Spain, England, Dutch maintain perfect starts

London, October 16:

Spain, England and the Netherlands maintained their perfect starts in World Cup qualifying on Wednesday to open up big leads in the race for places at the 2010 tournament in South Africa. Portugal’s faltering challenge continued with a 0-0 draw at home to 10-man Albania.

David Villa scored a late winner for Spain in a 2-1 victory at Belgium. After Wesley Sonk had fired the Belgians ahead in the seventh minute, Andres Iniesta equalised in the 36th. After four Group 5 wins, Spain have a four-point lead over Turkey, who are in second place after a 0-0 draw in Estonia.

Wayne Rooney scored twice for England in a 3-1 win at Belarus. After wins in Andorra and Croatia, England have a five-point lead over Ukraine and Croatia in Group 6.

Croatia outplayed Andorra 4-0 to draw level on seven points with Ukraine. The Netherlands also hold a five-point advantage in Group 9 after beating Norway 1-0. Iceland jumped up to third in the same group by edging Macedonia 1-0.

Portugal played a scoreless draw with Albania in Group 1. Denmark are level on seven points with Hungary, who rose to second place after winning 1-0 at Malta. Two points behind are Portugal, Albania and Sweden.

Alberto Aquilani’s scored twice to help Italy stay three points clear at the top of Group 8 by beating Montenegro 2-1. The Italians lead Ireland who edged Cyprus 1-0.

Germany edged Wales 1-0 with a 72nd-minute goal by Piotr Trochowski to open a four-point advantage over Russia and the Welsh in Group 4. Helped by two own-goals and a late strike by Andrei Arshavin, Russia outplayed Finland 3-0.

Slovakia’s Stanislav Sestak scored twice to overturn Poland’s lead and win 2-1 to jump to first place in Group 3. Slovakia hold a two-point lead over Poland and Slovenia, who lost 1-0 to the Czechs. Czechs still slipped to fifth place, five behind Slovakia, because Northern Ireland beat San Marino 4-0.

Lithuania edged Faeroe Islands 1-0 to keep the pressure on Group 7 leader Serbia, who both have nine points. The Serbs won 3-1 at Austria. Greece tumbled 2-1 to Switzerland but stayed top of Group 2. Israel moved to within a point after a 1-1 draw at Latvia and the Swiss moved up to third.