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    Articles related to UEFA 2006 WC qualifiers:

    Update Sep 5, 2004
    Update Sep 11, 2004
    Update Nov 24, 2004
    Update Mar 26, 2005
    Update Mar 30, 2005
    Update Jun 4, 2005
    Update Jun 8, 2005
    Update Sep 3, 2005
    Update Sep 7, 2005
    Update Oct 8, 2005
    Update Oct 12, 2005
    Preview Nov 8, 2005
    Review Nov 16, 2005

     

     



    Update: UEFA WC qualifiers - Matchday 1



    by Matthew Monk



    12:30 BST:

    Right then, the World Cup is back in full focus in Europe, grabbing the headlines away from Euro 2004, the Champions League, the Premiership, Serie A and La Liga for five or six days while the first two full rounds of qualifying matches takes place. It's a very unusual state of affairs in the UEFA-zone at the minute, with so much up in the air following Greece's totally unexpected victory at Euro 2004, and this qualifying competition brings with it much anticipation and fear for all the European nations.

    Euro 2004 finally taught the continent that nothing is straightforward in football anymore and that any national side can beat any other on any given day. All across Europe more-or-less all football fans are hopeful that their team has a chance to make it to Germany in 21 months time, yet they are all terrified of being eliminated at the same time. UEFA has suddenly become a very tight, competitive zone. England, Italy, Spain and France realise that they no longer have a divine right to qualify as they did just six months ago. There is a lot to lose during these games, and it is virtually guaranteed that some big side will fall along the way. It's going to be fun!

    Today is the first full match day, and it is my intention here to follow it as it happens for you right to the very end which should be at the Stade de France in St Denis sometime around 21:45 tonight.

    One final introductory point, all timings are British Summer Time (BST) which is one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and Universal Standard Time, one hour behind Central European Summer Time and anywhere between two and four hours behind Eastern European Time. I will be following these matches via BBC Television, Radio and bbc.co.uk, FIFA.com, FIFAWorldcup.com, UEFA.com, Sky Sports and Eurosport News. It's going to be a long – and I hope – enjoyable day.


    13:30 BST:

    Our first games are scheduled to kick off in 90 minutes, two in Ireland and one in Finland.

    The Republic of Ireland start their campaign against Cyprus at Lansdowne Road in Dublin, while Northern Ireland meet Poland at Windsor Park in Belfast at the same time. With the exception of Cyprus, all of these nations have historically punched above their weight on the world stage, with the Poles finishing third twice after reaching the semi-finals in both 1974 and 1982. Since then however, things have been a little less favourable. Poland qualified for Mexico 86 then disappeared until 2002, where they were appalling. Northern Ireland (who are ranked 109th by FIFA) fancy their chances against Poland this afternoon, even though it wasn't so long ago that the Ulstermen went 15 hours without even scoring a goal, never mind winning a game.

    Expectation is high in Dublin also. The Irish have selected 10 Premiership footballers in their team, including John O'Shea from Manchester United, Robbie Keane of Tottenham and Damien Duff of Chelsea. Cyprus does not have such an array of talent to choose from… The big news over at FIFA.com however is that "Tension builds ahead of draw" as "The eyes of the 15 qualified teams for the FIFA Futsal World Championship [turn to] Chinese Taipei 2004." I can't imagine that much interest is being stirred anywhere else.


    14:15 BST:

    News breaks that Steven Gerrard has passed a fitness test and will start for England against Austria. England are quoted as being 25 to 1 on to qualify for the World Cup Finals. Austria are not as fancied. BBC Radio reports that Hans Krankl (the Austrian Coach and hero of 1978) is being heavily criticised for not bothering to visit Portugal to watch England play in person this summer. He stayed at home and watched the game on TV instead. So far not a single Austrian player has been mentioned by the British media. We do know however that Hans Krankl is a massive fan of The Kinks and that Ray Davies is his hero. It must be a slow news day.

    Over in Baku, Wales are preparing for their 17:00 kick-off against Azerbaijan by eating steak and chips, according to Head Coach Mark Hughes.


