Spain beats France to revive World Cup campaign

World Cup champion Spain put its title defense back on track

Tuesday night by beating France to seize control of its qualifying

group, while Germany and the Netherlands claimed big victories to

push them closer to the finals in Brazil.

Pedro Rodriguez scored the goal that secured a 1-0 victory for

Spain in Paris, lifting the reigning champions out of a slump

following back-to-back draws. France, which had Paul Pogba sent off

when already trailing, fell a point behind Spain in Group I.

”They are three welcome points, and this changes our group

position for the better,” Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said.

Germany surged eight points ahead in Group C by beating

Kazakhstan 4-1, while the Netherlands maintained its perfect run in

qualifying with a 4-0 rout of Romania. The Dutch now lead Group D

by seven points. Italy remained unbeaten, with Mario Balotelli’s

double giving the Italians a 2-0 victory in Malta and a three-point

lead over Bulgaria in Group B.

But England stumbled again, drawing 1-1 at Group H leader

Montenegro to remain two points back. And in Asia, Japan’s hopes of

becoming the first team other than host Brazil to qualify for the

2014 World Cup were thwarted when Amer Sabah stopped a late penalty

attempt from Yasuhito Endo to protect Jordan’s 2-1 victory.

”We had a mission,” Jordan coach Adnan Hamad said, ”and we

succeeded.”

Egypt moved a step closer to its first World Cup in 20 years

with a 2-1 victory over Zimbabwe. It was the first time fans had

been allowed into the stadium for an Egyptian home game in more

than a year.

The nine group winners in Europe qualify for the 2014 World Cup

in Brazil while the top eight runners-up go to playoffs that will

determine the final four spots.

Spain had dropped two points behind France after last Friday’s

draw with Finland, an unfamiliar spot for the team that has won the

last two European titles in addition to the 2010 World Cup. But the

Spanish are back in control after Pedro settled a fiercely

contested match in Paris in the 58th minute, left unmarked to meet

Ignacio Monreal’s cross from the left.

French hopes of a comeback were thwarted when Pogba picked up a

second yellow card in the 78th for a late challenge on Xavi

Hernandez.

”There are still three games left so there is plenty of time

left to drop points, for both sides,” del Bosque said. ”This

isn’t over, although it’s true France missed a chance to pull

away.”

That’s exactly what Germany managed to do, getting some help

when second-place Austria was held to a 2-2 tie at Ireland.

Marco Reus marked his return from suspension by scoring the

opener from 20 yards in the 23rd, and rounded off the victory with

another goal in the 90th. Mario Goetze and lkay Guendogan also

scored for Germany, while Heinrich Schmidtgal took advantage of an

error by German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer early in the second half

for Kazakhstan’s only goal.

In Amsterdam, the Netherlands cruised to a sixth straight

qualifying win.

Robin van Persie set up Rafael van der Vaart’s opening goal in

the 12th against Romania, then scored twice himself in the second

half. The Manchester United striker scored on a looping header and

then from the penalty spot after Jeremain Lens was brought down by

Florin Gardos. Lens rounded off the rout by tapping home in the

90th.

Like Van Persie, Balotelli was also on target twice for Italy,

with one also coming from the spot. The AC Milan striker has eight

goals in 19 appearances for Italy.

Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon marked his 126th appearance for

Italy by saving a penalty from Malta captain Michael Mifsud in the

16th.

”It definitely wasn’t one of our best matches,’ Italy

midfielder Riccardo Montolivo said. `But we have a star up front

(Balotelli) and he decided the match.”

England might have to settle for a place in the playoffs after

its third draw so far in qualifying. Poland is third with eight

points, four behind England.

The night had started well in Montenegro when Wayne Rooney was

left unmarked to head in Steven Gerrard’s corner in the sixth. But

England failed to make the most of its dominance throughout the

rest of the first half and Dejan Damjanovic equalized in the

76th-minute goalmouth scramble after an initial header was blocked

by goalkeeper Joe Hart.

