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Ronaldo rescues Portugal; Spain and Germany win

By Reuters in London | China Daily | Updated: 2013-09-08 07:34

Cristiano Ronaldo rescued Portugal with a speedy hat-trick to avoid an upset in Northern Ireland, while Netherlands dropped its first points as Spain and Germany took easier steps towards World Cup qualification.

England tied Montenegro at the top of Group H after marching to a 4-0 home win over Moldova that came as its rival was held 1-1 in Poland.

Italy and Belgium were among the group pacesetters to take full points, while Group E leader Switzerland could only draw 4-4 with Iceland and Group G leader Bosnia surprisingly lost 1-0 at home to Slovakia.

In Belfast, Portugal was in serious danger of being knocked off the top of Group F, after second-placed Russia had earlier thumped Luxembourg 4-1, as its found itself trailing 2-1 to Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland had previously stunned Russia 1-0 last month and it looked like it was heading for another upset when Portugal's Helder Postiga was shown a straight red card for a headbutt on Gareth McAuley just before halftime.

Northern Ireland, already out of qualifying contention, made the man advantage count early in the second half when Jamie Ward scored after a corner, but Portugal's fortunes turned when Kevin Brunt was shown a second yellow to make it 10 against 10.

 Ronaldo rescues Portugal; Spain and Germany win

England's Rickie Lambert (right) heads the ball into the Moldova net during Friday's World Cup qualifying match at Wembley Stadium in London. England won 4-0. Eddie Keogh / Reuters

Then followed 15 minutes of trademark Ronaldo brilliance as he headed in two goals and scored another from a free kick to turn the match around and put Portugal at 17 points from eight games, with Russia at 15, having played one game fewer.

There were more individual plaudits in Germany's 3-0 win over Austria in Group C as forward Miroslav Klose opened the scoring in the 34th minute to equal Gerd Mueller's national record of 68 goals.

The clean sheet banished concerns over Germany's recent defensive frailties as it stayed in control of the group at 19 points from seven matches, five ahead of Sweden, which beat Ireland 2-1. Austria dropped to third at 11, level with the Irish.

"We did our homework;we defended well, we played with the right aggression and intensity," Germany coach Joachim Loew told ZDF television.

The same could not be said of Group E leader Switzerland, which blew a 4-1 lead to draw 4-4 with Iceland, allowing second-placed Norway to close the gap on it to four points after beating Cyprus 2-0.

Netherlands also had defensive questions to answer after it saw a first-minute lead secured by Arjen Robben evaporate in Tallinn, where it stood seconds away from an embarrassing 2-1 defeat after a Konstantin Vassiljev double for the host.

The Dutch, who until this game had a perfect record of six wins from six matches, snatched a point in the third minute of stoppage time when Raio Piiroja was sent off and a penalty was awarded which Robin van Persie converted.

"We know we are better so it makes it a frustrating evening," Robben told Dutch NOS radio with his side at 19 points from seven games - a six-point lead over Romania, which leapfrogged Hungary into second place after beating it 3-0 at home.

Spirits were much higher at Wembley, where England outclassed Moldova after two goals from Danny Welbeck and one each from captain Steven Gerrard and Rickie Lambert propelled Roy Hodgson's side to the top of Group H on goal difference.

Montenegro, which also has 15 points but has played one game more than England, could only manage a 1-1 draw in Poland although it could have been even worse as Jakub Blaszcykowski had a 94th minute effort disallowed for being offside.

Third-place Ukraine stayed in the chase with a 9-0 thumping of San Marino, which has conceded 38 goals in seven qualifiers and has 14 points ahead of Tuesday's home match with England.

World champion Spain was a 2-0 winner in Finland as it tightened its grip on the top spot in Group I, with its cause helped by second-placed France's 0-0 draw in Georgia.

The holder stretched its lead over France to three points with two matches remaining as goals from Jordi Alba and Alvaro Negredo either side of halftime secured a comfortable win.

Spain has 14 points from six matches and plays its final two qualifiers at home to Belarus and Georgia next month. It is already assured of at least a place in the playoffs.

(China Daily 09/08/2013 page7)

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