French hopes of rapidly turning the corner after their disastrous World Cup campaign proved ill-founded when new coach Laurent Blanc's first competitive game ended with a 1-0 defeat to Belarus in Paris last night.
Les Bleus were booed off at the Stade de France after an 86th-minute goal from Sergei Kislyak gave the visitors victory in Group C of the Euro 2012 qualifiers. Blanc had brought back a number of World Cup players who had been suspended for the friendly defeat to Norway last month but an unfamiliar line-up failed to make the most of their chances and let in Kislyak just before the end.
Italy, who also suffered an ignominious time in South Africa, were trailing 1-0 to Estonia but fought back to win 2-1, the recalled Antonio Cassano getting their equaliser. It was the Azzurri's first victory of the year, Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci getting their winner.
Keith Fahey's first international was enough to secure the Republic of Ireland a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Armenia in a sweltering Yerevan. Before the game the Ireland coach, Giovanni Trapattoni, had admitted he would be satisfied with a one-goal victory and he would have been happy when Fahey, on as a substitute for Aiden McGeady, latched on to a loose ball in the Armenia penalty area to score with a firm drive with 14 minutes to go. The Birmingham City midfielder's goal would also have been a relief for captain Robbie Keane, who passed up a glorious early chance, had a goal ruled out for offside and then hit the post.
Northern Ireland ended a 10-game winless streak and scored for the first time in eight matches by snatching an unlikely 1-0 victory over Slovenia in Maribor. The visitors spent most of the night defending desperately in but, having not found the net for a year, the Irish stunned the crowd 20 minutes from time when Craig Cathcart's low cross was turned in by substitute Corry Evans with his first touch.
Elsewhere, world champions Spain brushed aside Liechtenstein 4-0, Fernando Torres scoring twice, Portugal shared eight goals with Cyprus in a remarkable game in Guimaraes and Germany beat Belgium 1-0 in Brussels, Miroslav Klose tapping in the winner.
England's Under-21 side took a major step towards securing a play-off place for next summer's European Championships with a deserved 1-0 win over Portugal in Barcelos last night.
Stuart Pearce, the Under-21 coach, decided to drop Arsenal's Jack Wilshere on the bench, while the new Manchester United striker Bebe made his debut for the home side. England made most of the running in the first half and Chelsea's Daniel Sturridge gave them the lead in the 35th minute when he ran on to Tom Cleverley's pass to chip goalkeeper Rui Patricio.