France, Russia, Greece and Denmark all secured first place in their respective groups on Tuesday, and will now feature alongside already-qualified Germany, Italy, Netherlands, England and Spain, as well as best overall runner-up Sweden, at UEFA EURO 2012 next summer, where they will be joined by the joint hosts, Poland and Ukraine.
Germany, with ten victories from ten matches, and Spain, with eight from eight, were the only sides to finish with 100 per cent records.
The last four places will be designated via home-and-away play-offs involving the eight remaining second-placed sides, namely Turkey, Republic of Ireland, Estonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Portugal and the Czech Republic. The draw for these play-offs, the first legs of which will take place on 11 and 12 November with the return legs scheduled for 15 November, will be held on 13 October in Krakow.
Game of the dayDenmark 2-1 Portugal
*Goals: Michael Krohn-Dehli 13, Nicklas Bendtner 63 (Denmark); Cristiano Ronaldo 90+2 (Portugal)
*Portugal paid a high price for the injury-enforced absence of their regular central defenders in this encounter. In a winner-takes-all group finale, the Danes took control of the match right from the start, deservedly going ahead through Michael Krohn-Dehli after 13 minutes, the Brondby midfielder hitting a powerful shot from just inside the box that deflected off Rolando, leaving Portuguese goalkeeper Rui Patricio with little chance. The Iberians, suffering from a lack of pace and hesitation at the back, struggled to find a way back into the match. Denmark grabbed the all-important second goal after an hour of play, when Dennis Rommedahl drove to the byline and clipped in a perfect cross for Nicklas Bendtner, who beat Patricio from point-blank range. Portugal began to take more risks, but in doing so opened themselves up to some pacy Danish counter-attacks. Raul Meireles missed a gilt-edged chance, before Cristiano Ronaldo reduced the score with a spectacular long-range free-kick in stoppage time. The result sends the Scandinavians to Poland and Ukraine, and the Portuguese into the play-offs, by virtue of their possessing a better goal difference than Norway.
Elsewhere Group AGermany 3-1 Belgium
Turkey 1-0 Azerbaijan
Kazakhstan 0-0 Austria
Germany kept to their promise of taking the final match seriously, and in doing so secured victories in every one of their group fixtures for the first time ever in a EURO qualifying campaign. Following their 3-1 win over Turkey on Friday, the Germans beat Belgium by the same scoreline with well-worked, clinically-finished goals from Mario Gomez, Mesut Ozil and Andre Schurrle. Turkey, who finally found a way past a stubborn Azerbaijan defence after 60 minutes, therefore leapfrog the Belgians to advance to the play-offs. Burak Yilmaz scored the crucial goal for the Turks.
Group BRepublic of Ireland 2-1 Armenia
Russia 6-0 Andorra
Macedonia 1-1 Slovakia
Russia confirmed their qualification for next summer’s tournament in ruthless fashion, scoring six times without reply against Andorra. Alan Dzagoev struck twice for the Russians, having already scored a key winner versus Slovakia on Friday. In Dublin, meanwhile, Armenia had the nerves of the vociferous home crowd jangling on more than one occasion, despite seeing goalkeeper Roman Berezovski red-carded after 28 minutes for handling the ball outside his area. Put under pressure, the Armenians proceeded to first concede an unfortunate own goal, and then let in a second after a misjudgement by their substitute keeper. Vardan Minasyan’s charges, who had already made history by producing the best qualifying results in the nation’s history, showed resilience to reduce the score three minutes later, but were ultimately unable to find an equaliser on the night.
Group CSlovenia 1-0 Serbia
Italy 3-0 Northern Ireland
Unbeaten Italy ended their most successful qualifying campaign ever by comfortably seeing off Northern Ireland, in a match that featured a double from Antonio Cassano. The surprise of the night in this section emerged in Maribor, where Slovenia overcame Serbia via Dare Vrsic’s incredible up-and-under free-kick, a result that eliminates the Serbians and propels surprise packages Estonia into the play-offs.
