Euro 2016: Portugal, Rep. of Ireland get important wins; N. Ireland earn late draw
Miguel Veloso snatched a last-minute winner for Portugal in Albania as they moved to the brink of Euro 2016.
The defender headed in from 12 yards in injury-time to keep Portugal top of Group I with a 1-0 win.
They lead the table by three points ahead of Denmark as Fernando Santos’ men closed in on a place in France next year.
Former Manchester United winger Nani hit the post for the visitors while Sokol Cikalleshi’s deflected effort hit the bar in the second half for Albania, who are a point behind Denmark with a game in hand going into the final round of fixtures next month.
Portugal had the better of the first half but failed to find the breakthrough as Adelino Vieirinha, Miguel Danny and Ronaldo failed to find the net from distance.
And Nani was denied by the woodwork on 12 minutes when he stretched to meet the ball only to poke it onto the outside of the post.
Portugal’s frustrations continued and Albania began the second half strongly as Taulant Xhaka and Cikalleshi tested the defense before Danny saw his shot saved by Albania keeper Etrit Berisha on the hour.
And with 15 minutes left Albania almost grabbed an opener when Cikalleshi controlled a bouncing ball on the edge of the box and his deflected half volley struck the crossbar.
But Portugal clinched victory in stoppage time when Veloso met Ricardo Quaresma’s corner to head in a last-gasp winner.
Republic of Ireland 1-0 Georgia
Jonathan Walters ended an eventful few days with a priceless goal to hand the Republic of Ireland a firmer grip on the chance to reach the Euro 2016 finals after a 1-0 win over Georgia.
Walters, who did not join up with the squad until Wednesday as a possible deadline day move away from Stoke failed to materialize, stabbed home his seventh and arguably most important goal for his country after Jeff Hendrick’s stunning run and cross 69 minutes into a tie which proved far too tricky for comfort.
The victory at the Aviva Stadium, coupled with Scotland’s 3-2 home defeat by Germany, leaves Martin O’Neill’s men five points clear of their neighbors in the race for third spot in Group D and a crack at the play-offs with two games remaining.
Their task remains difficult with Germany heading for Dublin before Ireland fly to Poland next month, but they have at least given themselves a chance, although midfielders Glenn Whelan and James McClean will sit out the first game through suspension.
Having been handed a lifeline by the Scots’ defeat in Tbilisi and their expected victory over Gibraltar on Friday evening, Ireland ran out knowing there was much hard work still to be done, but equally aware that their fate remained in their own hands, albeit with top two Poland and Germany to come.
The visitors’ defense proved more than equal to Ireland’s often direct approach with Wes Hoolahan looking the only man likely to unlock it, although even then, all too infrequently.
Northern Ireland 1-1 Hungary
Kyle Lafferty struck a stoppage-time equaliser as 10-man Northern Ireland salvaged a point against Hungary to keep their Euro 2016 dreams very much on course.
Victory on the 10th anniversary of their famous win over England would have secured Michael O’Neill’s men a place in France next summer, but the night looked set to end in acrimony as Michael McGovern’s goalkeeping error gifted Richard Guzmics the opener in the 74th minute.
Chris Baird was sent off with eight minutes left, having committed a pair of fouls within seconds, but Lafferty’s seventh strike of the campaign – a close-range blast following up Niall McGinn’s effort – ensured a point.
With Romania drawing against Greece, O’Neill’s men remain top of Group F – though Lafferty will miss the potentially decisive clash with the Greeks next month having picked up a second booking.
It was a frenetic, febrile finish in Belfast but once again showed Northern Ireland’s desire to reach a first major tournament in 30 years is alive and kicking.
Poland 8-0 Gibraltar
Poland moved a step closer to qualifying for Euro 2016 with a crushing 8-1 victory over Group D opponents Gibraltar in Warsaw.
Gibraltar made an encouraging start but it was the hosts who opened the scoring after only eight minutes, Robert Lewandowski providing the cross for team-mate Kamil Grosicki to head home.
Poland doubled their lead after 15 minutes with a quality finish from Grosicki, who chipped the ball over Jordan Perez after making the most of a defensive slip-up.
It then became the Lewandowski show as the Bayern Munich striker scored twice in the space of 10 minutes.
His first was a neat finish from the edge of the penalty area after 19 minutes, and he struck again approaching the half-hour mark.
Arkadiusz Milik created the chance with a fine cross and Lewandowski made no mistake from close range.
The Poles added two more goals early in the second half, Milik making it five with a neat finish in the 56th minute before Lewandowski was brought down in the penalty area and Jakub Blaszczykowski stepped up to convert his spot-kick.
Milik added his second of the game with a left-footed volley, and Bartosz Kapustka got in on the act with their eighth goal after 74 minutes.
But Gibraltar had the final word, with Jake Gosling on target in the 87th minute.
Romania 0-0 Greece
Greece held Romania to a 0-0 draw to hand Northern Ireland a Euro 2016 lifeline.
Victory for Romania would have seen them leapfrog Northern Ireland – who drew 1-1 with Hungary – at the top of Group F but they had to settle for a point against their struggling visitors.
Romania are second, a point behind Northern Ireland, while Greece claimed just their third point of the qualifying campaign and are bottom of the group.
Claudiu Keseru wasted the hosts’ best chance but his shot was blocked with Ovidiu Hoban free in the box during the first half.
Romania made a good start with FC Astra Giurgiu’s Constantin Budescu lively but he was denied by the feet of keeper Orestis Karnezis after 17 minutes.
Keseru had a shot blocked just before the break when he went alone instead of passing and Romania’s frustration continued when Gabriel Torje fired wide after the restart.
Greece rarely threatened and had just two efforts on goal as they underlined their position in the group.
Romania coach Anghel Iordanescu replaced defensive midfielder Hoban with forward Florin Andone as time started to run out for the hosts and their desperation grew.
They could not find a winner though and were left cursing when substitute Lucian Sanmartean fired a stoppage-time free-kick over the bar from 25 yards.
Finland 1-0 Faroe Islands
Joel Pohjanpalo’s first-half strike was enough to give Finland a 1-0 Euro 2016 qualifying Group F victory over the Faroe Islands in Helsinki.
Pohjanpalo struck when he reacted quickest after Alexander Ring hit the post with a looping header to nod home from close range.
Frodi Benjaminsen headed narrowly wide for the Faroe Islands before Gunnar Nielsen made a superb save to prevent Pohjanpalo from doubling the advantage as he turned away his effort after he broke clear.
Brandur Henriksen then pulled his shot over the bar for the visitors from just outside the area as they went in search of an equalizer but Finland held on for victory.