Lots of matches. Let's summarise!
Turkey 3-0 Kazakhstan
Guus Hiddink got his dream start as Turkey manager with a 3-0 win away to Kazakhstan. The Turks, who were unlucky not to feature during the 2010 World Cup, were dominant throughout and secured three points with two goals in three first-half minutes, the second a stunning volley by Bayern Munich midfielder Hamit Altintop. Turkey had plenty of chances to pad their goal differential before finally slotting home a third late in the second half.
Germany 1-0 Belgium
Miroslav Klose just can't stop scoring. Germany's legendary striker notched his 54th goal for his country early on in the second half, the single strike proving enough to take home the spoils. Although the game was relatively tight, Belgium did have chances early, and played pretty reasonably throughout. Germany just edged it and probably deserved to win, but it was a far from inspiring performance by Joachim Low's side.
Ireland 1-0 Armenia
Robbie Keane fluffed a number of opportunities before Ireland finally broke through against a resolute Armenian side. Keith Fahey came off the bench to provide the vital goal after Keane failed to take a chance and the ball squirted loose in the box. In truth, Ireland had looked weary for much of the game, relying on Richard Dunne at the back to mop up a catalogue of errors in midfield, and could very easily have gone behind to the home team. The game seemed ripe for an upset before Fahey secured victory with his first international goal.
Russia 2-0 Andorra
Nobody ever expects Andorra to put up much of a fight, and well, they didn't. Russia went up early thanks to a Pavel Pogrebnyak goal, controlled the game throughout, and finished things off in the second half, Pogrebnyak grabbing his second after a penalty. Russia probably should have scored several more times, but a host of players were guilty of wasting clear-cut opportunities. Chelsea's Yuri Zhirkov was suspended and did not feature.
Macedonia 0-1 Slovakia
Slovakia were poor and looked set for an embarrassing goalless draw against Macedonia before a late red card spurred them to life. Filip Holosko spared the home side's blushes with a close-range effort in injury time after Marian Hamsik's wasteful display. Despite never being in serious danger of conceding against a limited Macedonia team, Slovakia seemed hesitant to commit players to the attack until Vance Sikov was given his marching orders for a second yellow card.
Serbia 3-0 Faroe Islands
A mismatch on paper and on the field, Serbia thoroughly dominated their hosts throughout, ultimately settling for a 3-0 victory. After two first half goals, Serbia opted to keep possession and save their energy for another day, and the islanders offered little in reply save for rare half-chances.
Italy 2-1 Estonia
Estonia were on the verge of a history home victory before Italy broke their hearts with two goals in two minutes. Italy's first win of the year was by no means an easy one, and the Azurri were perhaps lucky to escape with the full points after Estonia created several good chances in the first half. The hosts went ahead after Salvatore Sirigu spilled a free kick, but a second-half headed goal from a corner and then an easy finish from after a clever flick were enough to reverse the 1-0 deficit and restore Italian hopes of making it to the finals.
Slovenia could find no way through against a robust Northern Irish defence, ultimately succumbing to a late sucker-punch from new boy Corry Evans. After soaking up pressure from Slovenia, who had acquitted themselves wonderfully in South Africa, Evans snuck in at the far post to convert a Craig Cathcart cross and send the visiting support into a frenzy. Northern Ireland weathered a late storm to sneak out of the Petrol Arenawith all three points and get their campaign off to a flying start.
Albania 1-1 Romania
Albania looked destined to lose thanks to a late goal by Romania's Bogdan Stancu before an even later strike saw them earn a share of the spoils. The minnows have Gjergj Muzaka's predatory instincts to thank, the substitute pouncing on a loose ball in the penalty area for a shock equaliser. Romania will be left wishing that they'd capitalised on their numerous chances to put the game away, and that's two very important home points dropped for a team that could use all the help it can get.
Bosnia 3-0 Luxembourg
It was all too easy for Bosnia as they romped to victory away to Luxembourg. Three goals in the first fifteen minutes secured the points, and from then on they were free to coast to the full time whistle, with an eye on next week's crucial clash against France. The Balkan side looked exceptionally comfortable on the ball, and created more than a few chances in the second half despite playing on autopilot.
Estonia 1-0 France
No, that's not a misprint. Florent Malouda had the honour of captaining France, but this is not a day he'll wish to remember as he led his side to a home loss against Estonia. The French collapse was big news at the World Cup, but it's clear that Laurent Blanc does not have a miracle cure - the home side lacked a cutting edge in and around their opponent's area and were punished very late thanks to lax defending. Vyacheslav Hleb supplied the finish that sent Estonia into jubilant celebrations.
