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World Cup Roundup: Northern Ireland saved from goal embarrassment

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

The sometimes-testy friendly, watched by a paltry 1,850 fans at the dusty National Stadium on the Mediterranean Island, came to a dramatic end when referee Mike Riley penalized Motherwell defender Stephen Craigan for tripping Antoine Zahra in the last minute.
It fell upon striker George Mallia to take the spot kick and notch a famous win for the Maltese over a side they’d never beaten, let alone scored against, before. However, Taylor pulled off a great save to spare the visitors blushes ahead of their World Cup qualifier with Azerbaijan in Belfast on September 3.
Northern Ireland boss Lawrie Sanchez was relieved by Taylor’s heroics but displeased with his team’s performance.
“I would have been a lot more disappointed if we had lost. We got out of jail,” he said. “We didn’t win it because we didn’t perform to the level that we can, and Malta played well.”
Winless since blanking Trinidad and Tobago 3-0 on a Caribbean tour in June 2004, the North looked set to claim a rare European scalp when David Healy headed home a Damien Johnson chip in the ninth minute — his 18th international goal.
It came on the break, against the run of play after the Maltese had twice tested Taylor in the early going. At any rate, Malta equalized in the 35th minute after a break down in the Irish ranks, Steve Davis conceding a free-kick and Ivan Woods skipping past Jeff Whitley to rifle a fierce shot into the top corner.
It was Malta’s first ever goal against the North in six meetings going back to a 3-0 thrashing in Belfast 17 years ago.
Northern Ireland wilted in the humidity down the stretch, with both teams reduced to 10-men following the dismissal of Keith Gillespie and Woods for a clash in the 77th minute.
Sanchez’ men will now have to wait until next weekend when Azerbaijan visit Windsor Park, for a World Cup tie of academic importance, to end their latest exercise in futility.
Prior to their last success in Europe, a 1-0 decision over Estonia courtesy of Healy in March 2004, The North had gone two and a half years without a win.

France, spotting an ominous “old look,” fired warning shots ahead of their forthcoming World Cup qualifiers with the Faroe Islands and Ireland by crushing Ivory Coast 3-0 in Montpellier.
Chelsea defender William Gallas (28th), comeback star Zinedane Zidane (63rd) and Thierry Henry (67th) gave Les Bleus’ hitherto dismal Germany ’06 campaign a massive psychological boost with the romp over the Ivorians.
For Zidane, back in the fold together with Lilian Thuram and Claude Makelele after a year in international retirement, it was his 27th goal in 94 appearances.
France (2-0-4, 10) are now likely to overhaul the idle Republic (3-0-4, 13) on the Group 4 standings after their September 3 qualifier against the Faroe Islands. This will no doubt increase pressure on an Irish squad humbled 2-1 by Italy in Dublin last week to get a result when Les Bleus drop in four days later.

The Faroe Islands, meanwhile, crashed to their sixth defeat in the qualifiers when they lost 3-0 to 10-man Cyprus in a battle of the minnows in Toftir.
Michalis Constandinou (38th, 76th pen.) and Simos Krashias (90th) connected for the Cypriots, who were unaffected by the dismissal of Eleftherios Elefteriou (44th).
Ireland’s penultimate opponents on October 8 improved to 1-5-1 (4 pts) second from the bottom, while the Islanders remain at the foot of the table (0-6-1, 1).
The other midweek World Cup qualifying results were (home teams listed first): Group 1 — Macedonia 0 Finland 3 (Alexei Eremenko Jr., 8th, 45th; Paulus Roiha); Romania 2 (Adrian Mutu 29th, 39th) Andorra 0.
Group 2 — Kazakhstan 1 (Daniyar Kenzhekhanov 20th) Georgia 2 (Georgi Demetradze 51st, 84th); Latvia 1 (Vitalijs Astafjevs 6th) Russia 1 (Andrei Arshavin 24th); and Group 3 — Liechtenstein 0 Slovakia 0.

Switzerland completed a successful night for the Republic’s three remaining Group 4 opponents by ending Norway’s two-year unbeaten record at home with a 2-0 result in Oslo.
Alexander Frei (50th) and an own goal by Norwegian defender Andre Bergdolmo (59th) lifted Swiss spirits ahead of next weekend’s vital qualifier with Israel.
Second in Group 4, a point behind Kerr’s side, Switzerland (3-0-3, 12) will pose Ireland’s final challenge in the qualifiers, in Dublin on October 12.

Israel, who could aid both Irish and French campaigns by taking points off Switzerland on September 3, slipped 3-2 to Poland in the Lobanovsky Memorial Tournament final in Kiev last Wednesday.
Penalty winners over Ukraine in the semis two days earlier, the Israelis led 2-1 against the 10-man Poles through Walid Badier (37th) and
Yaniv Katan (47th), but had the tables turned on them once they also lost a man to a red card.
Miroslaw Szymkowiak (19th) and Grzegorz Rasiak (77th, 89th) struck for Poland.

Wales, minus Ryan Giggs and Craig Bellamy, warmed up for their Group 6 qualifier against England with a goalless tie against Slovenia in Swansea.
England, on the other hand, were routed 4-1 by Denmark in Copenhagen, their worst defeat in 25 years. Dennis Rommedahl (60th), Jon Dahl Tomasson (63rd), Michael Gravgaard (67th) and Soren Larsen (90th) tallied for the great Danes, while Wayne Rooney (87th) had England’s consolation.

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In Graz, Scotland were denied a rare road victory by Austria after subs Andreas Ibertsberger (83rd) and Joachim Standfest (87th) canceled out first half strikes by Kenny Miller (3rd) and Garry O’Connor (39th) in a 2-2 tie.

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