Football: Raul leads the Spanish slaughter

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WHILE FRANCE, the world champions, were being held 0-0 at home by Ukraine on Saturday and are by no means a safe bet to qualify for the finals of the European Championship next year, Italy and Spain were securing impressive wins which underlined their return to form.

The Italians and the Spaniards both failed to live up to expectations at France 98, but Spain in particular looked the part on Saturday. They thrashed Austria 9-0 in Valencia to resurrect their Group Six campaign.

Spain, who slipped to a shock 3-2 defeat by Cyprus in their opening qualifier, overwhelmed hapless Austria. Raul, the Real Madrid striker, put the home side 2-0 up inside 17 minutes before taking his goal tally to four with further strikes after 48 and 73 minutes. The other goals came from Ismael Urzaiz (with two), Fran, a Fernando Hierro penalty and an own goal by Arnold Wetl.

It could be the end of the road for Austria's coach, Herbert Prohaska. "We are the laughing stock of Europe," he said. "Yesterday was the worst day in my entire football career. We were not even good enough to act as a practice team for the Spaniards. I'm not angry at the players, who appeared to suffer a blackout on the pitch yesterday, I'm just disappointed about them and about myself." He is expected to offer his resignation this week.

One man has already had enough: Anghel Iordanescu resigned as Greece's coach after the 2-0 home defeat in Group Two to Norway, in which Manchester United's Ole-Gunnar Solskjaer scored both goals. Iordanescu, formerly in charge of Romania, has been replaced by Daniel Vassilis, who was previously the coach of the Athens club, Panathinaikos.

In Group One, Italy took advantage of a first-minute mistake by the debutant Jesper Groenkjaer to take control of their match against Denmark in Copenhagen. Filippo Inzaghi, the Juventus striker, intercepted Groenkjaer's weak back- pass to Peter Schemeichel, the Manchester United goalkeeper, and rounded him to score - something he would love to do again next month when their clubs meet in the European Cup semi-final.

Denmark came back strongly and scored a deserved equaliser through Ebbe Sand after 58 minutes, but Italy replied through a substitite, Antonio Conte, also of Juventus, to take all three points. He headed home bravely in a crowded penalty area with 21 minutes to go.

In Group Four the leaders, Ukraine, are still two points clear of France after their draw in Paris. The French may recall the Monaco striker David Trezeguet to improve their strike power against Armenia in their next qualifier on Wednesday. They will, however, have to do without their left- back, Bixente Lizarazu, who has damaged knee ligaments and will be out for at least six weeks. He will also miss Bayern Munich's European Cup semi-final against Dynamo Kiev next month.

The escalataing conflict in the Balkans has forced Uefa, European football's ruling body, to postpone two more of this week's qualifiers. Wednesday's scheduled Group Two match between Slovenia and Albania in Ljubljana and the Group Eight fixture between Croatia and Malta in Zagreb have both been called off.

"Uefa has decided that, in principle, it is not feasible to play matches within the former Yugoslav republics during the current situation," a Uefa spokesman said. Slovenia against Albania has been provisionally rescheduled for 18 August.