European favourites stay on World Cup course

European champions Spain and losing Euro 2008 finalists Germany took important steps towards World Cup qualification with victories on Saturday, reported dpa.

World champions Italy meanwhile came away from Bulgaria with a goalless draw, and France came from two goals behind to earn a point at Romania.

Elsewhere there were victories for England and the Netherlands, but Portugal had to settle for a goalless draw in Sweden.

Spain earned a comfortable 3-0 win away to minnows Estonia, thanks to goals from Juanito Gutierrez, David Villa and Carles Puyol.

The Euro 2008 winners stay on top of Group 5 with nine points from three games, two points ahead of Belgium and Turkey, who scored home wins over Armenia (2-0) and Bosnia (2-1).

Germany defeated Russia 2-1 in Dortmund to gain the edge in Group 4. First-half goals from Lukas Podolski and captain Michael Ballack put Germany in charge, but Russia came back after the break through Andrey Arshavin to make it a tense second half for the home side.

The result leaves Germany top of the group on seven points ahead of the visit Wednesday to Moenchengladbach of Wales, who defeated Liechtenstein 2-0 to move to six points. Mikael Forssell scored from the penalty spot to give Finland a 1-0 win over Azerbaijan,

World champions Italy drew 0-0 at Bulgaria to keep the lead with seven points from three games in Group 8. Georgia and Cyprus finished 1-1 in the other group game.

Wayne Rooney scored twice as England followed up their 4-1 victory in Croatia with a 5-1 triumph over Kazakhstan at Wembley to make it three wins out of three in Group 6.

Ukraine and Croatia finished goalless in the group, leaving Ukraine on seven points and Croatia on four

Switzerland enjoyed their first win under coach Ottmar Hitzfeld by beating Latvia 2-1 in Group 2.

Greece were 3-0 winners over Moldova to head the group with a maximum nine points, while Israel earned a 3-1 win at Luxembourg to move second on seven points.

In Group 7, the Faroe Islands came close to repeating their shock win over Austria in 1990 in their first international, but had to settle for a 1-1 draw - their first point after 21 defeats.

The home side took the lead two minutes after the break through Bogi Lokin in Torshavn, only for central defender Martin Stranzl to equalize two minutes later.

France came from behind to draw 2-2 in Romania. Florentin Petre and Dorin Goian had opened the scoring for the home side, only for Franck Ribery to pull one back and Yoann Gourcuff to level after the break.

Serbia drubbed Lithuania 3-0 to go top of the group on six points, level with Lithuania, with Austria, France and Romania on four.

In Group 9, goals in each half from Joris Mathijsen and Klass Jan Huntelaar gave the Netherlands a 2-0 win over Iceland for the Dutch to top the group on six points from two games.

Scotland were held to a goalless draw by Norway at Hampden Park to move to four points from three games.

Group 1 saw Denmark down Malta 3-0 to top the group on seven points. Sweden and Portugal finished goalless, while Hungary overcame Albania 2-0.

Poland, whose World Cup campaign had been threatened as a result of their recent row with FIFA, enjoyed a 2-1 win over Czech Republic in Group 2, while Slovenia defeated Northern Ireland 2-0 and Slovakia were 3-1 winners at San Marino.

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