Despite now being in its sixth year, Raymond Domenech's tenure as coach of France has never conveyed an impression of permanence. This morning he appears to have edged ever closer to the exit after his side escaped from Belgrade with a draw against Serbia.
On the night it was a credible performance. A goal down and a man down after goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was sent off in the ninth minute, Thierry Henry, reportedly one of Domenech's more outspoken critics, levelled before half-time. The result leaves France still four points behind their hosts – who took the lead through Nenad Milijas of Wolves – with home games against the Faroe Islands and Austria to come. Serbia have Romania at home before finishing in Lithuania.
France struggled to reach the last finals and went on to make the final itself, but this campaign has attracted consistent flak. Yesterday he left Franck Ribéry, his most creative player, on the bench again and then lost Lloris for bringing down Milan Jovanovic. Milijas scored from the spot, but Henry capped a spirited French rally with theequaliser. The Barcelona striker pounced after the Serbia keeper Vladimir Stojkovic could only parry a long-range effort by Nicolas Anelka. Serbia later had Danko Lazovic sent off.
Spain strolled to an eighth win in eight with a run of the mill 3-0 victory over Estonia to mark their qualification for South Africa. Bosnia's draw with Turkey had assured the European champions of their place before kick-off and they celebrated with goals by Cesc Fabregas, Santi Cazorla and Juan Mata in Merida.
Portugal breathed belated life into their qualifying campaign thanks to a crucial 1-0 win in Hungary. With Ronaldo once again a peripheral figure, the goal came from an unlikely source, Pepe, the Real Madrid centre-half heading home a Deco free-kick. Portugal are now two points behind second-placed Sweden, who needed a late own goal to win in Malta. Denmark remain top, with a three-point advantage despite being held in Albania, Nicklas Bendtner scoring in a 1-1 draw. Denmark host the Swedes next month while Portugal have two home games to come. "There are still four teams in the race and now the team that has the most personality and unity will win this final sprint," said Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz.
Germany have yet to confirm their place in the finals, even though they have already reserved themselves a five-star hotel in South Africa. On the field they did their bit towards fulfiling that presumptive booking with a 4-0 thumping of Azerbaijan. With Russia winning in Wales, Germany remain a point clear in Group Four but the leaders travel to Moscow next month. Michael Ballack opened the scoring with a penalty before Azerbaijan were reduced to 10 men. Miroslav Klose came off the bench to score twice either side of half-time and Lukas Podolski completed the scoring as Germany made it seven wins out of eight.
Italy took another confident step towards qualification with a 2-0 win over Bulgaria. Fabio Grosso and Vincenzo Iaquinta scored the goals, but Fabio Cannavaro was booked and so misses the match against second-placed Ireland. The victory stretched Italy's lead to four points and they can confirm a finals place with a point in Dublin on 10 October. Grosso volleyed in after a neat one-two with Andrea Pirlo, and Iaquinta added the second.
Countries (England, Spain and the Netherlands) who have a perfect qualifying record of eight wins from eight games.Reuse content