On Wednesday evening there was another set of vital Euro 2004 qualifiers taking
Euro 2004 Round-up: On Wednesday evening there was another set of vital Euro 2004 qualifiers taking place around the continent and TheFA.com is here to review all the action, starting with Turkey's crucial match with F.Y.R. Macedonia in Istanbul.England's Group Seven rivals Turkey had to twice come from behind to eventually overcome a stubborn Macedonia side 3-2 yesterday and as a result still lead Sven-Göran Eriksson's side by two points, but having played a game more than England.
The home team found themselves trailing to a Vlatko Grozdanovski strike on 23 minutes, and despite equalising with a brilliant long-range shot from Real Sociedad striker Nihat Kahveci, found themselves behind at the interval after new West Bromwich Albion signing Artim Sakiri hit the back of the net within seconds of Nihat's leveller. However in the second half, two substitutes, Gokdeniz Karadeniz and transfer-listed Blackburn Rovers forward Hakan Sukur, won Turkey the three points with two very important goals.
Elsewhere, Denmark remain two points clear at the head of Group Two after a comfortable 2-0 win in Luxembourg on Wednesday and it was two players from Premiership clubs that scored their goals, Charlton's Claus Jensen with the opener, followed by a strike from Everton midfielder Thomas Gravesen.
Also meeting in Oslo in Group Two last night were second-placed Norway and third-in-the-table Romania and the home side remain just a point ahead of their opponents after a 1-1 stalemate. Ioan Ganea had given the Romanians the lead on the hour mark and they held their advantage until 12 minutes from time when Christian Chivu handled in the area and Manchester United forward Ole Gunnar Solskjaer slotted home the resultant penalty
The Czech Republic went back to the top of Group Three with a comfortable 5-0 win over Moldova in Olomouc, a victory that leaves them level on 13 points with the Netherlands, but ahead of them courtesy of the superior head-to-head record. After in-form striker Marek Jankulovski had missed an early spot-kick, the home side ran riot, scoring through Liverpool winger Vladimir Smicer just before the break and immediately after with a Jan Koller penalty, before substitutes Jiri Stajner, on his debut, and Vratislav Lokvenc, twice, completed the rout.
Meanwhile third-placed Austria kept alive their slim hopes of making it into the play-offs with an easy 5-0 hammering of Belarus in Innsbruck that leaves them four points behind the leading duo.
In Group Four yesterday, Sweden moved ahead of previous leaders Latvia into top-spot following a 3-0 win against Poland in Stockholm and it was two more Premiership-based players who got their names on the scoresheet. Unsettled Southampton midfielder Anders Svensson netted either side of half-time, the second a sensational free kick past helpless Liverpool goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek, while he also created the home team's second for in-form Aston Villa striker Marcus Allback. And now up to second place above Latvia are Hungary following their 5-0 win in San Marino, a victory that leaves the visitors level on eleven points with Sweden, but having played a game more than their rivals, and a point ahead of Latvia.
Scotland dropped down a place to third in Group Five on Wednesday and they were not even playing, and that's because Iceland overcame Lithuania 3-0 in Kaunas to move on to nine points, one more than Berti Vogts's side. However at the top remain Germany, but only after they scored two goals in the dying seconds of their encounter with the lowly Faroe Islands in Torshavn to take the three points leaving them with a total of eleven. Substitute forward Miroslav Klose headed the visitors into the lead after 89 minutes, before former Bolton Wanderers striker Fredi Bobic sealed the win in injury time.
The shock of the evening though came at Windsor Park, Belfast, as Northern Ireland continued their recent scoring draught and yet also still somehow managed to keep a star-studded Spanish line-up out for 90 minutes, a result that means that Spain have now collected just two points from their last three qualifying games. As a consequence, Greece have gone one point clear at the top of Group Six as they beat third-in-the-table Ukraine 1-0 in Athens thanks to a late strike from Angelos Haristeas and an automatic place at Euro 2004 is now out of serial qualifiers Spain's hands.
Both Croatia and Belgium secured vital victories in Group Eight last night, results that keep them just a point behind leaders Bulgaria, although Belgium have played a game more than their rivals. Croatia had to wait until 13 minutes from time before making the breakthrough in Tallinn, Niko Kovac's header proving too strong for Sunderland keeper Mart Poom in the Estonia goal. Meanwhile the Belgians had far fewer problems seeing off the challenge of last-placed Andorra 3-0 in Ghent courtesy of a brace from Bart Goor, either side of a Wesley Sonck strike on his home ground.
Wales remain at the Group Nine summit, but now by just two points from second-placed Italy after the Azzurri secured an impressive 2-0 win in Helsinki over third-in-the-table Finland, although the Italians have played a game more than the Welsh. Strikes from Francesco Totti and Alessandro Del Piero left Bolton goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen grasping at thin air but there was some good news for Mark Hughes's team yesterday when Serbia and Montenegro went down for the second time in the space of four days, 2-1 away to bottom-of-the-table Azerbaijan. The visitors had appeared on course for the three points when Branko Boskovic opened the scoring after 27 minutes, but two goals in the final two minutes from a Gurban Gurbanov penalty and Samir Aliyev gave the home side their first victory in two years.
And finally Group Ten has become a three-horse race after both first-placed Switzerland and the Republic of Ireland enjoyed home victories on Wednesday evening. Koebi Kuhn's side moved on to12 points with a nervy 3-2 win over Albania, secured thanks to strikes from former Sunderland full-back Bernt Haas and Alexander Frei in the first period and Ricardo Cabanas after the break, while the visitors Altin Lala levelled the scores at 1-1, before a late Ervin Skela penalty left the Swiss hanging on. Up into second place though, two points behind Switzerland, but three ahead of third-placed Russia, are Brian Kerr's Republic thanks to a hard-fought 2-0 win against bottom-of-the-table Georgia and it was Gary Doherty in the first half and Robbie Keane in the second who were the home team's goalscoring heroes.
Player of the night:
Anders Svensson The Southampton midfielder had a disappointing end to what had been a good season at St Mary's when he was substituted in Southampton's FA Cup final defeat to Arsenal, but he made up for that last night by turning in a man-of-the-match display in Sweden's crucial 3-0 home win over Poland in Group Four, scoring twice and creating the other.
by Richard Morgan