Portugal stormed clear at the top of World Cup qualifying Group Three with a 5-0 thrashing of Luxembourg. The comprehensive win may have been more
expected than last month's 7-1 annihilation of Russia, but Portugal were clearly taking no chances at the Josy Barthel stadium after letting a
two-goal lead slip in Liechtenstein only four days before the Russia performance.
After Ben Federspiel put through his own net in the 11th minute, Cristiano Ronaldo doubled the advantage when he rose to meet Deco's corner just
before the half-hour. Another Deco corner early in the second half was volleyed goalwards by Nuno Maniche, only to be deflected past Luxembourg
goalkeeper Alija Besic. Pedro Pauleta's 35th and 36th goals for his country followed, the latter a late penalty, to put the striker within five goals
of Portugal legend Eusebio's national record. The win takes the Euro 2004 finalists to 13 points, three clear of second-placed Slovakia who have a
game in hand.
A depleted Russia erased the memory of the humiliation by Portugal with a 4-0 defeat of Estonia that sees them leapfrog their opponents into third
spot in the group on goal difference.
Three goals in nine first-half minutes killed the contest, with star man Andrei Kariaka opening the floodgates in the 25th minute, before setting up
both Marat Izmailov two minutes later and Dmitri Sychev for the third before half-time. A penalty from Dmitri Loskov midway through the second-half
added insult to injury for the Estonians who let a 2-1 lead slip in Latvia in their last match after an encouraging start to the qualifying campaign.
Kariaka opened the scoring with a powerful free-kick from 25 yards and then turned provider when he fed Izmailov, who fired into the bottom right
corner of Martin Kaalma's goal. Then, in the 32nd minute, Kariaka moved down the left and sent a cross towards Sychev who netted his 10th goal for
Russia in only his 21st international. The hosts completed the rout when Teet Allas brought down Alexander Kerzhakov, allowing Loskov to fire the ball
past Kaalma from the spot.
Latvia are level on seven points with Russia and Estonia after putting an end to Liechtenstein's remarkable run with a 3-1 win in Vaduz. After their
incredible comeback to draw 2-2 with Portugal and their first-ever away qualifying win against Luxembourg, it was no surprise Liechtenstein retained
enough confidence to cancel out Maris Verpakovskis' seventh-minute opener with a Mario Frick strike on the half-hour. But when Franz-Josef Vogt
conceded a 57th-minute penalty, Mihails Zemlinskis stepped up to dispatch the ball past Peter Jehle, to put the visitors ahead yet again. Andrejs
Prohorenkovs' last-minute third signalled the end of a spirited performance from the hosts who stay on four points.
Serbia & Montenegro maintained their two-point cushion at the top of World Cup qualifying Group Seven with a comfortable 2-0 away win against
struggling Belgium. Ilija Petkovic's side were in control throughout and secured a 2-0 victory with goals in each half from Zvominir Vukic and Mateja
Kezman. Lithuania's narrow win against international minnows San Marino prevented the group leaders from extending the gap at the top but they did put
some breathing space between themselves and third-placed Spain - who were in friendly action against England.
The visitors took the lead in the eighth minute when former Aston Villa forward Savo Milosevic picked out the advancing Vukic who expertly curled his
shot round Belgium keeper Silvio Proto. Chelsea striker Kezman then came off the bench to outpace the defence and seal the victory in the 59th minute.
The 2-0 success means Serbia & Montenegro have now scored 10 goals without reply in Group Seven and they will be full of confidence going into their
next match - the return fixture with Belgium on March 26. Belgium, however, now look highly unlikely to qualify for the 2006 tournament in Germany.
The result leaves them second from bottom of the group with just one point, and they are still looking for their first win after three games.
Elsewhere, second-placed Lithuania laboured to 1-0 away win against rock-bottom San Marino. Deividas Cesnauskis struck the decisive goal in the 41st
minute to move his side clear in second place, three points ahead of Spain. Winless San Marino remain rooted to the foot of the table with no points
and can take little comfort from their next fixture, which sees them travel to Spain.
Avi Nimni's late strike saw Israel claim a 2-1 win in Cyprus and move level on points with the Republic of Ireland and France at the top of World Cup
qualifying group four. Adoram Keisi had fired the away side into a 17th minute lead but they were pegged back by Giannakis Okkas' equaliser on the
stroke of half-time. Avraham Grant's side appeared to be heading for a draw in Nicosia, before Nimni netted the vital winning goal in the 86th minute.
