The traditional European powers carried the day as qualification for Euro 2012 restarted this weekend, with Spain, Germany, Holland, Italy, France and England all collecting wins. The international break continues with ten more qualifying games on Tuesday as well as dozens of friendly matches.
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On Friday, Holland crushed Hungary 4-0 at Budapest to stay in firm control of Group E. The Dutch rout saw goals from Robin van Persie, Rafael van der Vaart, Ibrahim Affelay and Dirk Kuyt; the World Cup finalists have taken a perfect 15 points from 5 games.
In Group I, David Villa became Spain’s all-time leading scorer as the defending European and World champs also remained perfect, recovering from an early score by Jaroslav Plasil to edge the second-placed Czechs 2-1. Villa’s pair gave him 46 international goals, two ahead of Raul.
Serbia recovered to down Northern Ireland 2-1 in a surreal setting. The Serbs played in a nearly empty stadium after they were forced to forfeit a game against Italy because of fan trouble. The Serbs sit third, tied with Slovenia on points, but remained well behind Italy in Group C. The Italians eked out an important 1-0 win in Slovenia thanks to Thiago Motta.
In Group D, the French padded their lead atop the table with a 2-0 win over Luxembourg. It was a less-than-convincing performance, but Les Bleus took the points behind goals from Phillipe Mexes and Yoann Gourcuff.
Belgium easily beat Austria 2-0 in the Friday’s other game at Vienna, with Axel Witsel scoring both goals.
Saturday, England got off to a fast start against a tepid Wales and never looked back. A controversial penalty kick decision allowed Frank Lampard to score from the spot and Darren Bent followed on just eight minutes later with a tap-in. England sit atop Group G, but Montenegro, idle this weekend, are tied with them on points. The game was routine for the English, but costly for Wayne Rooney, who picked up a booking and thus will miss the side’s next qualifier in June, against Switzerland.
Germany crushed Kazakhstan 4-0 with Miroslav Klose and Thomas Mueller each nabbing two. The Germans have a big lead in Group A, and like Spain and Holland, have collected maximum points.
Greece went top of Group F thanks to a 1-0 win over Malta after a last-chance winner by Vasilis Torosidis. Torosidis found the net five minutes into stoppage time, denying Malta what would have been their first point in qualifying. Greece were helped when Georgia knocked off Croatia 1-0 in a major upset. Levan Kobiashvili got the Georgians full points with his goal in the 89th minute.
Russia were held scoreless by Armenia, adding to a three-game goalless streak. The Russians are now in a three-team log-jam in Group B, tied on points with Slovakia and the Irish Republic, but in second place. The Irish Republic downed Macedonia 2-1 thanks to erratic visiting goalkeeping which led to goals from Aiden McGeady and Robbie Keane in Dublin; while Filip Sebo led Slovakia past toothless Andorra 1-0.
Norway drew with Denmark 1-1 to stay top of Group H, three clear of the Danes and Portugal. Israel beat Latvia 2-1 but remain well off the pace in Group F. Bosnia-Herzegovina got an easy 2-1 win over Romania. Edin Dzeko got the winner for the Bosnians, who trail leaders France by five points. Romania has but two points in Group D.
Cyprus and Iceland played to a scoreless draw as luckless Chrysostomos Michail missed a penalty for the Cypriots. Bulgaria and Switzerland deadlocked 0-0 in Sofia. And Albania edged Belarus 1-0 thanks to Hamdi Salihi.
In Africa, Botswana qualified for their first-ever African Nations Cup finals with a 1-0 win over Chad. They are the first side guaranteed of a slot in the final 16; African qualification is only halfway through. South Africa and Senegal got wins to close in on the finals while holders Egypt were left hanging by a thread after a their loss to Bafana.
Katlego Mphela beat the Pharaohs with a last-ditch goal, 1-0, to leave the reigning champs at the bottom of Group G and on the brink of ouster. Demba Ba got Senegal’s 1-0 winner over Cameroon to put them in pole position.
Sunday, Zambia downed Mozambique 2-0, and Ghana whipped Congo 3-0 as both winners stayed on top of their groups. DR Congo won 3-0 over Mauritius while Niger beat Sierra Leone late, 3-1.
Ivory Coast’s game against Benin had to be played at Accra with the country on the verge of civil war. Didier Drogba scored twice in a 2-1 win marred by the sending off of Guy Demel. Nigeria downed Ethiopia 4-0. Libya plays Cormoros today in Mali due to the civil war currently raging in that nation.
Finally, in friendly play, at New Meadowlands, the USA held Argentina to a surprising 1-1 draw thanks to a goal from teen Juan Agudelo.
Estonia shocked Uruguay 2-0 in freezing conditions at Tallinn while Poland’s 2-0 loss to Lithuania at Kaunas was marred by reports of a stabbing and clashes between fans and police.
Mexico whipped Paraguay 3-1 behind two goals from Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez at Oakland in a stroll; Chile drew in Portugal 1-1.
Brazil easily brushed aside Scotland 2-0 Sunday afternoon in London thanks to two goals from Neymar. That game was marred by accusations of racial taunting post-game by the young Santos starlet; Brazilian TV reported that a banana had been hurled at the player while he was lining up to take a penalty kick.
Jamie Trecker is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering the UEFA Champions League and the Barclay’s Premier League.