Italy rebounds to defeat Belarus 4-3
Francesco Totti scored twice as Italy rebounded from a shocking loss to Slovenia with a 4-3 beating of Belarus on Wednesday to go back to the top of its World Cup qualifying group.
The Italians were always ahead in Parma from the moment Totti fired home a 27th-minute penalty. They led 2-0, 3-1 and 4-2 although the Belarussians kept coming back.
The victory means that Marcello Lippi's team has nine points from four games in Group 5 and leapfrogged the Slovenes, who went down 3-0 at Norway. Italy leads Slovenia and Norway by two points with Italy's next game not until March.
"I was a little worried in the second half, but we got three very important points and we're first in the group again," said Lippi, whose team lost 1-0 to Slovenia on Saturday.
"We've got a two-point lead and now we've got four months off to rest and hopefully get back some key players," the coach added, referring to strikers Antonio Cassano, Christian Vieri and Alessandro Del Piero.
Portugal posted the most lopsided win of the night, hammering Russia 7-1 on two goals from 19-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo, and two more from late substitute Armando Petit.
The victory left the Portuguese even on points in Group 3 with Slovakia, which had the night off.
Another powerhouse team, England also tops its group after a 1-0 victory at Azerbaijan. But England can't shake off Poland, which scored three times in the last 18 minutes to beat Wales 3-2 in Cardiff.
Michael Owen, taking over from the suspended and injured David Beckham as England captain, scored the only goal of the game in Baku to make it three wins in a row for Sven-Goran Eriksson's team, which has 10 points from four games.
England looked like it might have a four-point lead when Wales led Poland in Mark Hughes' final game in charge. But Tomasz Frankowski came off the bench to level and goals by Maciej Zurawski and Jacek Krzynowek made sure Poland stayed just one point behind the English in the race to Germany.
Owen was one of a several top-quality strikers to hit the target in 21 games spread across Europe.
Thierry Henry shook off poor form for the national team to score for 1998 World Cup winner France, beating Cyprus 2-0. The result means the French are unbeaten and haven't conceded a goal. They are level on points with Ireland at the top of Group 5, the Irish having beaten the Faeroe Islands 2-0 with two strikes by Robbie Keane, who now is the team's all-time top scorer with 23.
Manchester United's Ruud van Nistelrooy scored twice for the Netherlands, which beat joint-leader Finland 3-1 in Group 1. And Borussia Dortmund's Jan Koller made it three in two games for the Czech Republic in a 3-0 victory at Armenia.
With leader Romania not playing, the results mean that the Romanians and Finns are still tied on nine points, the Dutch have seven and the Czechs six as qualifying heats up.
Andorra scored the big upset of the night, notching a 1-0 Group 1 victory over a Macedonian side which had tied 2-2 with the Dutch on Saturday.
A tiny principality in the Pyrenees, Andorra had lost every qualifying game for the 2002 World Cup and Euro 2004. But midfielder Marc Bernaus volleyed the winner in the 60th minute to edge the Macedonians for its first points.
Spain's rocky road toward the finals continued with a 0-0 tie with Lithuania in Group 7.
The Spaniards had beaten Belgium 2-0 on Saturday and, although they are unbeaten with a victory and two ties, are now two points behind group leader Serbia-Montenegro. Serbai outplayed San Marino 5-0 with two strikes from Inter Milan's Dejan Stankovic.
By contrast, the Swedish raced to the top of Group 8 with a 4-1 victory at Iceland with veteran striker Henrik Larsson scoring twice.
The Swedes have nine points from four games and are two ahead of Bulgaria and Croatia. The Croats weren't in action, but Bulgaria scored a 4-1 victory over Malta with Dimitar Berbatov scoring twice.
Ukraine is the surprise leader of Group 2. AC Milan star striker Andriy Shevchenko scored the second in a 2-0 beating of Georgia and his unbeaten team has eight points from four games.
Ukraine overtook World Cup 2002 semifinalist Turkey, which was held 1-1 by Denmark. With Albania winning 1-0 at Kazakhstan, there's a hotly fought race with Ukraine on top by two points. Turkey and Albania have six, Denmark has five with Georgia on four.
Nolberto Solano scored the equalizer on a penalty kick in the 73rd minute as Peru played Paraguay to a 1-1 draw.
The draw lifted Peru out of last place in the standings and ended a two-game losing streak. After 10 games, Peru has 10 points, tied for seventh-place with Venezuela and Bolivia and ahead of lowly Colombia.
Paraguay trails both leader Brazil and second-place Argentina with 16.