The three points moves Israel above Switzerland in the standings and they are now level on eight points with Brian Kerr's men and 1998 World Cup
Lothar Matthaus won the battle of the German coaches looking to return home for the 2006 World Cup as his Hungary side snatched a 2-0 win over Horst
Heese's Malta in Group Eight. Zoltan Gera's 39th-minute goal looked to be enough before Peter Kovacs' stoppage-time second put the result beyond doubt
to keep Hungary's Group Eight qualification hopes alive. The win helps erase the memory of the 3-0 defeat to Sweden last month that left Matthaus' men
in real danger of falling away from the group leaders. A first clean sheet of the campaign will also be welcome after conceding eight goals in their
opening three qualifying matches. Malta, meanwhile, have surely left themselves too much to do after securing only one point from their four Group
Eight games so far.
Chelsea's Arjen Robben was once again on target - but Manchester United's Ruud van Nistelrooy limped off with a hamstring injury in Holland's 3-0 win
over minnows Andorra in Barcelona. The Dutch scored first via Phillip Cocu midway through the first half; Robben doubled the advantage before the
interval, and Wesley Sneijder sealed the win with 12 minutes remaining. But 10 minutes before half-time van Nistelrooy set alarm bells ringing at Old
Trafford when he had to leave the pitch, although afterwards he insisted the injury was not serious.
Liverpool striker Milan Baros also suffered an injury scare in the Czech Republic's 2-0 defeat of Macedonia in Group One. Late goals by Vratislav
Lokvenc and Jan Koller earned the Czech Republic the three points after Baros - back in the Czech team after a one-match ban - was forced to leave the
action due to a leg injury after 17 minutes.
Ukraine extended their lead at the top of Group Two to five points with a surprisingly comfortable 3-0 win against Turkey in Istanbul. The Turks were
one of the favourites to progress from a tight group, but with three wins and two draws from their opening five games, Ukraine have put themselves in
pole position to claim the automatic qualifying spot. Predictably it was AC Milan hotshot Andriy Shevchenko who stole the limelight, netting twice to
seal the win after Oleh Husyev had given Ukraine, who have never qualified for a major championship, an early lead. Husyev opened the scoring after
nine minutes, converting Andrej Voronin's pass, and Shevchenko made it two eight minutes later when he beat Servet Cetin and drove a fierce shot past
Recber Rustu. The closest Turkey came was an early opening for Nihat Kahveci, but they never looked like clawing back the lead and it was merely the
icing on the cake when Shevchenko rounded off the scoring in the 89th minute.
Elsewhere in Group Two, Greece's Euro 2004 hero Angelos Charisteas led his side to their first qualifying win with two goals in the 3-1 victory
against Kazakhstan. Charisteas, who scored the winning goal in the Greeks' surprise triumph in Portugal, struck twice in the first half as Greece
claimed an easy win in Athens. The European champions have struggled to reproduce their form of the summer, losing to Albania and drawing with Turkey
and Ukraine, but this result pulled them back into contention for a play-off spot. Greece joined Georgia on five points with Denmark, Turkey and
Albania only a point ahead. Charisteas opened the scoring in the 25th minute after good work from captain Theo Zagorakis, who became the first Greek
player to win 100 caps, and the striker doubled the lead with a header on the stroke of half-time. Substitute Kostas Katsouranis made the game safe
with the third four minutes from time, but Kazakhstan, who are still without a point, got their consolation from the penalty spot two minutes later
when Ruslan Baltiev beat Antonis Nikopolidis.
In Tbilisi, Denmark retained their unbeaten record but will be disappointed not to have beaten Georgia after twice taking the lead. Having previously
drawn with Turkey and Ukraine the Danes were hoping to close the gap on the leaders, but Jon Dahl Tomasson's two goals were cancelled out by Georgi
Demetradze and Malkhaz Asatiani as the home side deservedly fought back to 2-2. Tomasson's 32nd goal on his 64th appearance put the Danes ahead after
nine minutes before Demetradze equalised just after the half-hour mark having been played in by Levan Kobiashvili. Tomasson, who has yet to score for
AC Milan this season, struck again after 64 minutes with a powerful drive, but 10 minutes later the Georgians were level for a second time through
Asatiani's 20-yarder. Substitute Shota Arveladze could have won it for Georgia with five minutes remaining but he and Demetradze got in each other's
way and neither could put the ball into an empty net.