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Portugal struggle, easy wins for other European favourites

Latest update : 2009-04-01

In addition to France's victory, Saturday's other 2010 World Cup qualifying matches also showed strong performances for European favourites such as Holland (pictured), title-holders Spain, Germany and Italy.

AFP - World Cup winners Italy, European title-holders Spain, France, Germany and Holland showed the footballing fraternity on Saturday the established nations are only getting stronger.

Less than 15 months before the start of the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa, European top nations gave a lesson to the rest in World Cup qualifying fixtures.

Italy won 2-0 in Montenegro, Spain belaboured to a 1-0 win over Turkey in Madrid, France thanked Franck Ribery for a workmanlike 1-0 win in Lithuania, while Germany thrashed little Liechtenstein 4-0 and Holland whipped Scotland 3-0 in Amsterdam.

Smaller nations, dreaming of opening the door to South Africa, had it slammed in their faces.

French coach Raymond Domenech kept critics at bay in Kaunas, telling French television station TF1: "Something's been happening for quite a while. This team has something and the players are saying so. It's in the process of being born, of being built, of getting prepared.

"Tonight was difficult for us but we played it in good spirit despite the state of the pitch. I will say straight away I was happy with this match."

He added they would need to keep up the same standard at home to Lithuania on Wednesday at the Stade de France. "There's another match on Wednesday and we need to be just as good if we want to get the three points."

And the 1998 winners and 2006 finalists are set fair to have a long World Cup adventure if Domenech's final comments were anything to go by.

"The players know what a World Cup is," Domenech continued. "We will give it our all might till the end, but the next step is on Wednesday."

Radoslav Batak's howler helped grant world champions Italy a comfortable night as they beat Montenegro 2-0 in Podgorica in Group Eight.

The 31-year-old centre-back, who plys his trade in Turkey at Ankaraspor, needlessly and stupidly handled a cross from Andrea Pirlo in the box and the player got up to fire in an 11th-minute penalty. Giampaolo Pazzino got Italy's second in the 74th minute.

European champions Spain made it five wins on a roll as they squeaked past Turkey 1-0 in Group Five.

After an hour of probing, Spain finally broke the deadlock at the Bernabeu stadium with Gerard Pique bundling in from point-blank range.

Barcelona's Pique, only called into the national squad last month by coach Vicente del Bosque for a debut against England, was in the right place at the right time after fellow attacking defender Sergio Ramos deflected a Xavi freekick into his path.

Germany's Michael Ballack, Marcell Jansen, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski were on target against little Liechtenstein in a 4-0 thrashing. The principality is just 160 square kilometres and the national team is largely made up of part-time footballers.

Holland's march towards next year's World Cup finals in South Africa accelerated as the Oranje strolled to a 3-0 win over Scotland.

First-half headers from Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Robin van Persie were followed by a late penalty from Dirk Kuyt as the Dutch chalked up their fourth straight win in Group Nine, extending their lead at the top of the section to eight points ahead of Macedonia's visit on Wednesday.

Date created : 2009-03-29