Italy salvage draw at Bulgaria with late equalizer; Belgium crush Cyprus

Italian players celebrate as Eder scored his side's equalizer against Bulgaria on Saturday night.

NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV/AFP/Getty Images

Eder marked his Italy debut in style with a brilliant equaliser as they kept their Euro 2016 qualifying run going in Bulgaria.

The Azzurri had not lost in 44 qualifying fixtures going into this clash – a run dating back to 2006 – but that was seriously under threat as they trailed 2-1 with eight minutes left.

But Sampdoria’s Brazil-born striker had other ideas and curled in an equaliser from the edge of the box to secure a 2-2 draw.

It had looked as though new Bulgaria coach Ivaylo Petev was going to start his reign with a win, with Ivelin Popov and Iliyan Mitsanski having washed out Iordan Minev’s early own goal.

Italy fall two points behind leaders Croatia in Group H as a result, but with half of the fixtures to come they will have few worries about that.

This result also gave a positive end to the day for Italy coach Antonio Conte, who had reportedly been the subject of death threats in the wake of Juventus midfielder Claudio Marchisio being injured while on duty with the national side.

Early on it looked as though Italy were going to run up a heavy score. Having already gone close through Ciro Immobile – who got one-on-one with Nikolay Mihaylov – they took the lead as Minev got ahead of Simone Zaza as a ball was whipped in by Andrea Bertolacci but he could only put it into his own goal.

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Italy continued to impress, keen to leave no margin for error, and Antonio Candreva cracked in a 30-yard free-kick which Mihaylov fisted away.

Immobile remained in the hunt for goals too, twice more taking aim but being denied by first the keeper and then the legs of Stanislav Manolev.

It had been all Italy in the early stages but Bulgaria made it 1-1 with 11 on the clock, scoring against the run of play.

Manolev made his way up field and swung in a cross which was cleared, but Popov got onto the ball, drove forward and sent a shot beyond Salvatore Sirigu.

The PSG keeper was picking the ball out of the back of his net for a second time six minutes later, as again Bulgaria were afforded room to pick their play and Mitsanski nodded in a Milanov cross to flip the game on its head.

Italy tried to respond with Zaza’s strike deflected behind, but Bulgaria remained the more dangerous side as Popov proved when he slammed a long-range free-kick against the bar with Sirigu flapping.

Bulgaria went into the dressing rooms ahead and remained largely untested after it, keeping Italy at bay and giving them limited sightings of their goal.

Even when they did get close they found themselves quickly crowded out. Immobile took aim and was denied by Mihaylov as the game hit its three-quarter point and then, as the ball fell loose to Bertolacci he was closed down before he could get a clean strike away.

Time was running out for Italy and they knew it, something summed up when Giorgio Chiellini’s header from a corner was way off beam and Immobile was booked for diving, claiming a penalty as he fell.

But Eder had other ideas and his right-footed strike as the clock ran down ensured his side took a point.

Belgium 5, Cyprus 0

A Marouane Fellaini brace and further strikes from Christian Benteke, Eden Hazard and Michy Batshuayi earned Belgium a 5-0 victory over Cyprus in their Euro 2016 qualifier in Brussels.

Fellaini and Benteke struck in the first half to give Belgium a commanding 2-0 lead before the break, before Fellaini, Hazard and Batshuayi netted in the second to complete a commanding victory for Marc Wilmots’ side.

Belgium replace Cyprus in third place in Group B, with the Red Devils having accumulated eight points from their four matches to date.

Belgium trail Wales, who earlier beat Israel 3-0 in Haifa to replace them as group leaders, by three points but have played a game fewer than Chris Coleman’s side.

Having made a sluggish start to the qualifying campaign with just five points accrued from their first three games, Belgium wasted little time in exerting their dominance over Cyprus in the opening exchanges at the King Baudouin Stadium.

Fellaini put Belgium in front in the 21st minute after he profited from some calamitous Cyprus defending from a corner.

Giorgos Merkis tried to clear in his own area but his attempt cannoned off Vincent Laban and Fellaini shot on the turn and his low strike beat Cyprus goalkeeper Tasos Kissas and nestled into the net.

Benteke doubled Belgium’s advantage 10 minutes before half-time when he gave the Cyprus defenders the slip to head a Hazard cross past Kissas to reward his side’s first-half dominance.

Cyprus held their own for 20 minutes of the second half but two goals in as many minutes meant they would be on the wrong end of a heavy defeat.

Fellaini scored his second goal of the match when he collected the ball on the edge of the area before curling past Kissas and into the top left-hand corner.

It was 4-0 moments later when Hazard capped off a fine midfield display by waltzing past a couple of Cyprus defenders before rifling into the corner of the net.

Cyprus were down and very much out at this point and Belgium grabbed a fifth with 10 minutes left when Batshuayi scored his first senior international goal on the night of his first cap with a fine strike from outside of the penalty area to complete a comprehensive victory for the hosts.

Andorra 0 Bosnia and Herzegovina 3

Edin Dzeko racked up a hat-trick for Bosnia and Herzegovina as they picked up their first win of Euro 2016 qualifying in a 3-0 victory over Andorra.

Dzeko, who has scored four times for Manchester City in the Premier League this season, made it a record-extending 41 for Bosnia, who comfortably emerged winners in what was the two sides’ first meeting at senior international level.

The final result was the perfect way to begin Mehmed Bazdarevic’s tenure as Bosnia coach, having replaced Safet Susic, while Andorra did not manage a single attempt – to Bosnia’s 17 – and thereby extended their run of competitive defeats to 49.

Andorra, who are yet to pick up a point in Group B, started on a positive note as Victor Rodriguez had a header go over the bar in the very first minute, but it went Bosnia’s way after that.

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While there were a few early fouls, and Marcio Vieira and Ognjen Vranjes found themselves booked for either side, Dzeko was able to assert his authority on the game soon enough.

Senad Lulic came up with the perfect flick-on for Dzeko from a long ball out, and Dzeko was able to finish with his left foot from the edge of the area to give Bosnia the lead on 13 minutes.

It took his international tally to 39 and Andorra were in danger of being overwhelmed at home, as Edin Visca and Vedad Ibisevic were able find spaces, though their efforts were wide of the mark.

Bosnia continued to exert pressure on their hosts, with Ibisevic again going close on 31 minutes and Dzeko then heading wide from close range.

Andorra were thankful to Marc Vales for blocking a volley effort from Ibisevic on the stroke of half-time, but the Dzeko-Lulic partnership was far from done.

Barely four minutes after the restart – and just two after Emir Spahic’s header was blocked away – Lulic tore down the left flank for Bosnia and laid the ball on a plate for Dzeko to slot home from six yards.

Things went from bad to worse for Andorra after the hour mark, with Dzeko getting his hat-trick with a first-time finish, this time thanks to Lulic’s weaving run into the box.

It was damage limitation from then on, as only Vieira managed an attempt of note on 71 minutes, a long-range shot that Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic watched sail over his bar.

Bosnia had more chances to increase their lead but could not make the most of them as Visca and Milan Djuric could only steer their efforts wide.