By BRYAN ROBISON
Russia may have failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, but on Friday the Russians looked like a team determined to get to Brazil for the 2014 edition of the tournament.
Alexander Kerzhakov’s early goal was enough for the Russians to hold off Portugal and earn important 1-0 victory in the battle for Group F. The Portuguese were unable to get it past Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev despite holding a significant possession and shot advantage.
Much like during El Clasico, Cristiano Ronaldo went down during the match, this time due to a tussle with Aleksandr Aniukov, which left Ronaldo on the ground with his hands in his face. Despite that, no fouls were awarded, as Ronaldo was signaled to return to the action.
With the win, Russia moved to the top of Group F with nine points. Portugal continues to have a strong grasp on second place, as they remain five points ahead of the four remaining teams with six points, respectively.
Here is a recap of the rest of the World Cup qualifying action from across Europe on Friday, along with scores from all of the games:
Italy 3, Armenia 1
Armenia proved to be a tough foe for Italy, as Mario Balotelli once again was absent for the Italians. Italy started off strong, with several promising chances in the early moments, including a Andrea Pirlo penalty in the 11th minute.
But Armenia came back even stronger, evening up the match thanks to a Henrikh Mkhitarian blast in the 27th minute. Despite continuing to press, it was not enough for the tough Armenians, as Italy was able to hold them off, shutting them out in the second half. While not overly impressive, with Daniele De Rossi and Pablo Osvaldo goals added in the second half, Italy proved too strong, as they take over the lead in Group B with seven points.
Germany 6, Ireland 1
Were it not for a late Andrew Keogh goal, the end to Ireland’s impressive home-winning streak would have been both embarrassing and a shutout. Fortunately for them, they were able to save themselves from the shutout, as Germany overpowered the Irish from the start, as Marco Reus and Toni Kroos both knocked in a pair of goals for the German win.
After controversially missing the 2010 World Cup, Ireland’s chances in 2014 are off to a dismal start, as they sit behind stalwarts Germany and Sweden in Group C. Meanwhile, Germany is off to a fast start, winning all three of their matches to sit atop the group.
The number two ranked team in the world was just too strong for an Irish club that has been recently depleted with both injuries and retirements. On Tuesday they will face second-place Sweden, who on Saturday narrowly defeated Faroe Islands, 2-1.
Spain 4, Belarus 1
The defending champions did what they do best: they made it look easy against an overmatched Belorussian squad. Pedro netted a hat trick, as Spain was in control throughout the match. Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas was never challenged, as Belarus had just two shots on goal, even with a Spanish backline missing Carles Puyol.
With the win, Spain now sits at six points in the reduced Group I, as they remain tied for first with France. The two will square off from Madrid on Tuesday afternoon, with first place and a firm grasp on winning the group a strong possibility.
Finland 1 Georgia 1
Czech Republic 3 Malta 1
Sweden 2 Faroe Island 1
Austria 0 Kazakhstan 0
Iceland 2 Albania 1
Lithuania 2 Liechtenstein 0
Croatia 2 Macedonia 1
Belgium 3 Serbia 0
Wales 2 Scotland 1
Denmark 1 Bulgaria 1
Romania 1 Turkey 0
Hungary 1 Estonia 0
Netherlands 3 Andorra 0
Slovenia 2 Cyprus 1
Israel 6 Luxembourg 0
Greece 0 Bosnia-Herzegovina 0
Ukraine 0 Moldova 0
England 5 San Marino 0
What do you think of these results? Do you see Russia getting back to the 2014 World Cup? Can anyone in their respective groups stop Italy, Germany, or Spain?
Share your thoughts below.