Germany, Italy closer to Euro 2012; France stalls

Germany and Italy moved closer to a place at the 2012 European

Championship with contrasting victories on Friday, while France’s

progress in qualifying was stalled by dropping more points against

Belarus.

Mario Gomez kept up Germany’s perfect record in Group A with a

first-half goal and a late winner in a 2-1 victory over

Austria.

Italy cruised to a 3-0 win over Estonia in Group C, providing

some positive news for the country amid the latest match-fixing

scandal.

France remains top of Group D despite a four-match winning run

ending in a 1-1 draw at Belarus, which had won in Paris earlier in

the campaign.

Like France, Italy experienced a miserable first-round exit from

the World Cup last June, but the Azzurri have regained some of

their swagger on the road to Poland and Ukraine.

Giuseppe Rossi, who scored 32 goals for Villarreal last season,

put Italy ahead after being set by Cassano, who doubled the lead

before half time from a Riccardo Montolivo pass.

Giampaolo Pazzini added a third goal by finishing off a

counterattack in the 68th minute, while Rossi and Andrea Pirlo also

hit the post in a dazzling display.

The match came three days after 16 arrests up and down Italy,

with numerous more under investigation for allegedly fixing

games.

Italy is five points ahead of Slovenia, which beat Faeroe

Islands 2-0 despite having Marko Suler sent off after 25

minutes.

Serbia is eight points back and Estonia nine points behind,

having won five of their six qualifiers.

In Group A, Gomez made it six wins out of six for Germany.

The Bayern Munich striker put Germany ahead just before the

break, scoring from close range after Austria’s defense failed to

clear the ball after a corner taken by Toni Kroos.

Austria equalized in the 50th when Germany defender Arne

Friedrich tried to clear a cross by David Alaba before it reached

Martin Harnik, but could only deflect the ball past his wrongfooted

goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.

But Gomez struck an 89th-minute winner, steering home a cross by

captain Philipp Lahm to claim his 18th goal for Germany.

Germany has a seven-point lead over Belgium, which squandered a

late chance to beat Turkey when Axel Witsel blazed over a penalty

in a 1-1 draw.

In Group D, Florent Malouda scored an equalizer to earn France a

scrappy 1-1 draw away to Belarus.

An own goal from France defender Eric Abidal gave Belarus a

deserved lead in the 20th minute, but Malouda finished neatly two

minutes later after being set up by Karim Benzema in France’s first

attack of the match.

France remains top of Group D with 13 points from six matches,

while Belarus is second with nine points.

Striker Ciprian Marica scored twice as Romania beat Bosnia 3-0

to climb above its opponent into fourth place.

In Group E, Sweden swept past Moldova 4-1 on Friday to tighten

its grip on second place.

Sweden has 12 points from five games, three points ahead of

third-place Hungary, which has played a game more. Netherlands lead

the group with 18 points.

Croatia scored two late goals to secure a 2-1 win over Georgia

and go top in Group F above Greece.