winless streak on home soil to four matches for the first time in 30 years, Admir Mehmedi coming far too close for comfort to snatching all three points for the visitors in stoppage time.
Montenegro missed the chance to move two points clear of England at the top of Group G after being held at home to a 1-1 draw by Bulgaria. The Three Lions earlier draw had opened the door for Zlatko Kranjcar's men but they could not register their third successive home win.
Radomir Djalovic put the hosts ahead in Podgorica after 52 minutes but Ivelin Popov grabbed an equaliser 14 minutes later for Bulgaria. The draw means Montenegro move level on 11 points with England but remain second due to an inferior goal difference; Bulgaria are fourth with five points from their five games.
Roman Pavlyuchenko scored a hat-trick as Russia hit back from 1-0 down to beat Armenia 3-1 and pile the pressure on their rivals in Group B, though it was a result which was more convincing than the performance.
Dick Advocaat's men started the day level on 10 points with the Republic of Ireland and Slovakia and the three are now all tied on 13 points.
Marcos Pizzelli put the visitors ahead after 25 minutes before Pavlyuchenko took centre stage, the Tottenham striker equalising almost immediately before making it 2-1 on the hour mark and then adding another with a 73rd-minute penalty.
Slovakia edged out Andorra with a narrow 1-0 win to keep pace in the race at the top of Group B. Miroslav Karhan got the only goal as Vladimir Weiss' side were largely frustrated against the group's whipping boys, but did enough to take the three points that keeps them level with Russia. Although it was one-way traffic throughout the match, Andorra goalkeeper Josep Anton Gomez stood firm to keep his side in it.
Robbie Keane enjoyed a dream return trip to Macedonia as he smashed through the 50-goal barrier to ease the Republic of Ireland to an important 2-0 victory.
Keane, the only survivor of a costly 1-1 qualifier draw in Skopje almost 12 years ago, became the first British or Irish player to complete a half-century of international goals when he went past England's Sir Bobby Charlton with an eighth-minute opener.
He doubled his tally for the evening after 37 minutes with a neat finish, and although there was a major scare for the Irish when Ivan Trickovski smashed a penalty against the crossbar three minutes later, Keane's contribution proved decisive.
Israel overcame the challenge of hosts Latvia, winning 2-1 in Riga to join Croatia in second place in Group F.
The visitors dominated the first half and held an interval lead thanks to goals from Yossi Benayoun and Tal Ben-Haim, the latter coming from the penalty spot. Aleksandrs Cauna then gave Latvia hope of a comeback with a spot-kick of his own, but they were unable to add to their tally.
Greece moved to the top of Group F with an easy 3-1 victory over Malta. First-half goals from Ioannis Fetfatzidis and Kyriakos Papadopoulos set them on their way, and although Michael Mifsud got one back for Malta early in the second half, Fetfatzidis soon got his second to restore the two-goal advantage and lift Greece above Croatia and Israel.
Portugal edged out Norway 1-0 to join their opponents and Denmark at the top of Group H. Portugal dominated the match but were reliant on Helder Postiga's 53rd-minute header to make the difference as they were frustrated in front of goal for long stretches.
Denmark kept their qualifying campaign on track with a 2-0 victory over Scandinavian rivals Iceland. Goals from Lasse Schone and Christian Eriksen earned Morten Olsen's men their third win in Group H and ensured they kept up the pressure on Norway and Portugal above them. Iceland continue to prop up the standings, however, after slipping to their second defeat against the Danes.