England drew 2-2 at home to Switzerland to jeopardize its hopes of making next year’s European Championship in Poland and Ukraine and Portugal climbed to the top of Group H by beating Norway 1-0 on Saturday.
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Helder Postiga scored the 53rd-minute winner for Portugal in the top-of-the-table match in Lisbon, securing his side a third successive victory in qualifying since Paulo Bento took over as coach in September.
England came from 2-0 down to grab a point at Wembley and only remained top of Group G on goal difference from Montenegro, which missed a chance to go above Fabio Capello’s side by drawing 1-1 to Bulgaria.
Greece eased past Malta 3-1 to return to the top of Group F and Robbie Keane’s double earned Ireland a 2-0 victory at Macedonia, keeping Giovanni Trapattoni’s side first in Group B ahead on goals scored from Russia and Slovakia – who both won on Saturday.
Postiga pounced at the near post to poke home a cross from winger Nani as Portugal, captained by a subdued Cristiano Ronaldo, finally broke down an obdurate Norway defense.
”This game was no less harder than we’d expected,” said Bento, who has revived Portugal’s campaign since taking over from Carlos Queiroz when the team had just one point in two qualifying games. ”We managed to take control and keep control.”
Denmark tied with Portugal and Norway in the standings with a 2-0 win at Iceland, with midfielders Lasse Schone and Christian Eriksen scoring second-half goals in Reykjavik.
Like Portugal, England is far from securing a place at Euro 2012.
Tranquillo Barnetta scored two free kicks in the space of three minutes to put the Swiss ahead 2-0 by the 35th but Frank Lampard scored from the penalty spot for England in the 37th minute.
Substitute Ashley Young tied it with a powerful strike six minutes into the second half.
”The Switzerland players were fresher, they have had a different season,” said England coach Fabio Capello. ”We suffered because we arrived without energy.”
Switzerland is six points behind the joint leaders with three matches left. Only the top team qualifies automatically from each group.
”To draw in the home of football is very good, but we don’t want to overestimate it. We have to go on,” Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld said.
Montenegro failed to take advantage of England’s slip-up, conceding a goal to Ivelin Popov in the 64th to draw with Bulgaria.
Radomir Djalovic put the hosts ahead in the 52nd with a volley from Vladimir Bozovic’s left-wing cross.
”We are fine with this draw, but it is a pity that we did not score a positive result,” Montenegro coach Zlatko Kranjcar said.
All three of Group B’s pacesetters won to leave the pool wide open with four matches left for each side.
Keane became the first British player to reach the 50-goal mark in internationals. He has 51 after his brace in Macedonia.
Roman Pavlyuchenko, Keane’s teammate at English side Tottenham, scored a hat trick in Russia’s 3-1 home win over Armenia, and Slovakia edged past Andorra 1-0 thanks to Miroslav Karhan’s 63rd-minute winner.
In Group F, Yiannis Fetfatzidis scored twice and Kyriakos Papadopoulos added a goal on debut to help visiting Greece beat Malta.
Michael Mifsud scored Malta’s lone goal.
Israel stayed one point behind Greece and level on points with Croatia after a 2-1 victory at Latvia.
In African Cup of Nations qualifying, a last-minute penalty miss by Samuel Eto’o left Cameroon with little hope of playing in the tournament following a 0-0 home draw with Senegal.
The Cameroon captain’s injury-time spot-kick hit the crossbar, denying the four-time African champion a precious victory in its fading campaign.
Police used water cannons outside Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium to disperse over a thousand disgruntled supporters after they prevented the Cameroon team bus from leaving the ground, blaming captain Eto’o for the team’s struggles.
Elsewhere, Uganda and Burkina Faso closed in on next year’s African championship after both teams secured solid victories.
Uganda beat Guinea-Bissau 2-0 to edge closer to its first Cup of Nations since 1978, when it lost in the final. Burkina Faso stayed on course for Gabon and Equatorial Guinea with a 4-1 hammering of Namibia.
Morocco routed north African rival Algeria 4-0 in the most one-sided of the continent’s six qualifiers on Saturday.
Also, Zambia beat Mozambique 3-0 and Sierra Leone edged Niger 1-0 to give it an outside chance of qualifying in a group containing heavyweights South Africa and Egypt.
Top-ranked African team Ghana beat Congo 3-1, giving the Black Stars a three-point lead on Sudan, which has played one fewer game.
AP Writers Gerald Imray in Johannesburg and Emmanuel Tumanjong in Yaounde, Cameroon contributed.
Gerald Imray can be reached at http://twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP