Round-up: Spain is the big winner in World Cup playoffs

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The Independent Online

Spain wanted to win big before heading to Slovakia for the second leg of their World Cup playoff. Mission accomplished.

The Spanish crushed the visiting Slovaks 5-1 in the first leg, all but assuring themselves of a spot in next year's World Cup finals.

The Czech Republic, Switzerland, and Uruguay also took positive steps toward qualifying for the tournament in Germany. Vladimir Smicer scored the lone goal in the Czech Republic's 1-0 victory over Norway, the Swiss topped 2002 semifinalist Turkey 2-0, Uruguay edged Australia 1-0, and Trinidad and Tobago drew Bahrain 1-1.

Spain, which hasn't lost any of its 17 games under coach Luis Aragones, was the biggest winner, however, getting three goals from Luis Garcia and one each from Fernando Torres and substitute Fernando Morientes.

Spain is trying to qualify for the World Cup finals for the eighth straight time.

Although Spain is one of soccer's traditional powerhouses, the team has a poor record in international championships. The Spanish won the 1964 European Championship but have not been past the quarterfinals of the World Cup since 1950.

Slovakia, which is trying to get there for the first time since the breakup of Czechoslovakia, finished the match with 10 men after Marian Had was sent off for protesting. Slovakia coach Dusan Galis was also red carded.

Smicer, left unmarked in front of the goal, beat Norway goalkeeper Thomas Myhre from eight meters (yards) in the 32nd minute. Karel Poborsky set up the goal with a cross from the right at Ullevaal Stadium in Oslo, Norway.

The Czechs have never qualified for the World Cup finals, but Czechoslovakia reached the quarterfinals in 1990 - three years before it split from Slovakia.

"We came here to try to win or at least score and we managed to fulfill both," Smicer said. "Now we have to take a rest and prepare for the second leg."

Philippe Senderos and Valon Behrami scored a goal each for Switzerland.

Senderos scored first with a glancing header off a free kick from Ludovic Magnin in the 40th minute, and Behrami added the insurance in the 86th at Stade de Suisse.

The Swiss last played in the World Cup finals in 1994. Turkey reached the semifinals three years ago in South Korea and Japan.

Dario Rodriguez scored the lone goal for two-time World Cup champion Uruguay in the 35th minute.

Four years ago, Australia won 1-0 at home in the first leg but lost 3-0 in Uruguay.

Neither Trinidad and Tobago nor Bahrain has appeared in the finals, and the latter got a leg up in Port-of-Spain when Salman Ali Ghuloom Ali knocked in a header in the 72nd minute, before Trinidad's Christopher Birchall equalized with a 45-meter blast in the 77th.

Bahrain's away goal could be key when it hosts the return leg at Manama.

The second legs are scheduled for Wednesday, with the winners claiming the five remaining berths for next year's World Cup finals in Germany.

The 27 teams already qualified for the World Cup are: Croatia, France, England, Germany (host), Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Serbia-Montenegro, Sweden, Ukraine from Europe; Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay from South America; Angola, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Togo, Tunisia from Africa; Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea from Asia; and Costa Rica, Mexico, United States from CONCACAF.

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