    14:50 BST:

    BBC Northern Ireland start their coverage of the Poland game by explaining that Northern Ireland have not lost for 6 games, including an 'unbeaten tour of the Caribbean'. This included a game against St Kitts and Nevis. They did however draw with Switzerland and Serbia in this run, as well as beat Latvia. Maybe they do have a chance against Poland?


    15:00 BST:

    Our first games kick-off. In Belfast, the Northern Irish fans bellow out God Save the Queen, while 100 miles away their southern Irish cousins sing the Soldiers Song with equal gusto. In Dublin we get our first moment of silence in memory of the hundreds of dead in Beslan this weekend. Russia are still scheduled to play today against Slovakia. It is very understandable that Russian thoughts are not on football or the World Cup at the moment.


    15:04 BST:

    Maik Taylor comically slaps a Polish corner straight into his own goal. Poland lead 1:0, and things turn very miserable in Belfast after a very enthusiastic start.

    Thanks to FIFAWorldcup.com we find out that Kenya are thumping Malawi 3:1 at half-time in their qualifier – 31 games are taking place today, all over the world.


    15:18 BST:

    Clinton Morrison somehow manages to miss an open goal against Cyprus. According to Sky Sports it is 780 minutes since he last scored for the Republic. Both Irish games have started at a furious pace, with not much high-quality football on display so far. Poland look too good to lose in Belfast but then again that is what I said before they were demolished by Korea two years ago. None of these teams look very likely to be in Germany on this display.


    15:36 BST:

    Poland score again in Belfast, a simple long ball being guided home by Piotr Wlodarczyk. Northern Ireland look helpless whenever Poland put much pressure on. Defensively they stand still and watch while workmanlike Polish forwards run through at will. Supposedly Lawrie Sanchez, the Northern Irish Coach, made his players change in the away dressing room to inspire his side. It's not working.

    Almost at the same time Clinton Morrison manages to finally score against Cyprus.


    15:43 BST:

    As half time approaches Andy Reid – the only Republic of Ireland player not from a Premiership club – scores a beautiful long range goal to double the lead. Both these games look over by half-time. Only Finland need to score now, and on demand Aleksei Eremenko Jr does with a 20-metre free kick against Andorra in Tampere. The glamour of the FIFA World Cup knows no bounds it seems.


    15:50 BST:

    Half-time in our first three games and the matches in Russia and Estonia are almost ready to kick-off as well.

    In Belfast the Northern Irish fans are not happy, with 'woeful' and 'abysmal' being the typical way of describing the defending on display at Windsor Park so far.

    Back in Kenya meanwhile, Malawi staged something of a comeback scoring a last minute penalty to make it 3:2. It was 27oC and partly cloudy, according to FIFA. It is as if Sepp has spies everywhere. He is probably watching me type this right now.


    16:10 BST:

    Estonia waste no time in Tallinn, scoring against Luxembourg after just 7 minutes. Whether Estonia vs. Luxembourg needs to be played at all is another question.


    16:17 BST:

    Something bizarre is going on in Ireland. As soon as Poland score in Belfast – it's now 3:0 and will probably end up 5 or 6 nil at this rate – the Republic do likewise. Robbie Keane grabs the third from the penalty spot in Dublin and is fast closing in on all sorts of goal scoring records. The Lansdowne Road crowd seems hardly bothered though, with more atmosphere being found on the moon than in Dublin.

    In Tampere, Finland seem to suddenly wake up, scoring twice in five minutes against Andorra. Aleksei Eremenko Jr has now scored twice, from two free kicks. Whether Aleksei Eremenko Sr has ever done that, I have no idea. And we have a goal in Russia as well, for the Russians. I can't keep up with it all!


    16:35 BST:

    Things have gone quiet across Europe, with seemingly all the early games over and Russia and Estonia well in charge as well. Next up comes Wales against Azerbaijan, Iceland against Bulgaria and Switzerland versus the mighty Faeroe Islands.

    Wales are desperate to qualify for the World Cup after coming so close to Euro 2004. Their problem is that although they have a strong first eleven, their squad players leave an awful lot to be desired. Gary Speed might be playing at left-back tonight, after decades of playing in central midfield.

