Euro 2008 Qualifiers August
Armenia 1-1 Portugal
Portugal should be thankful that the result is no worse and that they have Cristiano Ronaldo to thank for keeping their hopes of qualifying for Euro 2008 alive. In what has become a trademark move of the Manchester United winger he dispossessed his Armenian opponent and conjured a magical run of weaves and jinks to get himself into the penalty box and shoot low past the Armenian keeper Berezovsky on 37.
This came after Armenia had shocked Portugal by taking the lead in the 10th minute as Armenian defender Arzumanyan headed in from a corner kick. The Portuguese should have expected a capable team as this was the same team who had been victorious against Poland who top the table for now.
Despite suffering from cancer of the intestine, Ian Porterfield has managed to make the Armenian teamwork very hard and has instilled a growing confidence in the players.
Portugal found their opponents very hard to break down and although they had over a dozen shots at goal, only 3 were judged to have been on target, compared to 4 shots on target by Armenia!.
Armenia have long since known what their fate was and have found results going for them since the pressure of qualification has been lifted from their shoulders. They may well still have an influence on who goes through from this group as the teams due to go to Armenia will not be looking forward to the trip so much these days.
The result keeps Portugal in contention, but only just. They will know that this was a game they really should have won with Serbia, Finland and Poland fighting them for the qualifying places in the group. They will know that another result like this will put a massive dent in any hopes they have of qualifying.
The one good point is that they still face both Poland and Finland at home, whilst they also travel to Serbia and these will probably be the matches to determine whether they are part of Euro 2008 or watching from the stands.
Belgium 3-2 Serbia
This result did a great deal of damage to Serbia and their attempt to qualify for Euro 2008. Having beaten Belgium back in October and found themselves in second place in the table their qualification was in their own hands. Now they have suffered their second defeat and will need results to go their way to help them achieve qualification.
The match started badly for the Serbian team as they went 2 down in the first half with goals from Dembele on 10 and playing in his international debut match Mirallas scored from inside the box on 30 to send the home team into the break with a good lead.
In an entertaining match, Serbia pushed to get back in the match and were rewarded on 73 when Zdravko Kuzmanovic pulled a goal back for the visitors.
As Serbia pushed forward, looking for the equaliser Belgium took their chance to seal the game on 88 when Dembele scored his second of the match. Serbia managed another goal in injury time as Zdravko Kuzmanovic scored his second of the game but it was all too late as the final whistle went soon after to give Belgium the win.
Belgium will be happy to have given the supporters their second home win and may think that they still have a very slim chance of qualifying, but with Serbia 4 points ahead of them and fighting for a qualification place, realistically Belgium are now playing for pride alone.
As for Serbia, they should know after their next two matches what lies ahead for them as they face both Finland and Portugal who are placed above them, in fixtures where they must take maximum points from each if they are to have any chance of qualifying.
Estonia 2-1 Andorra
Both teams knew fine well that their qualifying campaign finished a long time ago and only pride was to play for in this the bottom of group E clash. Pride can be just as valuable as a trophy though and with both teams, trying to earn their first points of the campaign the match descended into a bad tempered affair resulting in a total of 7 yellow cards and 2 red cards.
In a lively first half, it was Estonia who took the lead through a header from Raio Piiroja
on 34, this was to be Estonia’s first goal in the qualifying matches and turned out not to be the last. The first half action didn’t stop there as after a series of fouls close to half time, Estonia had Ragnar Klavan sent off for deliberately holding one of the Andorran players on the ground just before the half time whistle blew.
The second half saw Andorra trying to make the extra man count and push for an equaliser. In doing so, they received a host of yellow cards in the process, but on 87 minutes were rewarded when Fernando Silva headed an equaliser for Andorra and in doing so doubled their goal scoring in the qualifying matches to 2.
Andorra must have thought that they would take a share of the points at this stage, but Estonia to their credit fought back and were rewarded themselves by an injury time winner from the foot of Indrek Zelinski. Unfortunately for him he received a red card for taking his shirt off in celebration and exited the field just before the final whistle blew.
Finland 2-1 Kazakhstan
Despite losing the clean sheet, Finland always looked as if they would take the points from this fixture and in doing so have made the top half of group A very interesting, with a race between three teams now for the second placed spot, which Finland currently occupy after the latest round of qualifying games.
Aleksei Ememenko it was who opened the scoring for the home team on 13, however despite the celebrations of the home crowd, the teams went in at half time level, with a shot from the Kazakstan striker Dmitry Byakov on 23 taking the home team by surprise.
Despite not being able to qualify themselves, Kazakstan have managed to produce several drawn matches from their previous fixtures and may have hoped to do the same again. However, Finland proved too strong for them on the night and took the lead through Teemu Tainio on 61. This after the Finish player had requested not to play due to his own concerns over his fitness!.
The result means that Finland have now taken maximum points from Kazakhstan and have taken second place outright standing only 2 points behind the leaders of the group Poland.
Finland’s next two matches are away to Serbia and home to Poland, if they can take maximum points from these fixtures, then this would make them one of the favourites to qualify, they must however remember that their last game is away to Portugal and they would be wise to have earned their Euro 2008 qualification before their trip to Portugal.
Northern Ireland 3-1 Liechtenstein
Northern Ireland won this fixture comfortably to put themselves second in group F and in doing so gave themselves a fighting chance to qualify for Euro 2008. As the first match under manager Nigel Worthington everyone connected with the club knew that this was a must win match to keep up the pressure on the teams around them.
The pressure was eased slightly on 5 when David Healy headed in his 30th international goal from a Keith Gillespie cross to put the home team in the lead. Northern Ireland continued to play good attacking football and it was Healy again who was rewarded on 35 with a sweet 20 yard curling shot around a beaten Peter Jehle in the Liechtenstein goal, to give him his 9th goal of the qualifying campaign.
Again, Northern Ireland were happy to push forward for more goals and started the second half in the same manner. Kyle Lafferty took the opportunity to score on 56 with a powerful shot from 10 yards, which gave the Liechtenstein keeper no chance. With the game won Worthington took the opportunity to give some of the substitutes, a chance to impress but that was to be it for the home teams goal scoring.
Lichtenstein on the other hand helped themselves to a late consolation goal through Mario Frick on 89 when he converted a loose clearance from inside the box.
Northern Ireland will have taken a great deal of confidence from this fixture and will hope to continue the same form in their next two games against the two bottom of the table teams before the serious tests begin again in October.
San Marino 0-1 Cyprus
There are no easy games left in international football or so the saying goes. For those who face San Marino they know that the fixture is the next best thing. With only 1 goal scored and 37 against San Marino will rarely trouble a visiting defence and will possibly give a great deal of possession to the opposing team and spend much of the match camped in their own half.
Cyprus must have decided to take some pity on the minnows of international football as they left it until the second half to score the solitary winner through Okkas on 54. The attendance of just over 500 probably reflects the meaning of the game in the grand scheme of things as both teams have only the wooden spoon to play for and being 7 points ahead with this win Cyprus can count themselves out of contention for that particular honour!.
Tags: Portugal, Cristiano Ronaldo, Euro 2008, Armenia, Serbia, Belgium, Estonia, Andorra, Finland, Kazakhstan, Euro 2008 qualification, Northern Ireland, Liechtenstein, San Marino, Cyprus