By Jay Mwamba
Two goals by second half substitute Savo Milosevic helped power Yugoslavia to a 4-1 win over Malta and into a first place tie with Ireland at the top of Group 8 in the European Soccer Championship qualifiers last week.
Both Yugoslavia and Ireland, who edged Macedonia, 1-0, in Dublin on Niall Quinn’s header, have 9 points and a plus-seven goal difference. But the pariah-like Serbs, who were denied entry visas into Ireland two weeks ago and forced to play their home fixture with Malta in Greece because of the Kosovo crisis, have a game in hand.
Yugoslavia weathered early pressure and a 6th minute Maltese goal by Nicholas Saliba before their superior offense prevailed. Predag Mijatovic (34th), Milosevic (48th, 90th) and Darko Kovacevic (74th) maintained the Serbs’ 100 percent record after three matches.
"Malta provided good opposition in the first half," said Yugoslav coach Milan Zivadinovic, whose side’s next game is the rescheduled Balkan showdown with Croatia on Aug. 18. "But in the second half we played with three strikers and it paid off."
In spite of the victories by Ireland and Yugoslavia, the race in Group 8 remains close, with third-placed Macedonia and number four Croatia both only two points off the pace.
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The Czech Republic became the first country outside Euro 2000 co-hosts Holland and Belgium to qualify for next summer’s finals after a stirring 3-2 victory over Scotland in Prague. It was the Czechs’ seventh win (21 points) in as many matches in Group 9.
Paul Ritchie (30th) and Allan Johnston (63rd) appeared to have Scotland headed for an unlikely road win, four days after the 1-1 debacle on the Faroe Islands. But Tomas Repka (65th), Pavel Kuka (75th) and Jan Koller (87th) struck back fort the Czechs, losing finalists at Euro ’96.
The second-placed Scots (8) remain in contention for the playoff berth that goes to the runners-up in each group after Estonia’s 2-1 home defeat by Lithuania. Marek Lemsalu (51st) and Darius Maciulevicius (56th) connected for the visitors after Andres Oper (8th) had put Estonia ahead.
Bosnia trail Scotland on goal difference after a lucky 2-all draw with the Faroe Islands in Toftir. Elvir Bolic (13th, 50th) got both Bosnian goals in response to Uni Arge’s brace for the Islanders (38th, 48th). John Peterson could have clinched the Faroe Islands their first win had he not botched a 53rd minute penalty.
The noose continued to tighten around England in Group 5. Kevin Keegan’s men fell three points out of second place following a 1-1 tie with short-handed Bulgaria in Sofia. Poland (12) held off Luxembourg 3-2 to consolidate their second position.
"We simply did not create enough chances," said captain Alan Shearer, who gave England the lead (15th). Georgi Markov canceled out Shearer’s strike after three minutes and Bulgaria (5) held on despite playing the last half-hour with 10 men.
In Luxembourg, goals by Rafal Siadaczka (22nd), Artur Wichniarek (45th), and Tomasz Iwan (68th) enabled Poland to survive a late rally by their unfancied hosts. Marc Birsens (76th) and Jean Vanek (82nd) tallied for Luxembourg. Sweden (13) lead the group.
Chelsea defender Frank Leboeuf converted an 85th-minute penalty to avert an embarrassing draw for world champions France against tiny Andorra in a Group 4 qualifier in Barcelona.
The 1-0 result moved the French (14) to within a point of leaders Ukraine, who were held to a goalless tie in Armenia. France had striker Christophe Dugarry red-carded in the 24th minute.
Valeri Karpin (44th) notched another win for Russia (12) in Group 4 with the only goal of the match against Iceland in Moscow. Karpin had also been on target for the Russians in their 3-2 defeat of France four days earlier.
Inter Milan’s $50 million signing, Christian Vieri, and his Italian teammates returned goalless from their Group 1 excursion to Switzerland, where a win could have put the Azzurri in the finals.
Italy (4) still hold a six-point lead over Denmark, who blanked Wales, 2-0, at Liverpool’s Ainfield ground on late strikes by Jon Dahl Tomasson (84th) and Stig Toftin (89th). The Danes lead Switzerland on goal difference and Wales by two points.
Zlatko Zahovic’s penalty (26th) against Albania allowed Slovenia to hold off Latvia in the fight for second place in Group 2. The 1-0 outcome increased the home side’s points tally to 11, five behind Norway, who have played one game more.
Latvia, in third place only on goal differential, pipped Greece, 2-1, in Athens, courtesy of Maris Verpakovskis (24th) and Mihails Zemlinskis (90th pen.). Andreas Niniadis (38th pen.) was the Greek scorer.
Port of goals
Joao Pinto reeled in a hat trick (40th, 59th, 67th) for Portugal in their 8-0 annihilation of Liechtenstein in Coimbra. Sa Pinto (28th, 44th) and Rui Costa (80th, 91st) were also on target, as was defender Christof Ritter (52nd), who conceded an own goal.
The victory enabled Portugal (18) to hold onto their one-point lead over Romania at the top of Group 7.
Romania, meanwhile, hammered Azerbaijan, 4-0, in Bucharest on goals by Ionel Ganea (35th), Dorinel Munteanu (44th pen.), Ioan Vladoiu (50th), and Laurentiu Rosu (90th).
Also in Group 7, third-placed Slovakia (11) edged Hungary, 1-0, on Fabus’ goal (53rd). And in Group 9, Finland saw their qualification hopes recede further as a result of their goalless tie with Moldova in Chisinau.
The Finns (7) failed to breach a 5-point gap between them and joint leaders Germany and Turkey (12).