Mon, Mar 30, 2009 - Page 18 News List

2010 FIFA WORLD CUP: Europe's top nations victorious

OLD GUARD: With England on top of their group, World Cup holders Italy, European champions Spain, Germany, France and the Netherlands all won their qualifying matches

AFP , PARIS

World Cup winners Italy, European title-holders Spain, France, Germany and the Netherlands showed the soccer fraternity on Saturday that the established nations are only getting stronger.

Less than 15 months before the start of the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa, Europe’s top nations gave a lesson to the rest in World Cup qualifying fixtures.

Italy won 2-0 in Montenegro, Spain labored to a 1-0 win over Turkey in Madrid, France thanked Franck Ribery for a workmanlike 1-0 win in Lithuania, while Germany thrashed little Liechtenstein 4-0 and the Netherlands whipped Scotland 3-0 in Amsterdam. Smaller nations, dreaming of opening the door to South Africa, had it slammed in their faces.

France coach Raymond Domenech kept critics at bay in Lithuania, telling French television station TF1: “Something’s been happening for quite a while. This team has something and the players are saying so. It’s in the process of being born, of being built, of getting prepared.”

“Tonight was difficult for us, but we played it in good spirit despite the state of the pitch,” Domenech said. “I will say straight away, I was happy with this match.”

He added they would need to keep up the same standard at home to Lithuania in the reverse fixture on Wednesday at the Stade de France.

“There’s another match on Wednesday and we need to be just as good if we want to get the three points,” he said.

And the 1998 winners and 2006 finalists are set fair to have a long World Cup adventure if Domenech’s final comments were anything to go by.

“The players know what a World Cup is,” Domenech said. “We will give it our all right until the end, but the next step is on Wednesday.”

Radoslav Batak’s howler helped grant world champions Italy a comfortable night as they beat Montenegro 2-0 in Podgorica in Group 8.

The 31-year-old center-back, who plies his trade in Turkey at Ankaraspor, needlessly and stupidly handled a cross from Andrea Pirlo in the box and Pirlo got up to fire in an 11th-minute penalty. Giampaolo Pazzino got Italy’s second in the 74th minute.

European champions Spain made it five wins in a row as they squeaked past Turkey 1-0 in Group 5.

After an hour of probing, Spain finally broke the deadlock at the Bernabeu when Gerard Pique bundled in from point-blank range.

Barcelona’s Pique, only called into the national squad last month by coach Vicente del Bosque for a debut against England, was in the right place at the right time after fellow attacking defender Sergio Ramos deflected a Xavi free-kick into his path.

Germany’s Michael Ballack, Marcell Jansen, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski were on target against little Liechtenstein in a 4-0 thrashing. The principality is just 160km² and the national team is largely made up of part-time players.

The Netherlands march toward next year’s finals in South Africa accelerated as the Oranje strolled to a 3-0 win over Scotland.

First-half headers from Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Robin van Persie were followed by a late penalty from Dirk Kuyt as the Dutch chalked up their fourth straight win in Group 9, extending their lead at the top of the section to eight points ahead of Macedonia’s visit on Wednesday.

Other European 2010 World Cup qualifier results on Saturday:

• Malta 0, Denmark 3

• Albania 0, Hungary 1

• Portugal 0, Sweden 0

• Moldova 0, Switzerland 2

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