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SportSoccer
WORLD CUP QUALIFIERS

Euro giants Spain and Germany suffer wake-up call in World Cup qualifiers

Sweden score four times in half an hour to salvage a point and shock Joachim Löew's men as Spain share the spoils with improved France

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 October, 2012, 3:14am

World champions Spain and fellow European heavyweights Germany were hit late in time added on to end up with just a point apiece in their respective home qualifiers.

Spain were pegged back by a goal four minutes into injury-time by Olivier Giroud as France erased memories of their limp performance in their Euro 2012 quarter-final defeat by the Spanish to force a 1-1 draw in Madrid.

While Spain extended their unbeaten run in competitive matches to 25, they will rue the missed penalty by Cesc Fabregas on the stroke of half-time which would have put them 2-0 up.

However, if there is much contemplation to be done it will be by the Germans, who somehow let slip a 4-0 lead over the Swedes to be rocked with four goals by their opponents in the final half hour, Rasmus Elm scoring the dramatic equaliser in the third minute of time added on.

Germany remain top of group C on 10 points with Sweden second in the table on seven, but with a game in hand.

Germany coach Joachim Löew had gone from a calm presence on the bench to striding increasingly alarmed round the touchline.

"To sum things up, the first 60 minutes were brilliant from us, the last 30 were incredibly weak," said Löew.

"It's deathly quiet in the changing room: players are laid out on the benches and are totally speechless."

With his team under fire since losing in the Euro 2012 semi-finals and then putting in two lacklustre performances in their opening qualifiers, Löew had wanted to seal a solid World Cup qualifying start with a win. He has been accused of being too soft on his players who, according to critics, show none of the team spirit of veteran German squads that made up for their lack of technique and skill with power and determination.

Those teams had the kind of spirit that had helped Germany fight back from deficits in the past and the 70,000 fans in Berlin's Olympic stadium were stunned into silence as they saw Sweden turning the tables on the home side.

"I am in a state of shock," Löew admitted. "For us this should be a life lesson. A lesson in how one should finish off a game. I simply have no explanation for what happened."

Sweden boss Erik Hamren was ecstatic at the unlikely point his side had garnered.

"To come to Germany and get a point against one of the best teams in the world is incredible," he said. "It is something historical, I am very proud of my team and the way they reacted."

There was to be no special celebration for Cristiano Ronaldo on his 100th appearance for Portugal as they had to rely on a 79th-minute equaliser by Helder Postiga to force a 1-1 draw at home against 117th-ranked Northern Ireland.

Ronaldo, who had started the night with a broad grin as he was presented with a special cap, exited the pitch in pouring rain with a furious look on his face.

Elsewhere, 2010 World Cup finalists Netherlands showed that any hangover from their first-round exit at Euro 2012 was firmly over as they beat Romania 4-1 away to make it four wins from four games.

Euro 2012 finalists Italy also strolled to victory, 3-1 at home to Denmark, while Belgium top their group on goal difference over Croatia after a 2-0 win over crisis-hit Scotland.

Scottish boss Craig Levein's position looks to be increasingly untenable, while his Welsh counterpart, Chris Coleman, too, can't be feeling too secure after his side were beaten 2-0 by Croatia.

Italian veteran Giovanni Trapattoni may well survive for a bit longer as his Republic of Ireland team shook off some of the shock of their 6-1 hammering at home to Germany last Friday with a 4-1 away win over the Faroes.

Spain coach Vicente del Bosque, meanwhile, was pragmatic about the result and his side's chances of qualifying automatically in first spot - they top the group ahead of France on goal difference.

"We controlled the game in the first-half but lacked a bit in the final third. We then seemed to tire and let them back in later on," said del Bosque. "We have five matches left, our return game in France will be important but we can't forget the other sides."

His France counterpart, Didier Deschamps, who stepped into the vacuum left by Laurent Blanc after he left following Euro 2012, believed his side had been unlucky not to come away with the points.

"I have always believed in the quality of my side and our ability to achieve the objective of getting to the finals in Brazil," he said.

Agence France-Presse, Reuters

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