Ravanelli keeps Italians in touch

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The Independent Online
Italy, England's main rivals in World Cup qualifying Group Two, managed only a 1-0 home win over Georgia in Perugia last night, Middlesbrough's Fabrizio Ravanelli scoring the only goal.

Although the result left Italy alongside England on a maximum six points from their two matches, it did little to ease the pressure on Italy's coach, Arrigo Sacchi, who was criticised after a disappointing 3-1 win against Moldova last week.

"We managed to close them down in the first half but in the second we suffered," he said. Only Ravanelli, the locally born hero of the hour, escaped blame.

Scotland's cause was aided by a surprise victory by Austria in Sweden. Andreas Herzog scored after 11 minutes, but Austria also had goalkeeper Michael Konsel to thank for their 1-0 victory. He saved Kennet Andersson's penalty after half an hour.

The result means that if Scotland were to be awarded yesterday's unplayed game in Estonia by default they will go to the top of group six.

Portugal put their campaign in Group Nine, Northern Ireland's section, back on course with a 3-0 victory over Albania in Tirana. The Portuguese, who lost their previous match to Ukraine last week, went ahead through Luis Figo in the 11th minute after a fluent build-up, but had to wait until the 75th minute for a second goal, from Helder Cristovao. The Albanians then fell apart, allowing Rui Costa to complete the scoring three minutes from time from a headed pass by Fernando Couto.

After Ukraine's unexpectedly strong start, they needed the victory, especially as Germany opened their campaign with a convincing 5-1 victory in Armenia.

Germany dominated from the start despite being without six regulars. Thomas Hassler scored twice in the first 39 minutes and Jurgen Klinsmann also scored before the interval. Fredi Bobich added another in the 69th and Stefan Kuntz gave Germany a 5-0 lead after 81 minutes before Karapet Mikaelian finally replied for Armenia with five minutes remaining.

Kjetil Rekdal scored one of international soccer's more unusual hat- tricks to secure Norway a 3-0 victory over Hungary and cement their position on top of Group Three. The game was still level at 0-0 with seven minutes remaining when the Rennes striker finally broke the deadlock with a free- kick. He then added a second with a stunning volley from 20 yards in the 89th minute and completed his hat-trick with a penalty seconds before the final whistle.

In Ecuador, Newcastle's Faustino Asprilla gave Colombia a 1-0 victory in the South American qualifying group.