Posted On Sunday, September 08, 2013 at 10:11:14 AM
London: Cristiano Ronaldo rescued Portugal with a speedy hat-trick to avoid a slip-up in Northern Ireland, while Netherlands dropped their first points as Spain and Germany took easier steps towards World Cup qualification.
England moved level on points at the top of Group H with Montenegro after marching to a 4-0 home win over Moldova that came as their rivals were held 1-1 in Poland.
Italy and Belgium were among the group pacesetters to take full points, while Group E leaders Switzerland could only draw 4-4 with Iceland and Group G tabletoppers Bosnia surprisingly lost 1-0 at home to Slovakia.
In Belfast, Portugal were in serious danger of being knocked off the top of Group F, after second-placed Russia had earlier thumped Luxembourg 4-1, as they found themselves trailing 2-1 to Northern Ireland.
Portugal were a man down after Helder Postiga was shown a straight red card for a headbutt on Gareth McAuley just before halftime.
Northern Ireland capitalised on the numerical advantage early in the second half when Jamie Ward scored after a corner, but Portugal’s fortunes turned when Kevin Brunt was shown a second yellow to make it 10 against 10.
Then followed 15 minutes of trademark Ronaldo brilliance as he headed in two goals and scored another from a free kick to put Portugal on 17 points from eight games, with Russia recording 15 from the seven they have played so far.
There were more individual plaudits in Germany’s 3-0 win over Austria in Group C as forward Miroslav Klose opened the scoring in the 34th minute to equal Gerd Mueller’s record of 68 goals for the country.
“We did our homework, we defended well, we played with the right aggression and intensity,” Germany coach Joachim Loew said. The same could not be said of Group E leaders Switzerland, who let slip a 4-1 lead to draw 4-4 with Iceland, allowing second-placed Norway to close the gap on them to four points after they beat Cyprus 2-0.
Spirits were much higher at Wembley where England outclassed Moldova after two goals from Danny Welbeck and one each from captain Steven Gerrard and Rickie Lambert took Roy Hodgson’s side to the top of Group H on goal difference. In Group I, goals from Jordi Alba and Alvaro Negredo ensured world champs Spain beat Finland 2-0.