England and reigning champions Spain both secured home victories in Euro 2016 qualifying as some of the continent’s minnows again enjoyed outstanding results.
A turgid Group E encounter between England and Slovenia at Wembley on Sunday came to life in the second half as Roy Hodgson’s side fought back to win 3-1 and make it four wins from four games in Group E to remain firmly on track for a place at the finals in France.
Slovenia took the lead just before the hour mark when Jordan Henderson headed into his own net, but England were back on level terms moments later thanks to Wayne Rooney, who won and then converted a penalty to mark the occasion of his 100th international appearance with his 44th goal for his country.
Danny Welbeck of Arsenal then netted a brace to seal the victory. “It was a good day in the end. We had to show character and that will be good for us in the team. Since the World Cup, we haven’t faced that (going behind),” said Rooney.
Spain will go into a friendly with World Cup winners Germany fresh from a routine 3-0 victory against Belarus in Group C, a result that saw the current European champions make it three wins from four qualifiers. Midfielder Isco marked his first start for La Roja by scoring a brilliant first-half opener and Barcelona duo Sergio Busquets and Pedro Rodriguez added further goals in a game played in the southern town of Huelva.
“We played well, we dominated the match and scored twice in the first half which gave us a certain peace of mind,” said Spain coach Vicente del Bosque.
Meanwhile, after the Faroe Islands recorded a stunning 1-0 win in Greece on Friday, prompting the demise of Claudio Ranieri as coach of the 2004 European champions, San Marino and Liechtenstein claimed famous results of their own.
San Marino ends streak
San Marino, ranked 208th and joint-last in the world by FIFA alongside Bhutan, ended a run of 61 consecutive defeats by holding Estonia to a 0-0 draw at home in Group E. After seeing his side gain their first ever point in a European Championship qualifier and avoid defeat in a competitive match for the first time since 2001, San Marino coach Pierangelo Manzaroli said: “This result is a reward for the players and it will be an incentive to gain other good results sooner than in 12 years’ time.”
Liechtenstein fared even better, a second-half goal by captain Franz Burgmeier securing a 1-0 victory in Moldova in Group G. The tiny principality with a population of under 40,000 had not won a competitive match since June 2011 and had not won on their travels in a qualifying fixture in over a decade.
In contrast, Europe’s largest nation Russia went down 1-0 in Austria in the same group to increase the pressure on coach Fabio Capello. The only goal of the game in Vienna was scored by 1860 Munich’s Pakistan-born striker Rubin Okotie in the 73rd minute, moments after officials had deemed that another effort by the same player had not crossed the line.
RUSSIA IN SPIRAL
The result comes a month after Russia were held at home by Moldova and days after the country’s football union said they could no longer afford to pay Capello’s huge salary, believed to be around seven million euros per year.
Austria are now four points clear at the top of the group from Sweden, who were held to a 1-1 draw in Montenegro.
Captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic marked his first start in a competitive match for almost two months after injury by giving the visitors an early lead, but he later struck the post from a free-kick before Stevan Jovetic equalised from the penalty spot 10 minutes from time.
Elsewhere, Ukraine claimed their third consecutive win in Group C as Andriy Yarmolenko scored a second-half hat-trick to secure a 3-0 victory in Luxembourg. Ukraine and Spain are three points behind Slovakia, who continued their perfect record by defeating Macedonia 2-0 in Skopje thanks to first-half goals by Juraj Kucka and Adam Nemec.
And in England’s Group E Switzerland beat Lithuania 4-0 thanks to four second-half goals, including two from Bayern Munich’s Xherdan Shaqiri.