France stumbles, Germany and Italy find wins
Germany and Italy moved closer to a place at the 2012 European Championship with victories Friday, while France's progress stalled against Belarus.
Mario Gomez kept Germany's perfect record in Group A intact 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 atop Group D despite a 1-1 draw at Belarus, which had won in Paris earlier in the campaign. France had been on a four-match winning streak.
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.
In Group A, Bayern Munich striker Gomez put Germany ahead just before the break, scoring from close range after Austria's defense failed to clear the ball after a corner kick.
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 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 1-1 at Belarus.
An own goal from France defender Eric Abidal gave Belarus the 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, while Belarus is second with nine, while 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 ahead of third-place Hungary, which has played a game more. Netherlands leads the group with 18 points.
Croatia scored two late goals to secure a 2-1 win over Georgia to lead Group F over Greece.