Estonia win opening Euro 2012 qualifier; International review
Only one month after the 2010 FIFA World Cup concluded in South Africa the qualifying process for the UEFA 2012 European Championships began in Tallinn today with Estonia facing the Faroe Islands. There was also African Cup of Nations qualifying action in Chad and Malawi whilst most nations were otherwise occupied in friendly action. Stoppage Time – International Football Blog reviews this week’s international action.
Estonia were grateful to Kaimar Saag and Raio Piiroja whose goals in the dying minutes of their opening Euro 2012 qualifying game against the Faroe Islands spared the hosts’ blushes in their 2-1 victory. The visitors took the lead in Tallinn through Jóan Edmundsson in the 28th minute and the game looked like it would end in an upset until Saag equalized in the 90th minute. Piiroja scored the second goal three minutes into stoppage time to give the Baltic nation the first three points of the campaign in Group C. The Faroes play their next qualification match at home to Serbia on September 3rd whilst Estonia will hope to keep up momentum when they play Italy at home on the same date.
In African Cup of Nations qualifying there were two matches played this week in Group K which got under way during the FIFA World Cup and is the only qualifying group with any matches played thus far. In Wednesday’s matches group leaders Botswana, who had won their previous two qualifying games against Tunisia and Chad, had to be content with a 1-1 draw away to Malawi. Jerome Ramatlhakwane gave the Botswana team the lead after 63 minutes but the home side restored parity eleven minutes later through David Banda. In the other tie Chad were defeated at home by an on-fire Tunisia side who goals for Korbi, Jemaa and Ben Khalfallah securing a 3-1 win for the North Africans in the Chadian capital city of N’Djamena. Togo, who have been re-instated into African Cup of Nations following the tragic events in the 2010 tournament finals in Angola, play their next game in this group against Botswana on September 3rd with many of the other qualifying groups getting under way from this date.
Italy saw their post-World Cup depression continue with a 2-1 defeat to the Ivory Coast in a game played at Upton Park, the home of West Ham United in London. Kolo Touré settled the match with a 55th minute near post header to give new Azzurri coach Cesare Prandelli a losing start to life at the helm. After their travails in South Africa, France were another team who could’ve done with a lift but were on the losing side against Norway with Erik Huseklepp scoring a brace (51 & 71 mins) after Hatem Ben Arfa had given Les Bleus the lead on 48 minutes. Another team who suffered heartbreak at the World Cup was Brazil but they put all their woes behind them with a 2-0 win against the United States thanks to two first-half goals from Neymar and Alexandre Pato, the latter scoring in stoppage time to put the game beyond the Americans. The Netherlands, who knocked Brazil out of the World Cup could only muster a 1-1 draw against Ukraine, for whom Oleksandr Aliyev equalized just two minutes after Jermaine Lens had give the Oranje the lead on 72 minutes.
Germany had a good World Cup tournament, ultimately going out to World Cup winners Spain, but they let a two goal lead slip in Copenhagen where they had to settle for a 2-2 draw against Denmark. Mario Gomez and Patrick Helmes gave the Germans a two goal lead but the home side fought back thanks to strikes from Dennis Rommedahl and Mads Junker. Argentina ruined the opening night party for the Republic of Ireland at their new Aviva Stadium home in Dublin with Angel di Maria scoring the decisive goal on 21 minutes. Across the Irish Sea the Hungarians were hoping to cause an upset at Wembley Stadium and opened the scoring against hosts England. However a double strike from Steven Gerrard brought the Three Lions a successful return to home shores winning 2-1. This, coupled with Scotland’s 3-0 away defeat in Stockholm against Sweden, made it a good night for the English although their other cross-border rivals Wales had it pretty easy against a poor Luxembourg side beating them 5-1.
There were mixed fortunes for some of the other World Cup playing nations who were in friendly action on Wednesday night. There were wins for South Africa (1-0 over World Cup quarter-finalists Ghana), Cameroon (3-0 away in Poland), Greece (1-0 over fellow WC participants Serbia) and Switzerland (who beat neighbours Austria 1-0). Defeats were suffered by Australia (2-0 away at Slovenia) and Nigeria (2-1 against South Korea) whilst Slovakia, who knocked Italy out of the World Cup, could only muster a 1-1 draw at home to Croatia. In the late match played in Mexico the host side took an early lead against FIFA World Cup champions Spain thanks to a 12th minute goal from Javier Hernández. Spain carved out a few good chances in the second half with Pedro guilty of missing a couple of guilt-edged chances towards the end of the game and it looked like those chances would prove costly for La Roja. But a defensive lapse from Mexico allowed Xavi to play David Silva through the middle and the new Manchester City signing tucked the ball home to secure a one all draw for the world champions.