By Jay Mwamba
Macedonia nudged Ireland out of first place in Euro 2000’s politically charged Group 8 after a 1-1 tie with Croatia in Skopje last weekend. But the Republic, whose match with Yugoslavia was called off, shouldn’t be too disappointed with the Macedonians’ one-point edge.
Ireland (6 points) could in fact reclaim the leadership today when Macedonia, who needed a late equalizer from sub Georgi Hristov to hold Croatia, visit Lansdowne Road. Davor Sukur had put Croatia ahead.
The other scheduled game in the group today — Yugoslavia versus Malta in neutral Greece — hangs in balance. Yugoslavia’s big match with Ireland in Dublin last Saturday fell through after the Irish authorities denied the Serbs visas because of their government’s role in the Kosovo crisis.
Elsewhere in qualifying action for next summer’s European Soccer Championship, Sweden ended English coach Kevin Keegan’s brief honeymoon with a goalless tie at Wembley, world champions France suffered a shock defeat in Paris, while Italy forced Welsh coach Jimmy Gould out of his job with a 4-0 romp in Liverpool.
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Manchester United’s magic failed to rub off on England whose qualification chances took a serious knock following their 0-0 draw with Group 5 leaders Sweden (13 points) in London.
Keegan saw one of his Manchester call-ups, Paul Scholes, red carded in the 51st minute, and another, midfielder David Beckham limp off injured. Both will miss today’s away match in Bulgaria where the English (8) need to win just to stay in contention for a playoff berth.
Bulgaria lost 2-0 in Warsaw last Friday, a result that vaulted Poland (9) into second place in the group. Tomasz Hajto (15th) and Tomasz Iwan (62nd) scored for the Poles who play in Luxembourg today.
Defender Hans Frooei Hansen’s header on the stroke of full time in Toftir earned the Faroe Islands a surprise 1-1 tie with 10-man Scotland in Group 9. The Scots (8) moved into second position, a point ahead of Estonia, who crashed 2-0 at home to the undefeated Czech Republic (18), losing finalists at Euro ’96.
Also in the group, Bosnia (7) dispatched Lithuania, 2-0, in Sarajevo on goals by skipper Meho Kodro (26th) and substitute Elvir Bolic (90th).
Today’s group schedule is: Faroe Islands vs. Bosnia, Estonia vs. Lithuania, and the Czech Republic vs. Scotland.
Valery Karpin (85th) sent World Cup holders France reeling to their first home loss in two years with a thrilling 3-2 Russian victory in a Group 4 match in Paris. Alexander Panov’s brace had kept the Russians in the game after France had led through Arsenal’s Emmanuel Petit and striker Sylvain Wiltord.
The defeat saw the French (11) drop from first place to third, three points behind Ukraine, who hammered Andorra 4-0 in Kiev, and one behind Iceland, whose Rikkhardur Dadason (30th) and Runar Kristinsson (47th) connected in a 2-0 decision over Armenia.
France, nonetheless, can restore some pride with a win in Andorra today, while Russia return home to host Iceland. Ukraine, whose scorers against Andorra were Popov (38th), Rebrov (41st), Dimitrulin (53rd), and Husin (88th), are away to Armenia.
Welsh manager Jimmy Gould announced his resignation in Bologna after the Red Dragons were swept 4-0 by Italy in Group 1. Christian Vieri (7th) Filippo Inzaghi (37th) defender Paolo Maldini (40th) and Enrico Chiesa (88th) all but assured the Italians a berth in the finals with their fifth win in five games (13 points).
Said Gould after announcing his departure: "It’s always hard to tell whether the result is the worth of one team or the fault of the other. But for the first quarter of an hour we played some excellent football."
Wales (6) still have a shot at making the playoffs as the group runners-up.
Spain maintained their high-scoring ways in Group 6, routing minnows San Marino, 9-0, in Villarreal to go top of the group (12 ).
Luis Enrique had the requisite hat trick, and Joseba Etxeberria a brace, while Gaizka Mendieta, Fernando Hierro, and Raul Gonzalez each added one. San Marion’s Mirco Gennari chipped in with an own goal. The goalfest brought Spain’s three-match tally to 24, following the 9-0 annihilation of second-placed Austria (10), and a 6-0 romp over San Marino in the spring.
In Tel Aviv, Isr’l (10) trounced Austria, 5-0, to climb into second place in the group. West Ham United’s Eyal Berkovic (23rd, 47th), Haim Revivo (45th),
Alon Mizrahi (52nd), and Najwan Grayeb (78th) tallied.
German captain Oliver Bierhoff ended a four-match drought with a hat-trick in the European champions’ 6-1 Group 3 massacre of Moldova in Leverkusen.
Bierhoff struck in the 2nd, 55th, and 82nd minutes. Ulf Kirsten (27th), Marco Bode (38th), and Mehmet Scholl (71st) were also on target. Moldova replied through Gheorghe Stratulat (76th).
The Germans (12 points) lead Turkey on goal difference at the top of the group.
The Turks came away from Helsinki with a dramatic 4-2 win over Finland. Hannu Tihinen and Mika-Matti Paatelainen had the Finns two goals up in the opening 14 minutes, but Turkey hit back through Tayfur Havutc (two) and Hakan Suku (two).
Norway strengthened its hand in Group 2 with a 2-1 win over Albania in Tirana on lanky Chelsea striker Tore Andre Flo’s 83rd-minute header. Steffen Iversen (3rd) had pushed the visitors ahead before Igli Tare’s equalizer for Albania tied the match in the 16th minute.
Norway (16 points) picked up their fifth win in a row and need only one more
point to clinch a place in the finals.