European giants inch closer to South Africa

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PARIS, April 2 – Holland moved to the brink of World Cup qualification on Wednesday while England and Spain struggled to preserve their perfect records in European qualifying.

PETER_CROUCHDefending champions Italy were held to a 1-1 draw by the Republic of Ireland, while three-time winners Germany beat Wales 2-0 to also stay on course for next year’s finals in South Africa.

Poland were the night’s biggest winners smashing San Marino 10-0 in Group Three but Northern Ireland are the unlikely leaders of that pool thanks to a 1-0 win over Slovenia.

Wayne Rooney celebrated his 50th cap but it was defender John Terry who scored the winner five minutes from time at Wembley to give England a 2-1 victory over Ukraine.

Terry’s ensured Fabio Capello’s squad reached the half-way stage in their campaign with five wins out of five in Group Six, and maintained their five-point lead over Croatia, 2-0 winners over Andorra.

England just about deserved the three points but the outcome hung in the balance after Andriy Shevchenko came off the bench to cancel out Peter Crouch’s first-half strike.

"It was not a rich game, a little bit poor," said Capello. "But the result is very important. When the referee blew the whistle I was very happy."

"We suffered a bit in the second half but we showed a lot of character and patience and I am very happy for John Terry."

Ukrainian coach Oleksiy Mykhaylychenko bemoaned the poor defending from his side that enabled England to score both their goals from crosses

"England did not exactly win the match, Ukraine helped them get the result," he said.

Liverpool’s Albert Riera and Xabi Alonso scored as European champions Spain came from behind to beat Turkey 2-1 in Istanbul.

Spain went behind in the 26th minute when Semih Senturk scored. Their equaliser came from Xabi Alonso from the penalty spot in the 62nd minute after Ibrahim Uzulmez had handled the ball following a Fernando Torres header.

The winner came in the second minute of injury time when substitute Daniel Guiza crossed for Riera to find the target.

Spain stay top of Group Five with 18 points from six games, six ahead of Bosnia who defeated Belgium 2-1.

Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt scored twice as Holland beat Macedonia 4-0 in Amsterdam to register their fifth win in five games.

The win gave Bert van Marwijk’s team 15 points from five games in Group Nine, eight ahead of Scotland who edged Iceland 2-1 with three games to play.

Kuyt opened the scoring in the 16th minute converting a cross from Arjen Robben.

Real Madrid’s Klaas-Jan Huntelaar made it 2-0 just 10 minutes later with Robben again the provider before Kuyt added a third three minutes before the interval. Rafael van der Vaart put away the fourth in the dying moments.

Italy still lead Group Eight after a 1-1 draw with Ireland in Bari. Robbie Keane levelled three minutes from time after Vincenzo Iaquinta’s 11th-minute goal had given Italy the advantage.

The draw left Italy top of Group Eight but Ireland will be feeling confident as they pegged the gap to the world champions at two points.

It could have been worse for Italy as Giampaolo Pazzini, making his first start for the national team, was sent off after just four minutes.

"Pazzini jumped up with his arms out but he didn’t swing them or make any action with them but because of this we had to play 90 minutes with 10 against 11," said Italy coach Marcello Lippi.

In Group Four, Germany have a four-point lead over Russia, who struggled past Liechtenstein 1-0, after a 2-0 win in Wales.

Captain Michael Ballack opened the scoring with a brilliant long-range strike before Ashley Williams put through his own goal.

A second-half goal from Franck Ribery earned 1998 champions France a 1-0 victory over Lithuania for the second time in five days.

The Bayern Munich winger scored from distance to sink the Baltic side in Kaunas on Saturday, and he proved the match-winner again in Paris.

Victory enabled Les Bleus to leapfrog their opponents into second place in Group Seven, two points behind leaders Serbia after five matches.

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