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The long, winding road to Brazil 2014 began in earnest last night as the European leg of the World Cup qualifiers kicked-off. All the big guns endured a happy night but for Italy as the 2012 Euro finalists were held to a 2-2 draw by Bulgaria. England thrashed Moldova 5-0 while their great rivals France edged Finland 1-0. Germany strolled to a 3-0 victory over the Faroe Islands while their arch-enemies Holland began their campaign with a 2-0 defeat of Turkey. Finally, Russia and Portugal also opened their accounts with a victory a piece while Bosnia and Herzegovina provided the fireworks on the night by hammering Liechtenstein 8-1.
England kick-started yet another campaign for a major tournament with promising signs as Roy Hodgsonâ€™s outfit struck five past Group H opponents Moldova. Frank Lampard netted a brace, with his first coming from the penalty box on 4 minutes before he made it 2-0 on 29 minutes. Jermain Defoe then broke open the floodgates three minutes later, turning in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlainâ€™s cross with ease. Steve Gerrard hobbled off at the end of the 1st half but England continued to press as James Milner added a 4th on 74 minutes before the scoring was rounded-off by Leighton Bainesâ€™ free-kick on 83 minutes.
Group B began in cracking fashion as Bulgaria and Italy played out an entertaining 2-2 at Sofia. The Bulgarians opened the scoring on the half-hour mark courtesy of Stanislav Manolevâ€™s stunning strike. But the Italians were ahead by the break as Roma striker Pablo Osvaldo struck a quick brace, netting twice in the space of three minutes to put Italy 2-1 ahead in 40 minutes. The home side were about to give up though as Georgi Milanov equalized on 66 minutes and but for Gianluigi Buffon, the Bulgarians would have found a winner.
It was the night for midfielderâ€™s in Group C as Germany emerged 3-0 victors from their home game against Faroe Islands, with Mario Gotze and Mesut Ozil the goal-scorers. The minnows maintained a tight ship at the back until the 28th minute when Gotze opened the scoring with a simple finish. The Germans pushed forward in search of a 2nd goal and it arrived nine minutes after the restart through Ozil, who then secured the three points by adding a 3rd on 71 minutes. Faroe Islandsâ€™ keeper Gunnar Nelson deserves special mention as the ex-Man City stopper turned in a heroic display in goal.
Netherlands were made to fight hard for the three points against Turkey, with Robin van Persie the hero for the Dutch. The Manchester United striker maintained his purple patch by scoring the opener on 16 minutes, heading in Wesley Sneijderâ€™s corner to kill Turkeyâ€™s great start to the game. But the Turks regained their composure to pepper Tim Krulâ€™s goal, with Umut Bulut even hitting the woodwork. And, it wasnâ€™t until Luciano Narsinghâ€™s injury-time goal that the home side were home and dry. Elsewhere in Group D, Hungary thrashed Andorra 5-0 while Romania overcame Estonia 2-0.
Cristiano Ronaldo finally had something to smile about as the â€˜sadâ€™ star from Real Madrid turned in a match-winning performance for Portugal against Luxemburg. The former Manchester United star was on-hand to draw the Portuguese level on 28 minutes after Daniel Da Mota Alves had given Luxemburg a surprise lead. Helder Postiga then wrapped up the points nine minutes after the break with a shot from the right. Portugalâ€™s biggest rival in Group F, Russia also began their campaign with a win as Fabio Capello was a happy man after their 2-0 victory over Northern Ireland. Viktor Fayzulin put them ahead on the half-hour mark with a sweet strike. And, the Russians had to wait till the 78th minute to double their lead as Roman Shirokov converted from the spot after Craig Cathcart was deemed to have fouled Alexander Kokorin.
Arsenalâ€™s Abou Diaby continued his great start to the season as the midfielder scored the solitary goal in Franceâ€™s narrow win over Finland. Karim Benzema setup Diaby for the goal on 20 minutes as the Didier Deschamps-ear began with a win for Les Blues. Spain are yet to begin their campaign in Group I on Tuesday against Georgia.
Croatia 1 - 0 Macedonia
Wales 0 - 2 Belgium
Malta 0 - 1 Armenia
Bulgaria 2 - 2 Italy
Kazakhstan 1 - 2 Ireland
Germany 3 - 0 Faroe Islands
Estonia 0 - 2 Romania
Andorra 0 - 5 Hungary
Netherlands 2 - 0 Turkey
Albania 3 - 1 Cyprus
Slovenia 0 - 2 Switzerland
Iceland 2 - 0 Norway
Russia 2 - 0 Northern Ireland
Azerbaijan 1 - 1 Israel
Luxembourg 1 - 2 Portugal
Liechtenstein 1 - 8 Bosnia-Herzegovina
Lithuania 1 - 1 Slovakia
Latvia 1 - 2 Greece
Montenegro 2 - 2 Poland
Moldova 0 - 5 England
Georgia 1 - 0 Belarus
Finland 0 - 1 France
- 13/10/2012 08:35 - European WCQ Wrap: England, Spain & Germany big winners, Portugal lose to Russia
- 06/10/2012 14:51 - Del Bosque cites stiff competition as reason for Mata's omission from Spanish squad
- 12/09/2012 09:23 - European WCQ Wrap: Spain, Germany, Italy and France all register wins, England held by Ukraine at home