    With 4 hours gone so far, I've seen 6 goals, smoked 3 cigarettes and rooted for Malawi in Nairobi. The Swiss game has started, and I can't say I'm too excited.


    16:45 BST:

    Did I speak too soon? Switzerland score twice through Johan Vonlanthen, their teenage 'star' within 15 minutes. Northern Ireland look very dispirited in Belfast, while the Republic are playing out time in Dublin. Estonia have doubled their lead as well.


    16:55 BST:

    All the first three games end 3:0 with Finland, Poland and the Republic of Ireland winning comfortably. Northern Ireland are woeful and abysmal, as their fans said at half-time. Both Russia and Estonia seem destined to join them on three points and Switzerland seem to be eager to get as many goals as possible against the Faroes.

    In Baku Wales decide to keep Gary Speed in midfield. Legendary Carlos Alberto is the Azerbaijani coach it seems, though whether he will inspire any Brazilian magic in this 'Land of Fires' is hard to see. Every team that comes to Azerbaijan look likely to win.

    While all this excitement has been going on, the Swiss score again.


    17:06 BST:

    There are some interesting games in Europe tonight, with Denmark playing Ukraine, France playing Israel, England meeting Austria and Italy playing Norway in what should be the closest game of all. Croatia versus Hungary could be a good game as well, especially as Hungary recently beat Germany 2:0 to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Miracle of Berne.


    17:15 BST:

    Another dull spell across UEFA-land. Ryan Giggs is missing in Baku, which is no surprise as he has somehow managed to be 'injured' almost every time Wales travel somewhere like this. It's funny that he was fit enough to play against Everton for Man Utd last weekend, isn't it? As a side note, Alex Ferguson has 'demanded' that Cristiano Ronaldo be rested tonight in Latvia. Obviously the World Cup is not as important as the Premiership these days. Switzerland are now 4:0 up at half time. Alexandre Rey has scored a second to add to Johan Vonlanthen's two earlier.


    17:23 BST:

    It has taken the Sky Sports commentator 19 minutes to remind us again that Tofikh Bakhramov, the fabled 'Russian Lineman from 1966' was actually an Azerbaijani. We are also informed that the pre-match entertainment in Baku was 'several female pop singers' and a 'rabble rouser' to get the crowd excited. It is a very dull game by the way.


    17:30 BST:

    Over in Tallinn, Estonia go goal-crazy, hitting two goals in five minutes to lead 4:0. Surely UEFA needs to institute a preliminary round for qualification now. Luxembourg, Andorra, Northern Ireland, Cyprus and the Faroes have so far conceded 17 goals to teams which are hardly world-class.

    300 km south in Riga, the teams are announced and Luiz Felipe Scolari has selected Cristiano Ronaldo over the wrath of Sir Alex. Well done to him.


    17:41 BST:

    In rainy Reykjavik, Dimitar Berbatov scores to give Bulgaria the lead, the Leverkusen striker outpacing the Icelandic defence to place the ball low into the net. Not very many people will remember or talk about that goal by the time we get to Germany.

    In Moscow, Slovakia are pushing Russia all the way, and the score is still only 1:0 to the hosts. Russia have missed a penalty, and Slovakia want to make them pay.

    Much more excitingly, we get two hat-tricks in a minute in Basle, when first Alexandre Rey and then Johan Vonlanthen score again. It's now 6:0, with 30 minutes left.


    17:50 BST:

    It's half-time in Baku and Reykjavik, with no change in the scores. In Tallinn, Estonia are on the verge of a 4:0 win over Luxembourg as well.

    In Moscow things are much more confusing. Slovakia have definitely scored, but how many? UEFA say twice, while FIFA only give one goal. It is only one – it seems – and Slovakia may have forced a deserved draw.


    18:00 BST:

    As Turkey – 2002's third place team – get under way against Georgia at home, confusion reigns in Moscow. UEFA finally say that it is only 1:1, and FIFA agree, though Russia have a good chance in the 4th minute of injury time. It is the last chance. It's a draw and Russia won't be happy, especially after missing a penalty when it was still 1:0. I need a break!


