Belgium pulls three points clear of Croatia after beating Serbia 2-1 in Brussels
Expected to collect three points against Scotland, Croatia loses 1-0 at home
Portugal ends Russia's perfect record with a 1-0 victory in Lisbon
Striker Mario Balotelli sees red in Italy's 0-0 draw at the Czech Republic
Belgian defender Vincent Kompany said this week there would be a “commotion” in Belgium if his country failed to qualify for next year’s World Cup.
After Friday’s win against Serbia, Belgium, with its so-called golden generation of players, is getting closer to Brazil.
The Red Devils, who last appeared at soccer’s showpiece event in 2002, beat Serbia 2-1 in qualifying.
Kevin De Bruyne and Marouane Fellaini scored headed goals in each half in Brussels to lift Belgium to 19 points in Group A. Kompany’s club teammate at Manchester City, Aleksandar Kolarov, pulled a goal back for Serbia in the 88th minute.
De Bruyne, who also set up Fellaini’s effort, could be the next Belgian to move to the Premier League – he’s being linked with Chelsea. The majority of players Belgium used on Friday ply their trade in England’s top division.
Belgium received a further boost, guaranteed of at least second spot, when Croatia blew an opportunity to go level on points with three matches remaining. Despite registering nearly 20 shots, Croatia was upset 1-0 by Scotland in Zagreb.
Elsewhere, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal defeated Russia 1-0 to move into top spot ahead of Fabio Capello’s men in Group F.
Veteran striker Helder Postiga netted on a tap-in in the ninth minute in Lisbon to end Russia’s perfect 4-0 record.
Portugal, which qualified for the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 courtesy of playoff victories against Bosnia-Herzegovina, improved to 14 points, although Russia possesses two games in hand.
Ireland and Austria recorded victories to rise to 11 points in Group C as they seek to nail down second place behind runaway leader Germany.
Robbie Keane celebrated becoming Ireland’s most capped player – he made his 126th appearance to surpass goalkeeper Shay Given – by scoring all of Ireland’s goals in a 3-0 win against the Faroe Islands in Dublin.
“There was a lot of talk about getting the record caps but that was almost in the back of my mind,” Keane said.
Even with Zlatan Ibrahimovic in its ranks, Sweden fell 2-1 to Austria in Vienna. Johan Elmander, not Ibrahimovic, tallied for the visitor with eight minutes remaining.
Sweden, though, will be favored to reach 11 points next week, as it faces the Faroe Islands.
Ukraine, co-host of Euro 2012, did England a favor in Group H by topping group leader Montenegro 4-0 away from home.
Ukraine took the lead early in the second half – after being reduced to 10 men – with Montenegro then having two players dismissed as its frustration grew.
Montenegro leads the group with 14 points, two more than England and three more than Ukraine but with a game more played.
Away wins for Bosnia-Herzegovina and Greece, over Latvia and Lithuania, respectively, leave Bosnia-Herzegovina three points ahead of Greece in Group G.
More trouble for Mario
Although in little danger of not qualifying from Group B, there was a sour note for Italy in its 0-0 draw at the Czech Republic.
Striker Mario Balotelli, no stranger to controversy, was dismissed in the second half after receiving two yellow cards.
He struck defender Theodor Gebre Selassie in the face with a forearm to receive his marching orders.
“Balotelli should control himself better – he allowed himself to be provoked,” Italy coach Cesare Prandelli told reporters. “There were a couple of fouls that were not given but that’s no explanation for what he did.”