Italy turn on style to beat Bulgaria
Italy moved within a point of World Cup qualification after superb goals from Fabio Grosso and Vincenzo Iaquinta sealed an entertaining 2-0 win over Bulgaria in Group Eight on Wednesday.
The world champions, who put on a much improved display compared to recent matches, are now four points clear of second-placed Ireland and with two to play and need just a draw against the Irish in Dublin on Oct. 10 to progress.
Left back Grosso, drafted back into the side after Saturday's uninspiring 2-0 win in Georgia, opened the scoring after 11 minutes when he volleyed in off the bar following Andrea Pirlo's delightful dink into the box.
World Cup winner Grosso had played the ball to Pirlo before charging into the area and coolly scoring on his first appearance at his new home ground having signed for Juventus last week.
Striker Iaquinta, another of the seven Juve players to start for Italy, then finished off another neat one-two involving Alberto Gilardino five minutes before the break.
Italy coach Marcello Lippi had come in for criticism for a string of dull performances and was pleased to finally win with style, even though captain Fabio Cannavaro was booked and will miss the Ireland game.
"In the first half it was a spectacle and it was entertainment," he told Rai television.
"There was a lot of technical quality and two splendid goals. We are not at the top of our game, some other teams are ahead of us but we have controlled the match."
His side generally had much more urgency and Juve's Claudio Marchisio did a good job in the problem left midfield spot having seen the birth of his child and recovered from a thigh knock in time to make his second cap.
The defeat means Bulgaria can no longer win the group while they lie five behind Ireland and their chances of grabbing second spot and a playoff place are very remote.
Italy's most attacking display of the last few months meant the Azzurri left gaps at the back but Bulgaria lacked conviction when it mattered despite having several chances.
The visitors thought the ball had crossed the line when Gianluigi Buffon clawed out Stilian Petrov's first-half effort following a corner but replays were inconclusive.
Valeri Bojinov also hit the post after a defensive mix-up.
Image: Vincenzo Iaquinta
England crush Croatia to reach World Cup
Superb England demolished Croatia 5-1 and stormed into next year's World Cup finals after making it eight wins out of eight in Group Six qualifying at Wembley Stadium on Wednesday.
Two goals each from Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard and one from Wayne Rooney avenged their heartbreaking 3-2 defeat by Croatia on a rainy night at Wembley 22 months ago, a result that cost them a place at Euro 2008.
England have qualified with 24 points from their eight games, with Croatia left in second place on 17 points with one match to play.
They are ahead of Ukraine on 15 points, who have two matches to play after drawing 0-0 with Belarus on Wednesday.
While the group winners qualify for the finals directly, the eight best second-placed teams from the nine European groups go through to two-legged play-offs for the four remaining places.
Fabio Capello's re-modelled side took control of the game from the start and never relinquished it.
Lampard scored with a seventh minute penalty and a 59th minute header while Gerrard scored with two excellent headers after 18 and 66 minutes.
Rooney added a fifth 13 minutes from time to put England into the finals with two matches to spare and send most of the 87,000 crowd inside the stadium wild with delight.
Croatia, without injured first choice keeper Stipe Pletikosa and playmaker Luka Modric, plus the suspended defender Vedran Corluka, were a shadow of the team that won at Wembley in 2007 and all they had to cheer was a consolation goal from Eduardo da Silva after 71 minutes.
The match was effectively settled through Lampard's penalty and Gerrard's first well-directed header.
Aaron Lennon inspired England's glittering start, playing a significant part in both opening goals.
His run into the Croatia box was halted by Josip Simunic for the penalty. He then provided the perfect cross for Gerrard's header 11 minutes later and constantly bamboozled the Croatian defenders with his blistering pace.
England dominated the opening 45 minutes and could have scored five before the break.
Emile Heskey, preferred to the free-scoring Jermain Defoe, worked tirelessly linking attack and midfield but wasted two superb chances just before half-time.
England made light of those misses but despite their dominance they could not keep a clean sheet.
Robert Green, who hardly had a save to make in England's goal all match, was beaten when he parried two goalbound efforts but was powerless to stop Eduardo pouncing from close-range.
Rooney wrapped up the victory with his 25th England goal after keeper Vedran Runje miskicked a clearance giving him the simplest of opportunities to fire into an empty net.
Image: Wayne Rooney, Frank Lamapard and Steven Gerrard
Spain secure World Cup spot
Spain clinched their place at next year's World Cup finals when a clinical strike from Cesc Fabregas set them on their way to a slick 3-0 win over visiting Group Five rivals Estonia.
The comfortable victory on a sweltering night at the Estadio Romano in Merida meant Vicente del Bosque's side qualified as group winners with two matches to spare and eight wins out of eight.
"It was a good day and even if we perhaps weren't at our best it was enough to secure qualification," Del Bosque said at a news conference.
The European champions found it difficult to play their usual controlled passing game in the early stages on a cramped pitch at the tiny arena and Estonia created a couple of good scoring chances.
Konstantin Vassiljev skipped past Gerard Pique on the left wing in the 17th minute and sent over a fine cross but Tarmo Kink headed wastefully over the bar before Sergei Zenjov just failed to turn in a centre from Andres Oper.
David Villa fired narrowly over from Xavi's pass in the 24th minute and Fernando Torres did the same a minute later after a swift break.
Fabregas struck in the 33rd minute when he exchanged passes with David Silva on the edge of the penalty area and stroked the ball past Estonia goalkeeper Sergei Pareiko into the far corner.
Substitute Santi Cazorla made it 2-0 when he crashed the ball in from close range in the 82nd minute and Juan Mata came off the bench to round off the scoring in added time with a cool finish from Cazorla's cross-field pass.
Their were wild celebrations at the final whistle and cries of "Espana! Espana!" rang out around the arena.
"We tried to do what we could but Spain were a lot better and that's the reality," Estonia coach Tarmo Ruutli said.
"It will be a different story of course in South Africa. There will be a lot of strong teams wanting to win and the World Cup is always a little bit about luck."
Bosnia's 1-1 draw with visiting Turkey in their Group Five clash on Wednesday had set Spain up for qualification and the win followed Saturday's 5-0 thrashing of Belgium.
Image: Cesc Fabregas
Baros nets four as Czechs enjoy 7-0 win
Milan Baros struck four times to help Czech Republic give their World Cup qualification hopes a lift with a 7-0 win over San Marino on Wednesday.
Baros, who netted a vital late equaliser against Slovakia on Saturday, picked up where he had left off, netting a first-half hat-trick and adding his fourth midway through the second half.
Vaclav Sverkos scored two and Tomas Necid got one to complete a victory that leaves the Czechs with 12 points from eight matches in Group Three and still with a chance of qualification.
Slovakia top the group with 16 points from seven heading into their match away to second-placed Northern Ireland, who have 14 points from eight games.
Poland and Slovenia are also in the running in a tight group, with only the winners qualifying for South Africa 2010 directly.
The eight best second-placed teams from the nine groups in Europe go into two-legged play-offs for the four remaining places.
San Marino finished Wednesday's game with 10 men after Simone Bacciocchi was booked for the second time for holding up play with eight minutes to go.
Image: Milan Baros