8 Sep 2009

European football wrap

6:40 am on 8 September 2009

France, the 1998 champions, and equally star-studded Portugal suffered two more potentially fatal stumbles on the road to the 2011 World Cup finals.

The French, who were also runners-up in 2006, were held to a 1-1 draw by Romania in Paris which keeps them in second spot in Group Seven, four points behind leaders Serbia who they visit in a must-win clash.

Defeat in Belgrade would leave Raymond Domenech's side facing having to qualify via the lottery of the play-offs.

Portugal, boasting the world's most expensive player in Cristiano Ronaldo, are in an even more precarious position after a 1-all draw with Group One leaders Denmark in Copenhagen which virtually ended the 2006 semi-finalists' hopes of automatic qualification.

Portugal, have slumped to fourth place, seven points behind Denmark, three behind Hungary and two back from Sweden who won 2-1 in Budapest thanks to an injury-time strike from Barcelona striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

World champions Italy saw off Georgia 2-nil in Tbilisi to stay a point ahead of the Republic of Ireland in Group Eight thanks to a pair of own-goals from AC Milan defender Kakha Kaladze.

The Irish defeated Cyprus 2-1 in Nicosia with a late strike from Robbie Keane securing the three points.

In Group Five, European champions Spain crushed hapless Belgium 5-0 to wrap up their seventh win in seven games.

If Spain beat Estonia in Merida, and Bosnia fail to beat Turkey, they will qualify for the finals with two games to spare.

Russia edged Liechtenstein 3-nil in St Petersburg in Group Four to move just a point behind leaders Germany, who they meet in Moscow on October 10.

In Glasgow, Scotland grabbed a 2-0 win over Macedonia courtesy of Scott Brown's first international goal and a superb solo effort from James McFadden.

Scotland need to beat the Netherlands, who have already qualified with a perfect 21 points from seven matches, to keep up their slim hopes of booking a play-off place.

In Kiev, Ukraine needed three penalties to see off little Andorra 5-0 to stay in contention for the runners-up spot in Group Six where England are virtually assured of making the finals having won all of their seven matches.

Croatia stay second thanks to a 1-0 home win over Belarus. The Croatians next go to England on where Fabio Capello's home side can secure qualification with victory.