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November 16, 2009

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Home » Sports » Soccer

European trio closes in on Cup spots

FRANCE, Portugal and Russia all moved closer to next year's World Cup finals with first-leg playoff wins on Saturday, although none of them did enough to take victory for granted in the second legs this week.

France, runner-up in Germany in 2006, beat Ireland 1-0 in Dublin with a late deflected goal from Nicolas Anelka, and starts as the favorite to finish the job in Paris on Wednesday.

"We have seen that the Irish team are a very difficult team to beat," said French forward Thierry Henry. "They didn't lose a game in qualification, so what we did tonight is nice. But it's still 90 minutes to go."

Portugal beat Bosnia 1-0 in Lisbon with defender Bruno Alves heading the only goal in the first half, while two goals from Diniyar Bilyaletdinov put Russia 2-0 up against Slovenia which scored a vital away goal three minutes from time when substitute Nejc Pecnik headed home to make the final score 2-1.

Greece and Ukraine drew 0-0 in the first leg of their playoff in Athens, with Ukraine now the favorite to take control of the tie at home in Donetsk on Wednesday.

While Saturday saw the start of the European playoffs, it also signalled the end of New Zealand's long wait to return to the finals for the first time since 1982.

The Kiwis sealed their place in next year's extravaganza in South Africa with a 1-0 win in the second leg of their Asia/Oceania playoff against Bahrain in Wellington to win the tie 1-0 on aggregate.

Uruguay seized the advantage in the South American/CONCACAF playoff with a 22nd-minute goal by Diego Lugano giving it a 1-0 victory in Costa Rica as it headed back to Montevideo on Wednesday.

In Africa, Nigeria and Cameroon qualified for the finals but Egypt and Algeria must play off in Sudan on Wednesday after finishing with identical records in their group.

In a match of unrelenting drama in Cairo, Egypt beat Algeria 2-0 with its second, vital goal coming deep into of stoppage time with Algeria just seconds away from the finals.

Egyptian fans greeted the Algerian team at the airport on Thursday by pelting its bus with stones, and Algerian officials said two team members were injured.

Nigeria clinched its place when it came from behind to beat Kenya 3-2 in Nairobi with Obafemi Martins scoring twice to give the visitors victory and allow them to snatch top place in Group B from Tunisia. The North Africans topped the standings at the start of the day but lost 0-1 to Mozambique and were eliminated.

Cameroon qualified for its sixth World Cup, a record for an African nation, with a 2-0 Group A win in Morocco with Achille Webo and captain Samuel Eto'o scoring.


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