France slump to shock defeat
France’s preparation for next week’s blockbuster World Cup qualifier tie against reigning champions Spain, received a major jolt last night as the Les Bleus suffered their first ever defeat to Japan. In the friendly fixture played at Stade De France, the hosts dominated all throughout but paid a costly price for not converting their superiority into goals as a late counter attack by the visitors was capped off by Shinji Kagawa.
France manager Didier Deschamps was left frustrated at his team’s inability to kill off the game long before Kagawa’s sucker punch but refuted the theory that the defeat may affect their chances of getting a positive result against Spain.
“It’s not a question of doubting ourselves, but that’s what happens in top-level football. When you don’t score, there’s always a possibility for your opponents. We let ourselves be punished. But there will be a totally different balance of power on Tuesday.”
France’s opponents for Tuesday meanwhile got into groove for the crunch fixture with a routine 4-0 win against Belarus at Minsk in a qualifier tie thanks to a hat-trick by Pedro Rodriguez.
Old rivals have a stroll
Germany and England remained top of their respective qualifying groups after both won by a five goal margin last night. A first half brace by Marco Reus got the Germans off to an ideal start against Republic of Ireland in Dublin Arena. With the visitors grabbing four of the five goals in the second half, the 1-6 result heaped further pressure on Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni. On paper, a defeat to Germany should not affect Ireland’s chance to nail second spot in the group; but it will be interesting to see whether the psychological scars inflicted by this drubbing – their heaviest home defeat since 1931 – has a lingering effect on the must-win match against Faroe Islands on Tuesday.
At Wembley, England put five past the minnows from San Marino – the team occupying the lowest rung in FIFA rankings. Wayne Rooney, captain on the night, scored a first half penalty to open his team’s account on the night and added another one in the second half. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain got his first England goal late in the second half to complete the rout. The only cloud on England’s horizon would have been the injury suffered by Theo Walcott early in the piece which should rule him out from the encounter against Poland in Warsaw on Tuesday. Manager Roy Hodgson was scathing in his assessment of the challenge made by San Marino goalkeeper Aldo Simoncini which resulted in the injury.
“If I described the challenge as reckless I would be being kind. It was a very fierce challenge. It is a chest injury. It didn’t look good and until such time as they have X-rayed it and scanned it I really don’t know. In normal circumstances the San Marino goalkeeper would have been sent off and we would have gone 1-0 up from a penalty earlier on.”
Another heavyweight from the continent, Italy, too maintained their position at the top of the pile in their own qualification group. However, unlike Germany and England, they made to toil hard for three points against a dogged Armenia. Even after taking an early lead via an Andrea Pirlo penalty, the Azzurri were pegged back by Mkhitaryan’s equaliser before the break. In the second half goalsfrom the AS Roma pair Danielle De Rossi and Pablo Osvaldo finally ensured Italy’s return from Yerevan with three points in the bag.
Wales edge Battle of Britain
Darren Fletcher made his long awaited return to the international scene but failed to inspire Scotland to victory in the hotly contested tie at Cardiff City Stadium. Instead it was Gareth Bale who stole the show with a late brace that cancelled out James Morrison’s first half strike and handed Chris Coleman his first win as Wales manager. The game also marked the return of Steven Fletcher to the Scotland side after the Sunderland striker had ended his long feud with manager Craig Levein.
Kerzhakov strike sinks Portugal
Russia, under Fabio Capello, maintained their 100% record in qualifying by defeating Portugal in Moscow by a solitary goal, scored by Aleksandr Kerzhakov in the sixth minute of the game. For rest of the match, Cristiano Ronaldo and company tried hard to salvage a point but were thwarted by a well-organized Russian defense. With three wins out of three, Russia now top the group and with only one team sealing direct qualification to the Finals, it is up to Portugal to dislodge Capello’s men.
Uruguay undone by Messi magic
In the highly anticipated CONMEBOL qualifying tie between the continent’s heavyweights Argentina and Uruguay, Lionel Messi proved to be the deciding factor after scoring two and setting up one for Kun Aguero in a 3-0 victory for the home team at Mendoza. Albiceleste though had to wait till midway through the second half to edge ahead in this tightly contested affair against a resolute Uruguayan outfit.
The result keeps Argentina top of the table, a point ahead of Colombia and Ecuador, both of whom notched up comfortable victories against Paraguay and Chile, respectively.