”I don’t think this is a particularly bad result because

Montenegro is a difficult team to beat,” England coach Roy Hodgson

said. ”Montenegro and Poland will have to come to us and we think

it is still in our hands and we intend to make sure by winning

these matches.”

Belgium remains ahead of Croatia in Group A on goal difference

after Eden Hazard’s goal clinched a 1-0 victory over Macedonia.

Croatia came from behind to win 2-1 at Wales.

The qualifying hopes of bottom-place Scotland officially ended

with a 2-0 loss at third-place Serbia.

Portugal claimed its first win in six games by beating 10-man

Azerbaijan 2-0 on the road. But it remains behind Israel in Group F

on goal difference after the Israelis won 2-0 at Northern

Ireland.

Russia is a point ahead of Israel and Portugal, but has two

games in hand.

In Mexico City, Brad Guzan swatted away shot after shot and the

Americans hung on for a 0-0 draw with Mexico, earning only their

second point in a World Cup qualifier at Azteca Stadium.

The tie moved the U.S. into third place in World Cup qualifying

for the North and Central American and Caribbean region, one point

behind Panama and behind Costa Rica on goal difference. The

Americans and Costa Ricans both have four points, but the Ticos are

ahead on goal difference.

In South America, Lionel Messi helped set up Ever Banega’s

header in the 43rd minute that gave Argentina a 1-1 draw with

Bolivia. Argentina remains atop South American qualifying with 24

points in 11 matches. Ecuador, which trails Argentina by four

points but has played one fewer game, beat Paraguay 4-1.

The top four advance automatically and the fifth-place team

faces a playoff for a berth. Brazil qualifies automatically as

host.

”This is a very good point,” Messi said.

”We knew it was going to be like this,” he added. ”We planned

it this way with the forwards alone as we tried to get through it.

… We still haven’t qualified yet, but we are getting

closer.”

Also, Chile leapfrogged Uruguay into fourth place in South

American qualifying with a 2-0 home victory on goals by Esteban

Paredes and Eduardo Vargas. Venezuela remained in contention for

its first World Cup appearance, beating visiting Colombia 1-0 on

Jose Salomon Rondon’s goal in the 14th minute.

In Africa, the 10 group winners advance to a playoff to decide

the continent’s five spots for Brazil. But the Pharoahs, led by

former U.S. coach Bob Bradley, look well on their way after Mohamed

Aboutrika’s penalty kick in the 88th minute secured a victory over

Zimbabwe. It was the third win in three games for the Pharoahs.

With Australia tying Oman 2-2, Japan only needed a draw with

Jordan to qualify for Brazil. But Jordan doubled its lead on the

hour when Ahmad Hayel Ibrahim took a loose ball near midfield,

outpaced two defenders and chipped it past sprawling goalkeeper

Eiji Kawashima.

Khalil Baniateyah’s headed goal had given the hosts a 1-0 lead

just before halftime.

Manchester United’s Shinji Kagawa pulled one back for Japan in

the 68th, taking a nifty backheel pass from Hiroshi Kiyotake and

firing it past the keeper. And Japan seemed to be on the verge of

advancing when Atsuto Uchida earned a penalty in the 71st after

colliding with a defender in the area. But Sabah saved the penalty,

delaying Japan’s qualifying hopes for at least one more match.

Japan is still six points ahead of Jordan in Group B, and is

seven in front of Australia and Oman. The top two teams from each

of the Asian groups earn automatic spots in Brazil.

”It is too bad we lost a penalty but it happens,” Japan coach

Alberto Zaccheroni said. ”We had several chances to score but

without success. We lost a chance to qualify early but still it was

a good match.”

Australia narrowly avoided a shocking upset against Oman,

needing a header by the New York Red Bulls’ Tim Cahill in the 51st

and a 25-yard strike by Brett Holman in the 85th to salvage a 2-2

draw in Sydney.

Uzbekistan leads Group A with 11 points from six matches after a

1-0 win at home over Lebanon, with South Korea improving to 10

points from five games after Son Heung-min’s late goal secured a

2-1 win over Qatar in a physical match at Seoul.