France go top as Spain slip

Wales's Aaron Ramsey celebrates scoring from the penalty spot against Scotland

World Cup qualifiers - roundup

Group A

Croatia proved too strong for bitter Balkan rivals Serbia in their World Cup Group A qualifier in Zagreb, winning their first meeting as independent nations 2-0.

Croatia’s veteran striker Ivica Olic scored one and set up another to sink Serbia in an intense and passionate derby match.

Victory lifted the Croatians to the top of the group with 13 points from five games. Serbia have four points from five matches ahead of a home game against Scotland on Tuesday.

Mario Mandzukic fired Croatia ahead midway through the first half when Olic capitalised on a mistake by Aleksandar Kolarov and squared the ball to his strike partner who prodded it home past two defenders from close range.

The 33-year-old Olic doubled the home team’s advantage in the 37th minute, chesting the ball in from five metres from a teasing Darijo Srna free kick after Kolarov was booked for a rash tackle on Mandzukic.

The match was played under tight security amid fears of crowd trouble but apart from sporadic abuse from home supporters directed at Serbia’s players, it was incident-free.

Meanwhile, Belgium lead the way in Group A on goal difference after a comfortable 3-0 win in Macedonia.

Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard with a penalty were on target for the visitors, who are now on 13 points.

Elsewhere, Wales beat Scotland 2-1 at Hampden. Grant Hanley put Scotland in front before Aaron Ramsey and Hal Robson-Kanu hit back.

Group B

Three second-half goals guided Denmark to a comprehensive away victory over the Czech Republic as they claimed the first win of their World Cup qualification campaign.

The hosts had the better of the first half before Denmark took control towards half-time. Their superiority was rewarded with goals by Andreas Cornelius, Simon Kjaer and Niki Zimling moving them on to five points, the same as their hosts although still five behind leaders Italy.

Aleksandar Tonev scored a hat-trick as Bulgaria strengthened their position in second place in Group B by hitting Malta for six in in Sofia.

The Lech Poznan forward scored twice in the first half to put the hosts in command before Ivelin Popov got a third just after the break.

Emil Gargorov made it four and the irrepressible Tonev completed his treble before Ivan Ivanov rounded off the scoring.

Group D

Holland recorded their 13th consecutive World Cup qualifying win to further improve their chances of reaching the finals in Brazil with victory over Estonia in Amsterdam.

While the win was hardly the most convincing of the Oranje’s impressive run, it ensured they moved five points clear in Group D.

Substitute Rafael van der Vaart opened the scoring on 47 minutes before Robin van Persie and substitute Ruben Schaken sealed victory.

With closest rivals Hungary drawing 2-2 with Romania it meant Holland — who have not lost a World Cup qualifier since 2001 — are now in full control of the group.

Alexandru Chipciu’s goal in the third minute of stoppage time earned Romania a valuable draw in their World Cup qualifying clash in Hungary.

The Steaua Bucharest player, on as an 86th-minute substitute, grabbed the visitors’ second leveller of the match to keep his side level on points with Hungary in second place in Group D.

Turkey won 2-0 at Andorra in the group’s other game. Group E

Iceland beat Slovenia 2-1 while Group E rivals Albania recorded a surprise 1-0 victory in Norway to move within a point of leaders Switzerland, who play in Cyprus.

Norway slip to fourth place in Group E after a narrow home defeat to Albania last night. Hamdi Salihi got the winner on 67 minutes.

Group F

Portugal picked up a precious away point after fighting back from 3-1 down to draw 3-3 with Israel in Tel Aviv, leaving those two sides with eight points in Group F.

Portugal took the lead in the second minute, but the visitors were 3-1 down after 70 minutes. However, two late goals forced a 3-3 draw.

Bruno Alves silenced the 40,000 crowd with the early opener but Israel rallied thanks to Tomer Hemed, Eden Ben Bassat and Rami Gershon.

Helder Postiga and Fabio Coentrao then saved the day for Portugal.

Group G

Lithuania ground out a creditable draw in Zilina to deny Slovakia a share of second place.

Slovakia quickly cancelled out Darvydas Sernas’ opener but, despite their dominance, a header from Jan Durica was the sum total of their efforts. Elsewhere, Bosnia beat Greece 3-1 at home.

Group I

France now control Group I after victory over Georgia in Paris. With Spain held by Finland, France are two points clear. France and Spain meet in Paris next Tuesday night.

Olivier Giroud gave France the lead and early second half goals from Mathieu Valbuena and Franck Ribery put them in control before Alexander Kobakhidze got one back.

Spain drew 1-1 with Finland, Sergio Ramos putting la Roja ahead before Teemu Pukki’s 79th-minute equaliser.


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