Winners and Losers from World Cup Qualifying
As the focus of modern football moves away from the international fold and edges closer towards club football, the lack of excitement about the international game becomes apparent.
But aside from the money-spinning matches halfway round the globe, this week's matches were of actual importance, as national teams bid to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, with the majority of places still up for grabs.
While some nations such as San Marino and Liechtenstein are dead and buried after losing all seven of their group games, the results from this weekend certainly blew the race wide open to get to next summer's coveted tournament.
So today, we're taking a look at which nations have benefited from the results of this weekend and, consequently, at which team's expense.
Roy Hodgson's men were arguably the biggest beneficiaries from this week's qualifiers ahead of their crunch clash in Kiev on Tuesday. The Three Lions cruised to a 4-0 victory over Moldova at Wembley, with Danny Welbeck maintaining his impressive start to the season with a brace, while Steven Gerrard and Rickie Lambert grabbed a goal each.
As well as picking up three points, their main rivals Montenegro were frustrated by Poland in Warsaw, dropping to second position in Group H. Veteran forward Dejan Damjanovic opened the scoring before Borussia Dortmund star Robert Lewandowski levelled just four minutes later.
With the Baltic side unable to carve out an opening for a winner, and with England's victory, a playoff place now looks more likely with three games remaining, while Hodgson will be delighted as England head towards their fifth successive World Cup finals.
The remarkable rise in Belgium's stock has only been fuelled by some stunning performances in the World Cup qualifying stage, and The Red Devils were too much for Gordon Strachan's Scotland side, strolling to a 2-0 victory at Hampden Park.
Chelsea's highly rated midfielder Kevin De Bruyne set up Steven Defour for the opener, before Everton forward Kevin Mirallas wrapped up victory late on. And it leaves Marc Wilmots' side still unbeaten with 22 points from their eight games so far, the highest total in the European zone of qualifying.
Having failed to qualify for their last three World Cups, Wilmots will be delighted that his side are on the verge of ending their hoodoo.
Fighting against Fabio Capello's Russia side for the top spot in Group F, Portugal desperately needed to grab all three points against a resilient Northern Ireland side to stay in contention. And despite falling behind twice, a magnificent hat-trick from Cristiano Ronaldo rescued Paulo Bento's men with a 4-2 triumph at Lansdowne Park.
In a game with much importance for the visitors, the task was made a lot harder when Helder Postiga was brandished a straight red card just before half-time, having gone 1-0 down. But the help of Real Madrid star Ronaldo and early baths for both Chris Brunt and Kyle Lafferty, Portugal stormed to top of the standings.
Home matches against Luxembourg and Israel remain, but as nailed-on favourites, their World Cup destiny is now in their hands.
Tipped to stroll to victory over a significantly weaker Estonia side, Holland avoided embarrassment in Tallinn despite taking an early lead. Arjen Robben's strike after just two minutes looked to have been the catalyst for a rout-in-the-making, but a double from Konstantin Vassilyev set Estonia on their way to a famous victory.
However, it was not to be as Raio Piiroja earned himself a second yellow card by conceding a 93rd-minute penalty, and who else but Robin van Persie stepped up to equalise to spare Louis van Gaal's blushes. That said, it was a poor performance from the Oranje, and they will need to improve in order to secure top spot.
They say a two-goal lead is never enough in football, but supporters of the Switzerland team will be aggrieved and somewhat baffled as to how their team managed to squander a 4-1 lead at home to lowly Iceland.
Juventus wing-back Stephan Lichtsteiner was at the double as Ottmar Hitzfeld's men secured a three-goal cushion and appeared to be cruising to victory. However, the Nordic side never gave up, and after scoring the third-minute opener, Joey Gudmundsson added another two, including a stoppage-time equaliser, to stun the Swiss as Iceland claimed a famous comeback in Berne.
Those who were positive about Didier Deschamps' appointment as France manager may be less so when they discover Les Bleus have set a new record for the national team. Incredibly, France have now gone five games without scoring, the longest run in the nation's history after their 0-0 stalemate against a stern Georgia side in Tbilisi.
It was certainly not helped by the fact that Karim Benzema, the Real Madrid striker who scores regularly for his club, has now failed to score in 15 games, with his last strike coming against Estonia 15 months ago.
The pessimism was certainly felt among the side, and despite being in good shape to qualify either automatically or through the playoffs, Deschamps and his underachieving stars are under severe pressure to perform.
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