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Van Persie inspires Dutch victory

Dutch players celebrate their opening goal in their Helsinki victory

HELSINKI, Finland -- Substitute Robin van Persie scored one and created another two as the Netherlands produced a late surge to beat Finland 4-0 to remain top of World Cup qualifying Group One.

The result kept them top with 22 points from eight games, one point ahead of the Czech Republic, who hammered Macedonia 6-1.

Both teams look set to qualify, one as group winner and the other as one of the best two runners-up.

Finland, who are out of the running in fourth place on nine points, had the better of the opening half hour but suffered a major blow when Jari Litmanen limped off with a thigh injury after 30 minutes.

The Dutch went ahead in the 36th minute when Ruud van Nistelrooy seized on a long ball inside the penalty area and outsmarted the Finnish defence before striking a high shot.

Finland continued to cause problems, without creating too many clear chances but the Dutch too looked uninspired.

However, the introduction of Hedwiges Maduro and Van Persie for the last quarter gave them a new impetus.

Van Persie, on for Van Nistelrooy in the 75th minute, linked well with Arjen Robben and Dirk Kuijt two minutes later to present Kuijt with an open goal.

Van Persie, in his second international appearance, then did well on the wing before crossing for Philip Cocu to get the third in the 85th minute.

The Arsenal forward then capped a night to remember by running through to drive home the fourth from inside the box.

The one sour note for the Dutch was a broken leg for defender Theo Lucius.

"From the first minute we faced a lot of difficulties," Dutch coach Marco van Basten said. "Finland pressurised us and created some doubt in the team. We were forced to use the long ball too often and that is exactly what the opponent wanted.

"We were a bit lucky with Ruud's goal. He controlled the ball in a difficult position and then fired on goal but that is his quality."

Van Basten said that the substitutions had made the difference.

"Maduro did well, after that we started to play football," he said. "And when we are able to play, with all due respect, we have a better team than Finland."

Koller scores four

Meanwhile, striker Jan Koller thumped four goals in an 11-minute spell for the Czech Republic as Macedonia were thrashed in Teplice.

The Czechs pounded Andorra 8-1 on Saturday and after scoring six more on Wednesday are the highest scoring team in the European qualifying competition with 28 goals.

Macedonia shocked the hosts taking the lead through Goran Pandev who punished a sleepy defence after 14 minutes.

But the Czechs kept their poise and continued to push forward until they were rewarded when Koller equalised in the 42nd minute with a deft header from close range off a free-kick.

Koller netted again just before halftime, a goal originally credited to Milan Baros, and then scored twice soon after the restart to make the game safe.

"Their first goal kind of startled us, but we didn't panic. We're an experienced side and knew it was a matter of just getting going," said Baros.

Jan Polak won a penalty and Tomas Rosicky slotted it home in the 74th minute, and Baros notched his second two minutes from time.

"It's my first hat trick for the team so I'm pretty happy about it," said Koller who became the Czech's all-time leading scorer on Saturday and has stretched his record to 39 goals.

"We're in a good position right now and our attack is strong. I like the direction we are going in."

Bucur double

Striker Gigel Bucur scored twice on his debut to help Romania beat Armenia 3-0 in their qualifier.

The Romanians, who lost 2-0 to the Netherlands at the weekend, remain third in the group. Armenia are equal bottom with Andorra.

With only slim chances of qualifying for the finals, Romania made six changes from the side that lost in Rotterdam as coach Victor Piturca looks to build a new team.

Politehnica Timisoara midfielder Ovidiu Petre opened the scoring when he headed home his first goal in six matches for Romania after half an hour.

Sportul Studentesc striker Bucur added the second before the interval and scored again 12 minutes from time when he rounded off a quick counter-attack.

Armenia striker Ara Hakobian could have equalised for the visitors in the 33rd minute but his shot hit the post.

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