Finland 0-2 Moldova
It was a rare victory for Moldova against a weak Finland side, who saw their hopes of brushing the minnows away dashed by a first-half red card. Captain Sami Hyypia hauled down Viorel Frunza with the Moldovan bearing down on goal, and the referee wasted little time in reaching into his back pocket and brandishing the red. It took time for the man advantage to tell for Moldova, but two classy long range shots in the second half secured a historic victory for the home side.
Sweden 2-0 Hungary
Pontus Wernbloom scored a brace after a series of bad misses by Zlatan Ibrahimovich meant that a dominant Sweden side went into the break at 0-0. Wernbloom broke the deadlock early in the second half before adding to his tally 19 minutes later to secure what was ultimately a comfortable victory for the visitors.
Netherlands 5-0 San Marino
Holland put San Marino to the sword as Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scored a hattrick. The Dutch wasted little time in getting on the score-sheet, with Dirk Kuyt converting a 16th minute penalty. Huntelaar's three goals gave the Netherlands a four goal cushion before Ruud van Nistlerooy made it five at the death.
Latvia 0-3 Croatia
An easy home victory for Croatia, with little to trouble coach Slaven Bilic. After going ahead thanks to a deserved goal just before half time, Croatia continued to apply pressure and scored twice more in the second half. Latvia could do very little, as Croatia dominated possession and smothered the Baltic side with a swarming defence whenever the minnows held the ball.
Greece 1-1 Georgia
Greece were lucky to escape Tbilisi with a point after the home team struck early through Alexander Iashvili. The surprising lead held until late in the second half, when Nikolaos Spyropoulos rescued the visitors with a rocket of a volley that left Nukri Revishvili with no chance. The biggest surprise about the game wasn't the score, but the way that Georgia dominated possession for huge periods at a time, only to be rebuffed by the Greek back line. Greece's brand of counterattacking football might work against the world's powerhouses from time to time, but it's not nearly so effective against the smallest sides they come across.
Montenegro played Wales off the pitch in the early going and were unfortunate to only be up by one goal at half time. Wales mounted a spirited fightback late in the second half, hitting the woodwork before having a goal disallowed, but they were ultimately made to pay for sleepwalking through much of the game and allowing international newcomers Montenegro to repeatedly rip through their defence.
Bulgaria 0-4 England
Norway staged a comeback after going down away to Iceland, eventually coming out victors thanks to a late strike by Mohamed Abdellaoui. An open game gave each team numerous opportunities, but Iceland were the first to capitalise, a clever backheel by Heidar Helguson putting a dangerous cross into the net. The home side seemed to fade a little after they were ahead, however, and after the equaliser there was only going to be one winner.
Cyprus 4-4 Portugal
A topsy-turvy game saw Cyprus come away with Lisbon with a well deserved point. Portugal were without the services of Christiano Ronaldo, but that will not excuse their defence leaking four goals against a relatively toothless Cypriot side. Portugal twice had to overcome deficits in the first twenty minutes, and when they finally took a lead a 3-2 they immediately gave up an equaliser. An exquisite volley by Manuel Fernandes at the hour mark gave the home side a slender advantage, but just as fans dared to breathe again, Andreas Avraam wrote his name in the history books with an 89th minute equaliser. The most exciting game of the day, by far.
Scotland 0-0 Lithuania
If Scotland were expecting full points out of their match against Lithuania, they certainly didn't act like it. A strong defensive base and zero cutting edge made it appear as though Scotland were settling for a draw, despite being given many opportunities to attack the Lithuanian box thanks to the inordinate number of fouls committed by the home side. It was a disappointing opening performance by Scotland, who much improve if they're to come anywhere close to second in an group that includes Spain and the Czech Republic.
Spain 4-0 Lichtenstein
The result was a formality, but Fernando Torres will be buoyed by his brace, which might be a signal that Liverpool's star striker is getting back to business after a long injury layoff. David Villa drew one step closer to equalling Spain's all-time goalscoring record, but probably should have managed it against a dire Lichtenstein side. The visitors were mostly untroubled, but a potshot and a breakaway gave Iker Casillas something to think about in the second half - the home support will consider that a moral
victory draw defeat.