Fifty-one teams set off on the road to Poland and Ukraine late last summer and it is no surprise to see holders and world champions Spain on maximum points along with Germany and the Netherlands. Italy and Greece remain unbeaten after five games while Slovakia are flying high as they bid to reach their first UEFA European Football Championship.
Germany's 4-0 home win against Kazakhstan last Saturday was their fifth of the campaign and featured Miroslav Klose's seventh and eighth goals so far. Back-to-back victories for Belgium in Austria and at home to Azerbaijan have taken them second in the section, while third-placed Turkey's 2-0 home success over the Austrians on Tuesday ended a run of two defeats and boosted their qualification hopes.
Slovakia, Russia and the Republic of Ireland are level on ten points in pole position. Dick Advocaat's side were held to a goalless draw at fourth-ranked Armenia at the weekend, when Aiden McGeady's first international goal and Robbie Keane's 46th helped the Irish to a 2-1 home victory against the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. A 1-0 win for Slovakia in Andorra kept Vladimír Weiss's team top.
Italy's 0-0 draw in Northern Ireland in October remains their only blemish after Thiago Motta's debut goal against Slovenia last Friday established a five-point lead for the Azzurri. Slovenia's victories home and away to the Faroe Islands are still their only wins after they failed, in Tuesday's stalemate, to avenge an earlier 1-0 home defeat by Northern Ireland. Estonia are winless since a 3-1 autumn triumph in Serbia while the Serbians made up ground by coming from behind to beat Northern Ireland at home and drawing in Tallinn.
Laurent Blanc's France have opened a four-point gap over second-placed Belarus, who are the only team to have taken points off Les Bleus – Sergei Kislyak's late strike the only goal at the Stade de France in September. All of France's four qualifying victories have come by 2-0 while surprise package Belarus suffered their first loss, and conceded their only goal, in Saturday's 1-0 reverse in Albania. Adrian Mutu's first Romania goals since 2008 helped overturn a 1-0 deficit against Luxembourg and record a first success for Răzvan Lucescu's side.
The Netherlands look unstoppable, averaging 3.5 goals a game during a six-match winning streak that includes back-to-back victories against Hungary and October's 4-1 win against Sweden in Amsterdam. Erik Hamrén's men have responded well to that defeat, however. On Tuesday, the Swedes saw off Moldova to leapfrog Hungary into second place, despite having played two games fewer than their nearest rivals.
Greece stayed unbeaten and top the pile after Vassilis Torossidis's stoppage-time winner earned Fernando Santos's charges all three points from Saturday's trip to Malta. Croatia are also firmly in contention despite sustaining their first loss last Saturday at a resurgent Georgia, who sit fourth on nine points, two off the leaders. Israel's impressive home form has enabled them to join the Croatians on ten points, albeit having played a game more.
Recently appointed Gary Speed made the worst possible start as Wales boss by losing 2-0 at home to neighbours England, who now have ten points from a possible 12. Montenegro, in second, boast an identical record and are the only team in qualifying yet to ship a goal. Switzerland and Bulgaria, in third and fourth, face an uphill battle after only one win apiece – both against Wales. Saturday's 0-0 draw between the sides in Sofia did neither any favours.
Egil Olsen guided Norway to their first FIFA World Cups during his first spell, and the 68-year-old is proving a success second time around as well. Victories against Iceland, Portugal and Cyprus, and a hard-earned draw with Denmark, courtesy of Erik Huseklepp's equaliser, have put them top of the section. Portugal responded to taking one point from their first two qualifiers by beating the Danes and then Iceland to go second on seven points, level with Denmark.
World and European champions Spain show no signs of letting up with five wins from five, although Vicente del Bosque's team were pushed to the limit by Scotland in Glasgow and Lithuania in Kaunas, requiring late goals in each match. The Czech Republic bounced back from a home loss to Lithuania at the onset of the campaign to register nine points from the next 12 and climb into the play-off place.
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