lbaniaPARIS, September 8 – Albania pulled off a major shock by downing Portugal as world champions Germany denied battling Scotland and minnows Gibraltar were demolished by Poland in the opening salvos of Euro 2016 qualifying on Sunday.
Portugal, first round casualties at the World Cup, were sorely missing their skipper Cristiano Ronaldo but despite the Real Madrid star’s absence the 1-0 loss to a team ranked 71st in the world was a major embarrassment for Paulo Bento’s side.
Albania, who have failed to qualify for a European Championships in half a century, humbled the mighty Portuguese in their own back yard.
Slavia Prague forward Bekim Balaj struck the killer blow shortly after the restart, with the home side walking off the pitch in Aveiro at the final whistle to boos from their supporters.
“It’s a really bad result,” conceded Portugal striker Nani.
“We’ve started qualifyng badly, now we have to pick ourselves up. We have to improve.”
Down on Portugal’s Algarve coast, minnows Gibraltar were given a lesson on their introduction to competitive internationals as a UEFA member by Poland as Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski scored four times in a 7-0 romp.
In Dortmund, Germany, beaten last week in a friendly by Argentina, got their qualifying campaign up and running with a 2-1 defeat of a spirited Scotland.
A goal in each half from Bayern Munich attacker Thomas Mueller ensured they won their first competitive fixture since the World Cup.
Scotland were rewarded for a positive second-half approach when winger Ikechi Anya raced clear to equalise on 66 minutes.
But the visitors failed to clear a corner four minutes later and Mueller capitalised to thump home his 24th international goal.
– Miserable note –
Mueller’s winner denied Gordon Strachan’s side what would have been a precious point in a group that also includes the Republic of Ireland, Poland, Georgia and Gibraltar.
Scotland were unable to fashion a second equaliser and the night ended on a miserable note when Mulgrew was sent off for dissent in stoppage time.
The result means Germany have now gone 33 World Cup and European Championship qualifying games without defeat.
German manager Joachim Loew, who revealed Marco Reus had picked up another ankle injury, was relieved his side had survived an uncomfortable second half.
“I’m really happy that we got the three points,” Loew said.
“Clearly I knew it would be tough. In the first half we had complete control of the game. We didn’t give them any chances and we created a lot ourselves.
“We lost control of the game a little bit in the second half. Scotland scored but we reacted well.”
Everton winger Aiden McGeady got the Republic of Ireland’s Euro bid off to a flying start with a 2-1 win over Georgia in Tbilisi.
Manager Martin O’Neill and his assistant Roy Keane’s first competitive game in charge appeared to be heading for a draw, after Tornike Okriashvili cancelled out McGeady’s 24th minute opener.
But McGeady bagged a crucial three points away from home with a magical 90th minute winner, curling home a precious winner.
Captain Robbie Keane lauded McGeady’s skill.
“If you score a goal like that, you deserve to win the game. If anyone else did that, the top players in the world, you would be talking about it for a long time.
“The turn, the touch, the finish – only he could do that. No-one else on that field would have been able to do that.”
O’Neill suggested there was better to come from his men.
“I think there’s improvement in the team – we’ve won away from home, which is terrific – but there’s definitely improvement in the team.”
Next month O’Neill’s men face Gibraltar and Germany.
Northern Ireland also came out of the blocks brightly – Kyle Lafferty and Niall McGinn providing the late goals for a 2-1 win over Hungary in Budapest.
Michael O’Neill’s side’s hopes of registering a first away success in four years looked unlikely when former Watford striker Tamas Priskin headed home a 74th-minute corner.
But with 10 minutes remaining, McGinn’s tap-in after a great run from Lafferty put the visitors back in the game.
Then on 87 minutes McGinn turned provider who managed to scramble the ball over the line.