BELGIUM moved three points clear at the top World Cup qualifying group A with a hard-fought 2-1 win over Serbia last night.
The victory, which guaranteed the Belgians at least second place in Group A, was secured with two headers, Kevin De Bruyne from a Jan Vertonghen cross in the 13th minute and Marouane Fellaini from a De Bruyne corner on the hour mark. Serbia’s Aleksandar Kolarov pulled a goal back with a free kick in the 88th minute to add a little tension to the end. Belgium have not qualified for a major tournament in more than a decade, but now lead their group by three points after Croatia’s shock 1-0 loss to Scotland. The loudest cheer of the night came when the stadium flashed up that result midway through the second half.
Meanwhile, Ukraine handed England a significant boost in their bid to finish top of Group H with an unexpectedly emphatic 4-0 victory in Montenegro.
Following a game which saw three players sent off, England remain two points behind Montenegro but now have a game in hand, while Ukraine are a point behind Roy Hodgson’s side.
Goals from Denys Garmash, Yevhen Konoplyanka, Artem Fedetskiy and Roman Bezus in the second half secured the three points, as first Ukraine’s Roman Zozulya was sent off for using an elbow, before both Vladimir Volkov and Bojan Pavicevic saw red for the hosts.
In the same group, Moldova’s 1-1 draw with Poland all but ended the Poles’ hopes of reaching Brazil.
Group B leaders Italy preserved their unbeaten record with a 0-0 draw in the Czech Republic, but saw Mario Balotelli sent off in the 72nd minute following two bookings in four minutes. However, the Czechs were unable to press home their one-man advantage in the closing stages – although Petr Jiracek hit the woodwork six minutes from time.
Also in Group B, Malta earned their first points after five successive defeats as they beat Armenia 1-0 in Yerevan thanks to an early goal from Michael Mifsud.
In Group F, Portugal went top thanks to a 1-0 home win over Russia, Helder Postiga scoring the only goal of the game in the ninth minute. Russia, however, still have two games in hand.
In Group I, Finland – managed by Mixu Paatelainen – celebrated their first win after seeing off Belarus 1-0.
Bosnia-Herzegovina scored five second-half goals to finally put away ten-man Latvia in Riga and strengthen their position atop Group G but last-placed Liechtenstein stunned Slovakia in Vaduz, Jan Durica equaliser earning the visitors a 1-1 draw.
Group E saw Albania draw level on points with leaders Switzerland thanks to a 1-1 draw with Norway.