    18:10 BST:

    Wales finally score in Baku, with Gary Speed latching on to a John Hartson header. In Reykjavík a great game is going on as first Berbatov scores a second, then Eidur Gudjohnsen of Chelsea converts a penalty to put Iceland back into the game. We only have 4 matches going on at the moment, but each game has some interest. Turkey are still 0:0 at home, while Switzerland are pushing for a seventh goal at home to the Faroes.


    18:15 BST:

    Azerbaijan equalise with a wonderful swerving free-kick from Rashad Sadikhov. It's now all Azerbaijan. Euro 2004 runner's up Portugal kick-off away to Latvia.


    18:23 BST:

    In Reykjavík, Hristo Yanev might just have finished Iceland off as he makes it 3:1 to Bulgaria. For some reason referee Tudor from Romania has decided that even though Switzerland lead the Faroe Islands 6:0, we need an extra 5 minutes of over-time. All the time, in Baku, Azerbaijan are playing increasingly Brazilian football to subdue Wales. This is fun after all!


    18:30 BST:

    As we are minutes away from the start of Romania vs. Macedonia, its time for a little recap I think. So far we have seen Poland, the Republic of Ireland, Estonia, Finland and Switzerland win, while Russia and Slovakia drew 1:1. Bulgaria currently lead 3:1 in Iceland, while the games in Turkey, Latvia and Azerbaijan are draws. Of our games in progress, Portugal are on top in Latvia so far though neither side has come anywhere near scoring. Wales are still struggling in Baku. Only Turkey's game is silent, with neither FIFA nor UEFA reporting very much more than a couple of yellow cards after more than half an hour.


    18:45 BST:

    Thankfully, things slow down a little again as there are too many games to keep full track of. Azerbaijan and Wales are still playing a topsy-turvy game which either side could still win. The English team is announced as well, with Steve Gerrard and Wayne Bridge both in midfield, and a new strike-force of Alan Smith and Michael Owen up front. Portugal seem to be getting on top in Latvia, though it is still a close game.

    Romania grab a first goal at home to Macedonia through Pancu.


    18:50 BST:

    With seconds left in Baku, Wales hit the post after going to 4-3-3 in search of a win. In reality, Azerbaijan deserve at least a point, and look like getting it. Bulgaria have wrapped up a comfortable 3:1 win against the 10 men of Iceland.

    After a lot of frayed nerves in Baku, Wales leave with just a point. Turkey and Georgia are 0:0 in Trabzon at half-time.


    19:00 BST:

    We still have 13 games to see through to conclusion, including all the 'big games' of the night. Games in Belgium, Slovenia and Denmark are all scheduled to get under way in the next 15 minutes, then all the rest start soon afterwards. It's half time in Riga, where Portugal and Latvia are still scoreless.


    19:11 BST:

    Our first 'big game' gets a goal, when Martin Jorgensen scores for Denmark after 10 minutes at home to Ukraine. Seconds later, news arrives of Fatih Tekke's goal for Turkey in Trabzon. Currently the only game without a goal is Latvia vs. Portugal.


    19:16 BST:

    Belgium against Lithuania and Slovenia versus Moldova get under way to give us six games in play. From here on in it is going to get very complicated. 12 games will be under way within 30 minutes.


    19:26 BST:

    England and Austria are lining up in Vienna for my fourth and final live game of the day, while Slovenia take the lead at home. Not much else is happening at the moment, with a lot of games starting off and other games petering out. Only Latvia vs. Portugal is still scoreless, after nearly an hour of play.


    19:30 BST:

    San Marino against Serbia, Austria vs. England and Croatia vs. Hungary are getting underway right now, while the final 4 games in Malta, Italy, France and Albania are nearly ready.

    In Riga we finally get a goal! Ronaldo has scored, proving Alex Ferguson's will does not always get its way. Denmark are now dominating proceedings in Copenhagen, while Austria are wearing a new home shirt which is red rather than the traditional white. It's half-time in Romania by the way, with the home side 1:0 up.


    19:35 BST:

    Portugal take control in Riga through Pauleta, more-or-less ending the game against Latvia. Serbia surprise no one by taking the lead away in San Marino.


