Football: Flo flourish puts Norway in finals

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The Independent Online
Norway booked their place in next year's World Cup finals when they won 1-0 away to Azerbaijan yesterday to secure first place in Group Three.

A goal by the Chelsea striker, Tore Andre Flo, was enough to seal a hard- fought win and Norway's trip to France. They have one game left to play, at home to Switzerland on Wednesday, but they are already sure of winning the section because their tally of 17 points from seven matches gives them an unassailable lead over all their rivals.

Flo scored the winning goal two minutes before half-time in Baku, sending a long-range shot past the Azeri goalkeeper, Alexander Zhidkov.

Finland are now second behind Norway after a 2-1 win over Switzerland in Lausanne. A crisp left-foot shot from Jari Litmanen in the 16th minute and a superb individual goal from Antti Sumiala in the 79th did the trick. The Swiss scored through Adrian Kunz in the 90th minute, after Finland's goalkeeper, Antti Niemi of Rangers, made several superb saves.

Germany came close to only their second defeat in a World Cup qualifier, equalising with just nine minutes remaining to draw 1-1 with Portugal in an eventful Group Nine match in Berlin.

Portugal, who inflicted Germany's only World Cup qualifying loss to date by beating them 1-0 in Stuttgart 12 years ago, looked like they might do it again after opening the scoring through Pedro Barbosa in the 71st minute. But the visitors then lost their inspirational midfielder Rui Costa, who was sent off for a second bookable offence in the 76th minute, and the German substitute Ulf Kirsten levelled the game in the 81st minute.

Germany and Portugal now both have 16 points, one point behind the group leaders Ukraine, but Portugal have played one more game than the European champions.

Zvonimir Boban led Croatia to a 3-2 victory over Bosnia with an 80th- minute goal in their Group One game in Zagreb. The result sustained Croatia's hopes of reaching the finals - they are third on 12 points, one point behind both Greece, who won 3-0 in Slovenia, and second-placed Denmark.

Croatia fell behind to an own goal by their goalkeeper, Drazen Ladic, but Everton's Slaven Bilic equalised with a long-range shot and Silvio Maric put them ahead before half-time. Back came Bosnia, though, and Hasan Salihamidzic profited from another mistake from Ladic to equalise in the 55th minute. However, Boban, Croatia's captain, spared his side's blushes against their Balkan neighbours with his late winner.

Austria, despite being down to nine men, beat Sweden 1-0 in Vienna to go top of Group Four. Sweden had Roland Nilsson, the former Sheffield Wednesday full-back, sent off in a stormy second half. Austria's goalkeeper, Michael Konsel, was sent off late in the game, after Anton Pfeffer had been dismissed in the 41st minute for two bad fouls.

Andreas Herzog, of Werder Bremen, scored the winning goal in the 76th minute. Austria lead the standings with 19 points, ahead of Scotland on 17 and Sweden on 15. Scotland play Belarus today.

Lithuania, trying to reach the finals for the first time, overcame Macedonia with a first-half goal from Valdas Ivanauskas and a second two minutes from time in Vilnius from Aidas Preiksaitis. Lithuania are third in Group Eight, behind the Republic of Ireland only on goal difference.