Spain, Portugal held to draws in WCup qualifying

Last Updated: Sat, Mar 23, 2013 05:00 hrs

's World Cup, while England routed San Marino 8-0 for its biggest victory margin in 26 years and New Zealand clinched a playoff berth against the fourth-place nation from North and Central America and the Caribbean.

Fans greeted the visitors with chants that included "Kill, Kill the Serbs!" as Croatia beat Serbia 2-0 at Zagreb in the first soccer meeting between the Balkan rivals since their war in the 1990s. Germany defeated Kazakhstan 3-0, and the Netherlands beat Estonia 3-0.

The United States, coming off an opening loss at Honduras in its final-round opener last month, beat Costa Rica 1-0 in a Colorado snowstorm on Clint Dempsey's 16th minute goal.

Mexico played its second straight draw, 2-2 at Honduras. Javier Hernandez built a 2-0 lead with goals in the 28th and 54th, but the Catrachos came back when Carlo Costly scored in the 77th and Jerry Bengtson knocked in the rebound after his penalty kick was saved in the 80th.

Jamaica was held to a 1-1 tie by visiting Panama, leaving Honduras in first place in CONCACAF with four points, one ahead of the U.S. in a group that will send at least three nations to next year's tournament,

Spain, the reigning world and European champion, tied Finland 1-1 at Gijon when Teemu Pukki scored on a 79th-minute counterattack — the visitors' first shot on goal. Sergio Ramos, in his 100th international appearance, had put Spain in front with a header in the 49th minute.

"It's too bad that we let a game that we had controlled get away in the final minutes," Ramos said.

France (3-0-1) moved two points ahead of Spain (2-0-2) in Europe's Group I with a 3-1 win in Paris over Georgia on goals by Giroud, Mathieu Valbuena and Franck Ribery. Les Bleus host Spain in a key match on Tuesday.

The nine European group winners qualify for the 32-nation field in Brazil next year, and eight second-place team advance to playoffs for four additional berths.

"We shouldn't get carried away and start thinking we've qualified," France coach Didier Deschamps said. "We're in the best position at the moment but now we have to play Spain — they are the best team in the world."

Portugal needed Fabio Coentrao's goal in the third minute of second-half stoppage time after a misplay by goalkeeper Dudu Aouate for a 3-3 tie against Israel at Ramat Gan. After Bruno Alves put the visitors ahead in the second minute, Israel built a 3-1 lead on goals by Rami Gershon, Tomer Hemad Eden Ben Basat. Helder Postiga's 72nd-minute goal started Portugal's comeback.

Russia (4-0), whose game at Northern Ireland was postponed by snow until Saturday, leads Group F by four points over Israel and Portugal (both 2-1-2).

"Now it is even more complicated, but the playoff place is still on us. We need to raise the spirit of the players," Portugal coach Paulo Bento said.

England rolled in Serravalle against San Marino, tied for 207th and last in the FIFA rankings. The hosts fell behind on Alessandro Della Valle's own goal in the 12th minute at Serravalle. Jermain Defoe got two goals, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ashley Young, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge scored. Rooney's goal was his 34th for England.

England's victory margin was its largest since beating Turkey 8-0 in a European Championship qualifier in 1987.

"Obviously we were a class above our opponents," England coach Roy Hodgson said. "It was one of those games where I thought everyone brought their straw to the water."

Montenegro (4-0-1) leads Group H by two points over England (3-0-2) going into a head-to-head matchup Tuesday in Podgorica. San Marino (0-5) is last and has been outscored 24-0.

At Zagreb, Mario Mandzukic and Ivica Olic scored first-half goals for Croatia, which like Serbia was once part of Yugoslavia.

"It was fantastic, and I'll remember it all my life," Mandzukic said.

Thousands of riot police were deployed at packed Maksimir Stadium to prevent trouble from home fans. Serbian supporters were banned from attending to prevent possible clashes.

Tensions were high because of the wartime history, and the win triggered street celebrations and fireworks in many Croatian cities. Streets in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, were empty.

"This is a victory for the whole of Croatia," Olic said.

Belgium, which won 2-0 at Macedonia, leads Europe Group A on goal difference over Croatia, both with 13 points at 4-0-1. Wales (2-3) has six points, followed by Serbia and Macedonia (both 1-3-1) with four apiece.

At Astana, Thomas Mueller scored the final goal for visiting Germany after setting up scores by Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mario Goetze in a match that began at midnight local time and was played on artificial turf. Germany (4-0-1) opened a five-point lead in Group C over second-place Sweden (2-0-2), which was held to a 0-0 tie by visiting Ireland (2-1-1).

In Amsterdam, Rafael van der Vaart, Robin van Persie and Ruben Schaken scored for the Netherlands in a 3-0 win over Estonia.

The Dutch (5-0) lead Group D by five points over Hungary and Romania (both 3-1-1).

In South America, Lionel Messi converted a penalty kick and assisted on two goals by Gonzalo Higuain to lead first-place Argentina (7-1-2) to a 3-0 win over Colombia. With 32 international goals, Messi pulled within two of Diego Maradona for third among Argentines.

Second-place Colombia (6-2-1) won 5-0 at home over Bolivia, and Uruguay was held to a 1-1 draw by visiting Paraguay. Edgar Benítez tied the score in the 86th, four minutes after Luis Suarez put the hosts ahead. Peru defeated visiting Chile 1-0 on Jefferson Farfan's 87th-minute goal.

New Zealand won the Oceania region with a 2-1 victory over visiting New Caledonia as Tommy Smith scored in the fourth minute of second-half stoppage time.

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