Group DFrance 1-1 Bosnia-Herzegovina
Albania 1-1 Romania
Against a fearless Bosnian side, France were forced to battle until the very last seconds in order to maintain their one-point advantage in the table. Seemingly affected by the high stakes, Les Bleus were dominated by the visitors from the kick-off, and it was no surprise when Edin Dzeko opened the scoring with a tremendous shot from the edge of the area. The French displayed significantly more enterprise after the break, and finally grabbed a critical equaliser 12 minutes from time courtesy of Samir Nasri’s penalty, a goal that ensures that France finish top of the pool and qualify directly for next year’s finals. Bosnia-Herzegovina, meanwhile, will take part in the upcoming play-off round.
Group EHungary 0-0 Finland
Sweden 3-2 Netherlands
Moldova 4-0 San Marino
Despite the absence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sweden obtained a remarkable victory over the Netherlands, in an action-packed, end-to-end match. Kim Kallstrom set the tone for the night after a quarter of an hour by scoring a stunning free-kick, but Klaas-Jan Huntelaar – this qualifying campaign’s top scorer with 11 goals – reminded the crowd of his prowess in the box nine minutes later by heading in an equaliser. The second half got off to an explosive start when Dirk Kuyt put the Dutch ahead, only for Sebastian Larsson to equalise from the spot two minutes later. Almost immediately after the restart, Ola Toivonen scored what would turn out to be the winning goal, making no mistake after the ball rebounded to him just inside the area. The hard-fought victory sends Sweden through to Poland/Ukraine 2012 as the second-placed team with the best overall record.
Group FGeorgia 1-2 Greece
Croatia 2-0 Latvia
Malta 0-2 Israel
Greece flirted with failure for 79 minutes during their crucial clash with Georgia, before turning the match on its head through a deflected shot from Giorgos Fotakis and a superbly placed winner from Angelos Charisteas, the veteran striker who was only recently recalled to the squad by Greece’s Portuguese coach, Fernando Santos. Croatia, who did what was required of them by defeating Latvia 2-0, must content themselves with a place in the draw for the play-offs.
Group GBulgaria 0-1 Wales
Switzerland 2-0 Montenegro
All qualifying issues in Group G had already been determined prior to Tuesday’s final round of matches, with England finishing as group winners and Montenegro entering the play-offs.
Group HDenmark 2-1 Portugal
Norway 3-1 Cyprus
Norway’s comfortable win over Cyprus was not enough in the end, the home side losing out on a play-off place to Portugal on goal difference.
Group ISpain 3-1 Scotland
Lithuania 1-4 Czech Republic
Spain confirmed that they will once again be among the favourites for a major tournament by winning every single one of their qualifying matches for EURO 2012. La Roja’s eighth and final victory also had wider implications for the group, as it eliminated a determined Scotland side from contention and helped to qualify the Czech Republic, solid 4-1 winners away to Lithuania, for the play-off round. Michal Kadlec and Jan Rezek both notched braces for the Czechs.
*The player *Ajax’s attacking midfielder Christian Eriksen, still just 19, is the latest prodigy to excite Denmark’s demanding fans. “He already reminds me of Brian and Michael Laudrup,” said Johan Cruyff recently. Despite his tender age, the young Dane has already racked up 16 caps for his country and is fast becoming the one of the first names on Morten Olsen’s teamsheet.
Goal of the day*Germany 2-0 Belgium, Andre Schurrle 33
*From a Belgian corner that was cleared by the German defence, Mesut Ozil, scorer of a stunning opening goal earlier in the half, picked up a loose ball and fed Mario Gomez halfway inside his own half. Gomez drove forward to the centre circle, where he played through Andre Schurrle, racing in from the left flank. The Bayer Leverkusen winger outpaced the last defender, bore down on goal, and beat Belgium goalkeeper Simon Mignolet with a tidy chipped finish.
109 –Group E, which contained automatic qualifiers Sweden and the Netherlands, produced 109 goals in total, making it the most prolific of the nine sections, ahead of Group A, which managed 95.
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