Spain and Italy sealed their places at Euro 2012 with two qualifying games to spare on Tuesday while England moved closer to next year's finals after beating Wales in a game at Wembley overshadowed by the death of a Wales fan.
David Villa and Alvaro Negredo scored twice as defending champion Spain thrashed Liechtenstein 6-0 to secure top spot in Group I, and substitute Giampaolo Pazzini's 85th-minute strike earned the Italians a narrow win in Florence that clinched them first place in Group C.
The 2010 and 2006 world champions join already-qualified Germany and the two co-hosts in the finals.
The Netherlands maintained its perfect record in Group E with a 2-0 victory in Finland but still needs a point to guarantee first place, like England, which beat Wales 1-0 in Group G through Manchester United winger Ashley Young's goal.
However, England's victory was marred after London police said a Wales fan had died after an assault was reported outside the stadium before the game. Police said the man, who they believe is in his 40s, sustained head injuries and was taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead. Six Wales fans were arrested.
Elsewhere, France's Euro 2012 qualification hopes were dealt a setback by drawing 0-0 at Romania, with second-place Bosnia-Herzegovina now only a point behind in Group D after a Zvezdan Misimovic's 87th-minute winner in the 1-0 victory at Belarus.
France hosts Bosnia-Herzegovina in the final round of group fixtures on Oct. 11 and, along with Portugal, is the European heavyweight most in danger of missing out.
The Portuguese, who weren't in action on Tuesday, are tied at 13 points in Group H with Denmark and Norway after the Danes' 2-0 win over their Nordic rivals in Copenhagen.
Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez celebrated winning his 103rd cap — a Spanish record for an outfield player — by scoring just before halftime to put Spain ahead 3-0 in a routine victory in Logrono, the team's eighth in a row in qualifying.
Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos also found the net for defending European champions.
"Now we have time to think about the European Championship, prepare for the games we have left to play," Villa said. "It was important to qualify quickly."
By keeping a clean sheet against Slovenia, Italy has only conceded one goal in eight qualifiers — the lowest in all nine qualifying groups.
The Azzurri edged past the Faeroe Islands 1-0 on Friday and one goal was enough for Cesare Prandelli's team four days on, with Pazzini collecting a pass from Claudio Marchisio and firing home from the angle shot from six meters (yards).
"This was a victory of courage," said Prandelli, who has brought fresh energy to a team that was eliminated in the group stage at last year's World Cup.
Pazzini said: "This was a big goal. I like all my goals, but this one was important for qualifying mathematically."
Serbia moved into second place by beating the Faeroes 3-1 and needs three points from its last two games to seal second place.
The best second-place finisher qualifies automatically for Euro 2012, with the other eight advancing to a series of two-legged playoffs.
Goals by Kevin Strootman and Luuk de Jong secured an eighth straight win for the Netherlands, who stayed six points clear of Sweden after the Scandinavians' 5-0 thrashing of 10-man San Marino, courtesy of goals by Kim Kallstrom, Christian Wilhemsson (two), Martin Olsson and Tobias Hysen.
England failed to convince against Wales — a team 113 places lower down in the rankings — but Young's snap finish from Stewart Downing's cut-back means a draw for Fabio Capello's men at Montenegro on Oct. 7 will put them through.
Russia stayed two points clear at the top of Group B after a 0-0 home draw to second-place Ireland and Croatia leapfrogged Greece to go a point clear at the top of Group F with a 3-1 win over Israel in Zagreb.
Yura Movsisyan, an Armenian-American who passed on the chance to play for the United States, scored one of Armenia's four second-half goals to upset Slovakia 4-0.
Slovakia's second loss in the qualifying campaign — the previous 3-1 defeat came in October also by Armenia — is a blow to its hopes of qualifying for next year's tournament in Poland and Ukraine.
With two more games to play, Slovakia is fourth in Group B with 14 points. Armenia is third, also on 14 and three behind leader Russia. Ireland is second on 15 points.
In Asian world Cup qualifying, Australia took control of its campaign with a 3-1 victory over Saudi Arabia. Iraq, coached by Brazilian soccer great Zico, put its World Cup campaign back on track with a 2-0 win at Singapore.
Asian powers Iran, Japan and South Korea faltered: Iran-Qatar, Japan-Uzbekistan and South Korea-Kuwait all end in 1-1 draws.
The United Arab Emirates fired coach Srecko Katanec of Slovenia after its 3-1 loss to Lebanon. UAE has almost no chance of advancing after two losses.
In Brussels, the United States lost a friendly to Belgium 1-0, leaving Jurgen Klinsmann without a win in three games since he was hired as the Americans' coach.
This was the first road game for the U.S. since Klinsmann came aboard. The Americans earlier tied Mexico and lost to Costa Rica.
Nicolas Lombaerts' half volley in the 55th minute was the only goal in an exhibition game dominated by the Belgians on the rain-soaked field.
Klinsmann, a former German star and coach, is looking to assemble the players who will play in World Cup qualifiers starting next June. He pointed to such promising players as Juan Agudelo, Jose Torres, Brek Shea and Timmy Chandler.
An inexperienced U.S. team rarely threatened, and second-half substitutes Agudelo and Kyle Beckerman did little to energize play.
|Copyright © 2012 Naharnet.com. All Rights Reserved.||http://www.naharnet.com/stories/en/14511|