Spain started the defence of their UEFA European Championship crown with a comprehensive 4-0 away victory against Liechtenstein, but it proved a less straightforward evening for France who slipped to a 1-0 home defeat by Belarus.
Qualifying for UEFA EURO 2012 may have begun last month but the journey to Poland/Ukraine got under way in earnest tonight with 22 games being played. Fernando Torres struck the only goal when Spain lifted the Henri Delaunay trophy in Vienna two years ago, and he was on target again in Vaduz, scoring twice. The Netherlands, the team La Roja beat just three months ago in the FIFA World Cup final, also started with a comfortable away win – 5-0 in San Marino – with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar hitting three.
Arguably the biggest story of the night came in Paris where two-time European champions France lost to Belarus in Laurent Blanc's first competitive game in charge. Blanc's arrival has brought the promise of a fresh start after his country's World Cup woes but France fans were left singing the blues once more after substitute Sergei Kislyak struck four minutes from time. France have now suffered four straight defeats for the first time since 1937 and Blanc said: "We lacked the efficiency to finish the job. The last move is the toughest thing in football. But when you can't finish at least you must make sure not to concede. It's a pity as we did not deserve to lose that game."
Italy's new coach Cesare Prandelli, like Blanc, is looking to lift a nation's post-World Cup gloom but, unlike Blanc, he was able to celebrate his first win at the helm as the Azzurri overturned a half-time deficit to beat Estonia 2-1, Antonio Cassano and Leonardo Bonucci delivering two goals in four minutes around the hour. "During the interval I saw my players seemed to have lost all confidence but I told them they could still win this game," said Prandelli. "They were able to react well and I think the victory was deserved."
Elsewhere, Jermain Defoe struck a hat-trick for England as they kicked off with a 4-0 win against Bulgaria at Wembley while Miroslav Klose hit his 53rd goal for UEFA EURO 2008 runners-up Germany to secure a 1-0 victory in Belgium. There were notable successes for Northern Ireland in Slovenia and for Moldova, who beat Finland, while Cyprus caused another surprise by holding Portugal 4-4 in Guimaraes, Andreas Avraam netting an 89th-minute equaliser for the visitors.
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