Euro 2008 Qualifiers : Italy, France draw; England, Russia win

London, September 9:

Italy made their bid to qualify for next year’s European Championship a lot more difficult on Saturday, and England made it much more likely.

The World Cup champions, playing France for the second time since beating Les Bleus on penalties last year in Germany, were held to a 0-0 draw, dropping them into third place in Group B with four matches to go.

England, however, successfully completed the first step of their six-point plan by beating Israel 3-0. The other three points in the plan could come on Wednesday, when England host Russia in a key Group E match that is likely to leave one of the two teams facing elimination. Russia beat Macedonia 3-0 to stay one point ahead of England.

Croatia, who lead the group with 20 points after beating Estonia 2-0, and Israel are also in position to claim one of the two qualifying spots from the group.

There were 20 Euro 2008 qualifying matches on Saturday, with Germany, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic also getting wins. Iceland and Malta produced the biggest surprises. Iceland held Spain to a 1-1 draw, and Malta held 2002 World Cup semi-finalist Turkey to a 2-2 draw.

France lead Group B with 19 points. Scotland, who beat Lithuania 3-1, are next with 18 points, followed by Italy with 17. Only the top two teams in each of the seven groups qualify along with co-hosts Austria and Switzerland.

Shaun Wright-Phillips, Michael Owen and Micah Richards each scored for England, who entered the day in fourth place in Group E. England have 17 points from eight games and Israel have 17 from nine.

Russia improved to 18 points by beating Macedonia with goals from Vasiliy Berezutskiy, Andrei Arshavin and Alexander Kerzhakov. The Russians scored twice after being to reduced to 10 men in the 70th when goalkeeper Vladimir Gabulov was sent off for fouling Goran Maznov.

Miroslav Klose, playing as Germany’s captain for the first time, scored both goals in his team’s 2-0 win at Wales. Germany stayed five points ahead of the Czech Republic at the top of Group D.