Armenia blow Irish group wide open
Published 07/09/2011 | 05:00
ARMENIA blew Ireland's group wide open last night as they stormed to a shock 4-0 away win over Slovakia to keep alive their hopes of reaching the finals.
Slovakia dominated the first half in Zilina, but paid the price for wasted chances by Napoli's Marek Hamsik and Liverpool's Martin Skrtel.
Armenia, who had started the day three points behind Slovakia, made the most of those let-offs as they went ahead through Yura Movsisyan in the 57th minute.
Shakhtar Donetsk's Henrik Mkhitaryan scored the second goal in the 70th minute and further goals from Gevorg Ghazaryan (80) and Artur Sarkisov (injury-time) completed a stunning reversal for Slovakia, who defeated Italy in last year's World Cup.
The astonishing result sees Armenia leapfrog the Slovaks into third place on their head-to-head record -- one point behind Ireland and three behind group leaders Russia -- and makes the outcome of Group B extremely difficult to predict.
Macedonia laboured to a 1-0 win over minnows Andorra, Mirko Ivanovski securing the points with the only goal of the game just before the hour.
In Group C, Northern Ireland slumped to a 4-1 defeat in Estonia. Martin Vunk opened the scoring on 28 minutes before a howler from goalkeeper Lee Camp gifted the hosts their second -- allowing Tarmo Vink's speculative effort to wriggle past him into the net.
Nigel Worthington's men received a boost just before half-time when Estonian captain Raio Piiroja headed Sammy Clingan's free-kick into his own net, but Sergei Zenjov restored Estonia's two-goal cushion on the hour and Kaimar Saag added the fourth late on.
Scotland kept their faint play-off hopes alive in Group I, as they survived some nervous moments to earn a 1-0 win over Lithuania at Hampden Park.
Captain Darren Fletcher missed a penalty before half-time, but Steven Naismith spared the Manchester United man's blushes on 49 minutes with a neat half-volley.
World champions Spain secured top spot and qualification in this group with a 6-0 win over Liechtenstein. Alvaro Negredo and David Villa bagged two goals apiece with Xavi and Sergio Ramos completing the rout.
Italy booked their place in Euro 2012 as Gianpaolo Pazzini's late strike gave them a 1-0 win in Florence over Slovenia and top spot in Group C, while France were held 0-0 to keep things tight at the top of Group D.
Holland maintained their 100pc record at the top of Group E, as goals from Kevin Strootman and Luuk de Jong gave them a 2-0 win in Finland. Like England, the Dutch need just one more point to secure their qualification.