    19:43 BST:

    Latvia are not happy in Riga, and coach Starkovs has been sent off for arguing that there was a hand ball in the build up to Ronaldo's first goal. England have started strongly in Vienna, while Acimovic has scored a second to give his Slovenian side a 2:0 lead.

    With half-time approaching in Denmark, full time in Turkey, and the final four matches starting, UEFA's first full matchday is reaching a complicated climax.


    19:50 BST:

    Only France vs. Israel has yet to start this evening now, but the goals are going in rapidly everywhere else. First, Serbia score again in San Marino, but then Norway score through John Carew in Palermo. Italy strike back straight away though through de Rossi. At the same time Sweden take the lead in Malta through Ibrahimovic.


    19:54 BST:

    England have a great chance, with an indirect free kick in the Austrian box. Frank Lampard scores with a brilliant move! Beckham simply tapped the ball to the unmarked Lampard, and with all the Austrian players on the line, the Chelsea man had the simplest of chances. It was a silly mistake for the Austrian defence to make.

    In Turkey, Georgia have grabbed a late equaliser through Malkhaz Asatiani. Turkey have seconds only to get anything back.

    France against Israel still has not kicked off for some reason.


    20:00 BST:

    It's half time in Belgium and Slovenia, and full time in Turkey. Georgia managed to hold on to get a draw which Turkey will not be happy with. Belgium vs. Lithuania is a dull 0:0 so far, and Slovenia look very comfortable. Sweden are running away with things in Malta, where Ibrahimovic has scored our third hat-trick of the day, in just 14 minutes!

    France finally get under way, while Albania take the lead against newly crowned European champions Greece in Tirana!


    20:05 BST:

    Unbelievably, Edvin Murati scores a second for Albania straight away. I'm really struggling to keep up now with 12 games on the go at once now. Prso has scored for Croatia in Zagreb, in what might be the closest game of the night against Hungary.

    Portugal have beaten Latvia 2:0 and so it's just Belgium against Lithuania and France vs. Israel that are goal-less.


    20:11 BST:

    Macedonia grab an equaliser in Romania, which would be an upset should they hold on for another 15 minutes. England should have scored a second as Owen breaks through. Alex Manninger clearly handles the ball outside the area, but there is no free-kick or sending off. Italy and Norway are still level in Palermo.


    20:17 BST:

    As half-time approaches in three of our games, Ukraine grab a deserved equaliser in Copenhagen. England lead 1:0 at half time, while Croatia and Serbia do likewise in their matches.

    Macedonia are still holding on for their point in Romania, with less than 5 minutes left.


    20:24 BST:

    Romania score to break Macedonian hearts, through Adrian Mutu. Milenko Acimovic scores our fourth hat-trick of the night to make things very comfortable for Slovenia at home to Moldova. About an hour and a quarter to go, and I'm getting very tired now…

    In Copenhagen, Ukraine have totally changed things around and are now dominating proceedings. So much is yet to be decided all across Europe.


    20:35 BST:

    Romania have won, scraping home 2:1 against Macedonia. It's half time in Italy, Malta and Albania. In Tirana, Stelios of Bolton Wanderers has given Greece some hope for the second half. Belgium have finally scored in Charleroi as well, meaning that only our late kick-off in St Denis is scoreless.

    Denmark vs. Ukraine seems a great game, with the Danes getting back into the match after some attacking substitutions from Morten Olsen. In Vienna, England are in charge but still need another goal to kill the game off. It's getting very tense across Europe now.


    20:40 BST:

    How Alan Smith failed to score for England is anyone's guess, as Manninger manages to make a great save. Austria are weak, but still dangerous on the break, so England need a second goal to make sure of the three points still.

    At the Stade de France, Israel are still holding Raymond Domenech's new-look French side easily enough. It was in Paris 11 years ago that Israel frustrated French ambitions before USA 94. Will the same result happen tonight?


    20:46 BST:

    Calamity James strikes again, as Austria should have equalised in Vienna. The Man City goalkeeper ran out of his area wildly, but John Terry made the clearance on the line look far easier than it was to save England. Austria look much more competitive now. The game should be all over though.

