SPAIN were held to a shock 1-1 draw by Finland in Gijon last night as Teemu Pukki’s equaliser 11 minutes from time secured a priceless result against the World and European Champions.
Sergio Ramos’ 49th-minute opener looked to have settled the Spaniards after a first half without goals in the Group I encounter. However, Pukki’s late leveller earned Finland – the group’s bottom team coached by Mixu Paatelainen – an unlikely draw.
France had no such trouble in the same section as they recorded a comfortable 3-1 win over Georgia. Olivier Giroud, Mathieu Valbuena and Franck Ribery had Les Bleus leading 3-0 before Alexander Kobbakhidze reduced the deficit for the visitors in Paris.
In Group D, the Netherlands were similarly dominant as they defeated Estonia 3-0 in Amsterdam with goals from Rafael van der Vaart, Robin van Persie and Ruben Schaken.
Germany eased past Kazakhstan 3-0 without deploying any strikers for the first time in a competitive match under coach Joachim Loew as they stayed top of Group C.
Two goals in two minutes midway through the first half from midfielders Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mario Goetze, playing in a forward role, quickly put the Germans in control and dashed any faint hopes for the hosts.
Thomas Mueller grabbed Germany’s third goal in the 74th minute in a lacklustre second half after the home side attempted a brief comeback and even hit the bar.
In Group F, Portugal came back from 3-1 down to snatch a draw in stoppage time against Israel, a result that keeps both teams in with a chance of qualifying.
The visitors stunned Israel and silenced the 40,000 capacity crowd with a goal in the second minute, but the home side got back level in the 24th minute through Tomer Hemed and forged a promising lead with goals by Eden Ben Bassat in the 40th minute and Rami Gershon in the 70th. But a determined effort by Cristiano Ronaldo, who powered into the Israeli area, set up Helder Postiga to reduce the arrears to 3-2 in the 72nd minute and the equaliser was scored by Fabio Contrao as the visitors laid siege to the Israeli goal.
Alexander Tonev’s hat-trick helped Bulgaria rout Malta 6-0 in Group B in a match played behind closed doors because of racist incidents in a previous 2014 World Cup qualifier.
Tonev put the home side in front with a diagonal shot – his first international goal – after five minutes. His long-range effort appeared to pose little threat to Andrew Hogg, but the Malta keeper allowed the ball to slip through his hands for the second.
Captain Ivelin Popov made it 3-0 with an easy finish. Soon after, lively Emil Gargorov also managed to get his name on the scoresheet following a defensive mix-up and Tonev completed his hat-trick with another delightful shot from outside the penalty area. Defender Ivan Ivanov added a sixth goal 12 minutes from time.
In Group E, Tottenham midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson scored both goals as Iceland sunk Slovenia 2-1.