Italy and Netherlands seal spots in World Cup finals in Brazil
Mario Balotelli scores the winner as Italy beat Czech Republic
Robin van Persie double in 2-0 win for the Dutch in Andorra
England hold Ukraine to a draw in vital Group H qualifier in Kiev
Italy and the Netherlands sealed their places in the World Cup finals in Brazil next year while England survived an uncomfortable night in Kiev against Ukraine in key qualifying matches Tuesday.
Mario Balotelli scored the winner as Italy came from behind to beat the Czech Republic 2-1 to seal Group B, while the Dutch had a pair of Robin van Persie goals to thank for a 2-0 win in Andorra to wrap up Group D of European qualifying.
Roy Hodgson’s England battled to a goalless draw to maintain their leadership of Group H, one point clear of Ukraine and Montenegro with two rounds of matches remaining.
It was an unconvincing performance and visiting goalkeeper Joe Hart was the busier goalkeeper in a match of few clear cut chances, but Frank Lampard, making his 100th appearance for England nearly grabbed the winner with a headed effort in injury time.
Italy fell behind to a 19th minute Libor Kozak volleyed strike in Turin, but the Azzurri struck back through Giorgio Chiellini in the 51st minute before Balotelli stepped up to hit the winner past Petr Cech from the spot three minutes later to set the four-time champions on the road to Brazil.
Milan’s Balotelli had a mixed night, wasting several chances to put his side firmly in control, before winning the penalty as he was crudely fouled by Theodor Gebre Selassie.
To complete an ultimately disappointing night for the Czechs, Daniel Kolar was given his marching orders near the end.
“We’ve qualified and we’re really satisfied,” said Italy coach Cesare Prandelli.
“Tonight there were spells in which we suffered physically but we also played some quality football. This squad has a lot of quality,” he told AFP.
Fellow powerhouses Germany need just a single point from their final two matches to join them after a 3-0 win in the Faroe Islands, with Per Mertesacker, Arsenal new boy Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller scoring the goals.
Sweden still have a mathematical chance of overhauling the Group C leaders after Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s first minute goal in the 1-0 win in Kazakhstan, but the Germans can seal qualification next month when they play the Republic of Ireland.
Switzerland are also all but assured of a finals place, five points clear of Iceland in Group E as a pair of Fabian Schar goals saw off Norway 2-0.
France revived their hopes by breaking a scoring drought which had lasted 526 minutes in a fighting 4-2 win in the Belarus.
Franck Ribery canceled out a Egor Filipenko opener for the hosts and then equalized for the second time after Timofei Kalachev’s effort.
Samir Nasri and Paul Pogba grabbed vital late goals to clinch victory for the French, who draw level with world champions Spain on points in Group I.
Spain, who have played a game less, were salvaging a 2-2 draw with Chile in a friendly in Geneva, equalizing for the second time in added time through Jesus Navas.
Eduardo Vargas netted twice for the South Americans, with Tottenham striker Roberto Soldado canceling out his first effort.
Wales’ 3-0 home defeat to Serbia in Group A was notable for the appearance of Real Madrid’s new world record signing Gareth Bale, who played for half an hour as a second half substitute and almost scored with a late free kick.
Bale has not played since a pre season friendly for his former side Tottenham, nursing a foot injury.
Earlier, Jordan won a marathon penalty shootout 9-8 with hosts Uzbekistan to qualify for an intercontinental playoff, with the winners reaching next year’s finals.
They will play South America’s fifth placed team after a topsy turvy contest in Tashkent.
The home side went ahead through Anzur Ismailov and dominated much of the first half, only for Saeed Murjan to level with a stunning half volley strike just before the interval.
Despite several chances for either side, the match went into extra time, which was delayed for 18 minutes by a floodlight failure.
The penalty drama was intense until the unfortunate Ismailov failed to convert his effort to leave the visitors celebrating.