    Goal in Belgium. Jankauskas equalises to return the contest to stalemate again. Belgium and a boring draw? Now there's a surprise…


    20:50 BST:

    Goals are flying in now. Freddie Ljungberg scores first for Sweden to make it 4:0 in Malta, while Croatia score a second against Hungary as well.

    The Ukraine are holding on now in Copenhagen, where it is still 1:1. At the same time Stevie Gerrard hits an amazing goal to put England safe in Vienna. Glenn Hoddle (commentating for Sky Sports) suggests that there isn't a goalkeeper alive that could have saved that shot – I agree, it was a brilliant goal!


    20:55 BST:

    Frustration for Denmark in Copenhagen, where Ukraine have to hold on in the end for their point. Denmark let their opponents have far too much possession at the start of the second half though, so cannot really complain. Austria still haven't given up in Vienna. Substitute Kollman scores a brilliant free kick with his left foot to equalise. Game on again.


    21:00 BST:

    Disaster for England when David James lets a ball creep in under his body as Austria equalise. England again have been let down by their goalkeeper, a position they used to always seem so strong in. Eriksson now has a lot of work to do.

    Straight away at the other end, Beckham creates a chance for Wayne Bridge, who cannot shoot. England have 15 minutes left and replace the poor Alan Smith with Jermain Defoe of Tottenham.


    21:05 BST:

    Slovenia finish a comfortable evening 3:0 winners at home to Moldova. It's less comfortable for both Belgium and England. Belgium are held 1:1 by Lithuania, while England are being pulverised by a reinvigorated Austrian side desperate for a win.


    21:10 BST:

    Just seven games left now. Serbia, Croatia, Sweden and Albania still lead, while the other three games are level. Serbia are now 3:0 up, and Jestrovic is on for another hat-trick.

    England and Austria are still attacking each other with wild abandon, though it is the English who look more nervous still.

    At the same time Croatia go three-up against Hungary. The tightest game of the night is turning out to anything but.


    21:16 BST:

    With three minutes left, Jermain Defoe shoots just wide for England when other colleagues are in better positions. It's still end to end.

    Sweden score their fifth goal in Malta, with Ibrahimovic making himself the day's top scorer with 4 goals. There is still 18 minutes left for him to add to that.


    21:20 BST:

    Three minutes later, Freddie Ljungberg makes it 6, and Sweden are cruising away.

    In Vienna England throw everything forward in an attempt to equalise. It is to no avail. Austria come back from 2:0 down to draw 2:2. Surely David James will be replaced in the English goal now?

    Serbia have won 3:0, and Henrik Larsson has scored Sweden's seventh goal! What a night!


    21:25 BST:

    Croatia finish 3:0 winners against Hungary in Zagreb, meaning that we only have four games left. Three of them promise to be close finishes, with Italy and Norway drawing 1:1, Albania still beating Greece 2:1, and France and Israel still scoreless.


    21:30 BST:

    All of a sudden everything has settled down, until Italy score to lead Norway 2:1, Luca Toni scoring with 10 minutes to go.


    21:33 BST:

    Malta – bizarrely – are coming back into the game against Sweden, although it seems a little pointless at seven-nil down! In St Denis, France are still unable to break Israel down.

    Against the run of play now, Sweden miss a penalty in Malta. What a great night of football!


    21:40 BST:

    With seconds left in Malta, Freddie Ljungberg hits the bar and misses his hat-trick by millimetres. It is the last action of the night. Sweden win 7:0.


    21:45 BST:

    In Palermo, Italy hold on for a 2:1 victory over Norway just, while Greece cannot find an equaliser in Tirana either. UEFA.com finally declare it over, and the European Champions will have to travel home very empty handed.


    21:46 BST:

    After 95 stultifying minutes at St Denis, the game ends goalless – our only scoreless game all day.

    And that is that. Nine and a quarter hours of football has provided 64 goals, 15 victories and 7 draws. I feel as if I have played every second. England vs. Austria was certainly the game of the night, while Sweden's 7 goals were the outstanding performance.

    It all happens again on Wednesday as well…



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