France, England, Germany off the mark
PARIS, France (AFP) — Beaten Euro 2012 finalists Italy were held to a disappointing 2-2 draw by Bulgaria, but Didier Deschamps got his career as France coach off to a winning start as European qualification for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil got under way yesterday.
Argentine-born striker Pablo Osvaldo scored a brace in only his third game for Italy, but the Azzurri were pinned back by goals from Stanislav Manolev and Georgi Milanov in their Group B match.
Italy manager Cesare Prandelli's decision to revive the 3-5-2 formation he used only fleetingly at Euro 2012 looked questionable during a first half in which Bulgaria regularly exposed Italy's defence.
Just five weeks on from losing to Spain 4-0 in the Euro 2012 final, Italy allowed Bulgaria in for the equaliser in the 66th minute, a superb three-pronged move prying open the visitors' defence to allow Milanov to drive the ball past Gianluigi Buffon.
Abou Diaby marked his return to international football with the only goal of the game as France began their bid to qualify with a 1-0 win against Finland.
It was hardly vintage stuff from Les Bleus in a brisk Finnish capital, but the Arsenal midfielder's neat strike from a Karim Benzema assist in the first half allowed Deschamps' first competitive game in charge to end in victory.
France also had Hugo Lloris to thank, though, for a crucial late save as the hosts pushed forward in search of an equaliser.
In Chisinau, Frank Lampard ensured England made a smooth start on the road to Brazil as the Chelsea midfielder bagged a brace in his side's 5-0 demolition of Moldova.
After England's tame Euro 2012 quarter-final exit against Italy, it was essential for Roy Hodgson's side to deliver a convincing display in the Moldovan capital and Lampard's 24th and 25th international goals were the catalyst for a ruthless rout of the Group H minnows.
Jermain Defoe, James Milner and Leighton Baines completed the rout to leave Hodgson "pleased with the way we played, especially in the first half".
Germany, however, made heavy work of the Faroe Islands as two second-half goals from Real Madrid's Mesut Ozil were required to save the Germans' blushes.
After Ireland's last-gasp 2-1 win in Kazakhstan earlier, Germany top Group C but wasted a chance to dominate their guests from the north Atlantic archipelago, who are ranked 152 places below the second-placed Germans according to FIFA.
In Group D, Robin van Persie was on target for the Netherlands in a 2-0 win over Turkey, while Hungary routed minnows Andorra 5-0 and Romania won 2-0 away in Estonia.
Arguably the biggest upset of the night was Iceland's 2-0 victory over Atlantic neighbours Norway in Group E, with Albania seeing off Cyprus 3-1 and Switzerland notching up a 2-0 victory over Slovenia in other pool matches.
Portugal recorded an unconvincing 2-1 win over Luxembourg in Group F, Russia going top after a 2-0 victory over Northern Ireland, as Azerbaijan and Israel fought out a 1-1 draw.
Group A action saw Croatia defeat Macedonia 1-0 and Wales go down 2-0 at home to Belgium, Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany on the scoreboard for the Belgians.
The biggest win of the night came in Group G when Bosnia-Herzegovina hammered Liechtenstein 8-1.