England and reigning champions Spain both secured home victories in Euro 2016 qualifying on Saturday, as some of the continent’s minnows again enjoyed outstanding results, notably San Marino, who snapped a losing run dating to 2011.
A turgid Group E encounter between England and Slovenia at London’s Wembley Stadium came to life in the second half as Roy Hodgson’s side fought back to win 3-1 and make it four wins from four games to remain firmly on track for a place at the finals in France.
Slovenia took the lead just before the hour mark with a Jordan Henderson own-goal, but England were back on level terms moments later thanks to Wayne Rooney, who won and converted a penalty to mark his 100th international appearance with his 44th goal for the Three Lions.
Danny Welbeck of Arsenal then netted a brace to seal the victory.
“It was a good day in the end. We had to show character and that will be good for us in the team. Since the [FIFA] World Cup, we haven’t faced that [going behind],” Rooney said, as England now turn their thoughts to tomorrow’s friendly with Scotland in Glasgow.
Elsewhere in Group E, Switzerland beat Lithuania 4-0 thanks to four second-half goals, including two from Bayern Munich’s Xherdan Shaqiri.
Spain will go into a friendly with World Cup winners Germany fresh from a routine 3-0 win against Belarus in Group C, a result that saw the European champions take three victories from four qualifiers.
Real Madrid midfielder Isco marked his first start for La Roja with a brilliant first-half opener, before Barcelona duo Sergio Busquets and Pedro Rodriguez added further goals in Huelva, Spain.
“We played well, we dominated the match and scored twice in the first half, which gave us a certain peace of mind,” Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said.
There were also more surprises to follow the Faroe Islands’ stunning 1-0 win in Greece on Friday, — which prompted the demise of Claudio Ranieri as coach of the 2004 European champions — as San Marino and Liechtenstein claimed famous results of their own.
San Marino, ranked 208th and joint-last in the world by FIFA alongside Bhutan, ended a run of 61 consecutive defeats by holding Estonia to a 0-0 draw at home in Group E.
After seeing his side gain their first-ever point in a Euro qualifier and avoid defeat in a competitive match for the first time since 2001, San Marino coach Pierangelo Manzaroli said: “This result is a reward for the players and it will be an incentive to gain other good results sooner than in 12 years’ time.”
Liechtenstein fared even better, with a second-half goal by captain Franz Burgmeier securing a 1-0 win for them over Moldova in Group G.
The tiny principality with a population of less than 40,000 had not won a competitive match since June 2011 and had not won abroad in a qualifier in more than a decade.
In contrast, Europe’s largest nation went down 1-0 to Austria in the same group to increase the pressure on Russia coach Fabio Capello.
The only goal of the game in Vienna was scored by TSV 1860 Munich’s Pakistan-born striker Rubin Okotie in the 73rd minute, moments after officials had deemed that another effort by the same player had not crossed the line.
The result comes a month after Russia were held at home by Moldova and days after the Russian Football Federation said it could no longer afford to pay Capello’s huge salary, believed to be about 7 million euros (US$8.8 million) per year.
Austria are four points clear at the top of the group after Sweden, were held 1-1 in Montenegro.
Captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic marked his first start in a competitive match for almost two months after injury leave by giving the visitors an early lead, but he later struck the post from a free-kick before Stevan Jovetic equalized from the penalty spot 10 minutes from time.
Elsewhere, Ukraine claimed their third consecutive win in Group C as Andriy Yarmolenko scored a second-half hat-trick to secure a 3-0 victory in Luxembourg.
Ukraine and Spain are three points behind Slovakia, who kept their perfect record in the qualifying campaign by defeating Macedonia 2-0 in Skopje thanks to first-half goals by Juraj Kucka and Adam Nemec.
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