FORMER world champions Italy are the latest team to realise you cannot take Northern Ireland lightly.
Following a 1-0 victory against Slovenia last month, Nigel Worthington’s side picked up a point at Windsor Park in a scoreless Euro 2012 qualifier to end the Azzurris’ 100% record .
Boss Worthington could not hide his delight at the final whistle in front of a capacity crowd. And it could have been even better had David Healy not squandered a chance in the first half.
In the same group Vladimir Petrovic’s tenure as Serbia coach got off to the worst possible start as they let slip a 1-0 lead to suffer a shock 3-1 defeat to Estonia in Belgrade.
It looked to be going the new boss’s way when Birmingham striker Nikola Zigic struck on the hour, but a fine goal from Middlesbrough forward Tarmo Kink drew the Baltic nation level and Konstantin Vassiljev put them in front in the 73rd minute. The result was sealed by an Aleksandar Lukovic own goal in injury time and took Estonia into second place in Group C behind Italy.
Tim Matavz scored a hat trick to help give Slovenia a 5-1 win over lowly Faroe Islands. Milivoje Novakovic added the fourth from the penalty spot in the 72nd minute and substitute Zlatko Dedic added the fifth in the 84th minute.
Brian Kerr’s side earned a consolation though substitute Christian Mouritsen in injury time.
Elsewhere, Ivelin Popov struck the only goal as Bulgaria delivered a huge blow to Wales’ hopes of qualifying.
The Bulgaria striker lashed in a shot off the post after 48 minutes at the Cardiff City Stadium to condemn Brian Flynn to defeat in his first match as caretaker manager.
Welsh woes were compounded in injury time when Chris Gunter was sent off for a cynical foul on Dimitar Rangelov.
Mesut Ozil, meanwhile, helped Germany to their third straight qualifying win with a goal against his ancestors’ nation in a 3-0 win over Turkey at Berlin’s Olympiastadion.
The Real Madrid forward scored for Joachim Low’s side in the 79th minute after Miroslav Klose had netted his fourth goal so far in the qualifying campaign in the 42nd minute. Klose then wrapped up the victory third three minutes from time.
More than 300,000 citizens of Turkish origin live in Germany’s capital and 10% of them descended on the Olympiastadion to demolish the host nation’s home advantage.
Also in Group A, substitute Marvin Ogunjimi netted twice to give Belgium a 2-0 win over 10-man Kazakhstan. The Genk striker opened the scoring in the 52nd minute after pouncing on a shot spilled by home goalkeeper Andrei Sidelnikov.
Ogunjimi doubled the lead in the 70th when he slotted in from close range under Sidelnikov, who had parried a strike from Ogunjimi’s club team-mate Jelle Vossen. Kazakhstan midfielder Aleksandr Kislitsyn had been sent off a minute beforehand.
Belgium remain in fourth place in Group A with three points after three games. Kazakhstan stay bottom with zero points.
In the same pool, two second-half goals by winger Marko Arnautovic helped Austria beat Azerbaijan 3-0.
Defender Sebastian Proedl gave Austria a lead in the third minute with a header from a Zlatko Junuzovic corner.
In Group H, Portugal Manchester United winger Nani was the two-goal hero as Portugal clinched a crucial 3-1 win over Denmark at home.
After a Ricardo Carvalho own goal on 79 minutes gave the Danes a lifeline – making it 2-1 – former Old Trafford man and Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo made sure new boss Paulo Bento’s reign got off to a winning start with a late goal.
Group rivals Norway, meanwhile, held off a second-half fightback by Cyprus to make it nine points from nine with a 2-1 win in Nicosia.
John Arne Riise’s early goal and John Carew’s calm finish shortly before the interval appeared to have put the Scandinavian side in control.
But Yiannis Okkas put the match back in the balance and Norway keeper Jon Knudsen was to the fore as his side were forced to defend strongly.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved