World Cup Qualifying Wrap

Nick Akerman@NakermanFeatured ColumnistMarch 26, 2013

World Cup Qualifying Wrap

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    World Cup qualifying continues to grip the entire planet.

    Huge matches in Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa have added plenty of shape to each set of rankings. Can Spain topple France in a clash of elites? Did England once again fail to deliver in Montenegro? Will USA deal their fierce Mexican rivals a massive blow?

    Read on to find out every single score from today's qualifiers.

UEFA Qualifying Zone

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    Group One

    Those looking for shocks better search elsewhere. Group A is progressing as expected, even if the less fancied nations put up decent efforts in the fifth round of fixtures.

    Belgium struggled to break down a Macedonia side that will be pleased to return home with a 1-0 loss. Minutes after crashing a shot off the bar, Eden Hazard scored the decisive goal in the 63rd after being afforded space in the opposing area. Macedonia managed just one shot on target in a match that sees Belgium retain top spot in a group of two contenders.

    Croatia fought off an excellent performance from Wales to snuggle alongside Belgium on 13 points.

    Goal difference separates two sides that are unbeaten in this campaign. Gareth Bale's penalty put Wales up 1-0 with 20 minutes gone, but Croatia responded with a strong last 15 minutes to take the spoils. Dejan Lovren scored a superb 25-yard shot with about 13 minutes left, while Eduardo's volley whizzed through Boaz Myhill's legs with three minutes to play.

    Serbia currently sit two points behind Wales after a scrappy 2-0 win over Scotland. Two defensive errors saw Filip Djuricic capitalise on a terrible pitch.

    Group Two

    Bulgaria's hopes of catching Italy suffered a major blow with the hard-fought 1-1 draw in Denmark. A sweeping move saw Aleksandar Tonev assist Stanislav Manolev in the centre of the box, giving Bulgaria the lead. Daniel Agger coolly slotted a penalty away 10 minutes later to tie the match in the second half.

    A Mario Balotelli double helped an experienced Italian side overcome Malta 2-0. The Milan striker opened with a penalty in the opening minutes and went on to add a second just before halftime.

    The Czech Republic eased to a 3-0 win over Armenia with two goals from the 20-year-old Matej Vydra. Daniel Kolar notched the final strike with a decent finish in the final minutes.

    Italy will feel the hard work is almost done, as Cesare Prandelli's men remain three points clear with a game in hand over Bulgaria.

    Group Three

    Germany cantered toward a 4-1 victory over Kazakhstan with a quartet of goals straight from Dortmund. Marco Reus opened and finished the scoring, with Mario Gotze and Ilkay Gundogan also adding to the tally. Heinrich Schmidtgal jotted up a moment to remember for the away side with a great finish just after the break.

    Giovanni Trappatoni's battling Republic of Ireland side gave up a last-minute equaliser to finish 2-2 with Austria. Martin Harnik put the visitors ahead with 11 minutes gone before a Jonathan Walters double saw the Aviva crowd cheer themselves into halftime. More Bundesliga-themed heroics arrived in Group Three, as David Alaba rifled a deflected shot into David Forde's net at the death.

    Unsurprisingly, Germany remain unbeaten at the top of the group with 16 points. Austria are on eight points and ahead of Sweden on goal difference, although the latter have two matches in hand.

    Group Four

    The Netherlands maintained a 100 percent record with another easy win against a gutless Romanian side. Rafael van der Vaart opened the scoring on 11 minutes before a Robin van Persie double, and Jeremy Lens completed the 4-0 rout.

    Turkey and Hungary failed to capitalise on Romania's loss with a 1-1 draw in Istanbul. Burak Yilmaz added to his fantastic season with yet another goal, only for it to be cancelled out via Daniel Bode's goal from the bench.

    Elsewhere, Estonia overcame Andorra 2-0 in the battle of the minnows. Goals from Henri Anier and Joel Lindpere maintained the visitors' winless—and scoreless—run through the group.

    Netherlands currently lead the way with 18 points and are trailed by Hungary on 11. Romania and Turkey sit just behind with 10 and seven, respectively.

    Group Six

    An unconvincing Portugal side once again took their time to beat severely inferior opposition. Bruno Alves headed an opener with half an hour to play in a game that didn't feature Cristiano Ronaldo. The Real Madrid star's suspension nearly threatened to prove pivotal, until Portugal's fears were eased with a second goal from Hugo Almeida. This one finished 2-0.

    Northern Ireland put up a determined display against Israel at Windsor Park, but ultimately couldn't hold it together for 90 minutes. Two counter-attacking surges saw Lior Refaelov and Eden Ben Basat complete a 2-0 win.

    Russia are extremely comfortable at the top of Group Six. Fabio Capello's side have two games in hand and are one point ahead of Israel, who lead Portugal on goal difference.

    Group Eight

    One of the most important games of the day saw England travel to Montenegro.

    Although Wayne Rooney's simple header deservedly put Roy Hodgson's men ahead, the hosts responded with an assertive performance after the interval. Dejan Damjanovic made it 1-1 after a home onslaught, leaving England lucky to escape with a 1-1 draw. Hodgson's men have a real job to do in the next set of games.

    Both Ukraine and Poland are beginning to assert pressure after the aforementioned draw. Goals from Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Khacheridi pushed Ukraine beyond Moldova with a 2-1 win, while Poland walloped San Mario 5-0 in Warsaw. Robert Lewandowski and Lukasz Piszczek added themselves to the list of Dortmund players on target on the day.

    Montenegro top a tight group with 14 points. England remain in second with 12, but Poland and Ukraine are locked on eight with a game in hand over the top two.

    Group Nine

    Undoubtedly the showcase tie of the day came in Group Nine.

    France hosted an under-pressure Spanish side in a tightly contested encounter that could have gone either way. Vicente Del Bosque's boys won the match 1-0 after Pedro bundled the ball home with half an hour to go. Paul Pogba was harshly sent off for two yellow cards shortly after, with only a stunning Victor Valdes save stopping France from nabbing a point.

    This result launched Spain above France at the group's summit. The world champions have 11 points and currently hold France at arm's length on 10.

CONMEBOL Qualifying Zone

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    Ecuador 4-1 Paraguay

    Ecuador's fantastic qualifying campaign continued with a great recovery against Paraguay. A double from Jefferson Montero nestled between goals from Felipe Caicedo and Christian Benitez in a victory that pushes Ecuador above Colombia.

    A total of 20 points is already looking good for at least that fourth-place finish. Paraguay remain at the bottom of the league.

    Bolivia 1-1 Argentina

    In one of the more surprising results of the day, second-from-bottom Bolivia held leaders Argentina to a 1-1 draw. Marcelo Moreno scored the first goal five days after revealing he is to quit Brazilian side Gremio after an argument with coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo (via Zee News). Ever Banega pulled an important goal back for the visitors, who remain on top with 24 points.

    Venezuela 1-0 Colombia

    Who would have predicted a Colombia loss after their previous 5-0 demolition of Bolivia? Venezuela posted an important three points as Salomon Rondon's fantastic effort snatched victory away from the disappointing visitors. It really could have been more for a Venezuela side that joins Chile on 11 points in fourth place. Colombia are one point behind Ecuador in third. 

    Chile 2-0 Uruguay

    Goals from Esteban Paredes and Eduardo Vargas have left Uruguay in a precarious position. Luis Suarez and friends are two points off the coveted fourth place after losing four games from their first 11.

    A disappointing defensive record also sees Uruguay trail the likes of Chile and Venezuela, while Peru are just two points behind with a game in hand.

CONCACAF Qualifying Zone

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    Costa Rica 2-0 Jamaica

    Costa Rica removed themselves from the bottom of the table with their first victory in Group 4. Goals from Michael Umana and Diego Calvo see Jorge Luis Pinto's team leapfrog into second place with three games gone.

    Panama 2-0 Honduras

    Three games gone and Panama are yet to lose. An impressive 2-0 home win over Honduras sees the group standings dramatically change, with Panama propelling themselves into the top spot. Luis Tejada opened the scoring with two minutes on the clock.

    US-based Blas Perez added a second in the latter stages, helping Panama maintain an unbeaten streak in this important run of matches.

    Mexico 0-0 USA

    Two home games for Mexico are yet to produce a victory. Jose de la Torre will believe his side should have been granted a penalty in the second half after a blatant foul from Maurice Edu.

    Omar Gonzalez had a brilliant match at the back for the USA, helping Brad Guzan produce a second clean sheet in as many games. USA offered little attacking threat and will be overjoyed to escape the Azteca with only their second World Cup qualifying draw in Mexican territory. 

    USA hold third in the group, with Mexico toiling second from bottom. Still, only three points separates the remaining nations.

Asian Qualifying Zone

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    Group A

    South Korea and Uzbekistan took massive steps toward qualification with precious wins over Qatar and Lebanon, respectively. Son Heung-min came off the bench to score a 96th-minute winner in a 2-1 win for Korea, who will be confident of topping the table.

    Uzbekistan's 1-0 win over Lebanon maintains hopes of an unlikely qualification for Brazil. Only two sides from Asia are guaranteed a spot at the tournament, and right now, Uzbekistan lead this group by one point after playing an extra game.

African Qualifying Zone

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    Group G

    Egypt overcame Zimbabwe 2-1 to maintain control of Group G. Only the top team moves on from each set of four in a difficult qualification process for the smaller nations. Egypt are currently five points clear of the chasing pack.

    Group H

    Algeria emerged victorious in a must-win affair against Benin. A 3-1 triumph sees Algeria join Mali on six points at the top. Only a greater goal difference has the Greens above their main rivals to progress.