Leading contenders march on in soccer’s 2012 European Championship qualifying

The so-far-uneventful march toward soccer’s 2012 European Championship in Poland and Ukraine continued Friday without a significant misstep by any of the leading contenders.

That said, the day’s qualifying play did involve a couple of surprise results and one decidedly strange bit of behavior.

The latter occurred in Podgorica, Montenegro, where home-team striker Mirko Vucinic celebrated scoring the winning goal in a 1-0 upset of Switzerland by removing his shorts and putting them on his head.

Vucinic, 27, has a history of untimely disrobing while playing for his club team, AS Roma in Italy, and this latest bit of exhibitionism earned him a yellow card.


The Swiss were not the only 2010 World Cup team to be beaten Friday. Also falling was Slovakia, which was stunned, 3-1, by Armenia in Yerevan.

The opening goal for Armenia was scored by Yura Movsisyan, formerly of Pasadena City College and the Kansas City Wizards and Real Salt Lake of MLS and now with Randers FC in Denmark.

Meanwhile, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain each managed to dispatch their opponents, but Italy was held to a 0-0 tie by a determined Northern Ireland side in Belfast. In addition, Portugal and Russia got their faltering campaigns more or less back on track by winning.

“It was a difficult atmosphere,” Italy Coach Cesare Prandelli said of the Belfast crowd, which chanted “San Marino in disguise” at the visitors, a joking reference to Hungary’s 8-0 demolition of San Marino earlier in the day.


Germany, meanwhile, shut out Turkey, 3-0, in Berlin, where forward Miroslav Klose scored three minutes before the end of each half, his two goals bringing his total for the national team to 57 in 104 games.

Mesut Oezil, who is of Turkish descent and was booed by the large contingent of Turkish fans in the Olympic Stadium crowd of 74,000, answered his critics by scoring Germany’s other goal.

“I think we were under a bit of pressure here today — it was almost an away game,” said Germany Coach Joachim Loew.

A goal by Klaas-Jan Huntelaar earned the Dutch a 1-0 win on the road against Moldova in Chisinau. It was Huntelaar’s 22nd goal in 39 games for Holland, a strike rate as lethal as that of Germany’s Klose.

“I’m satisfied with the way we played, but if you create nine big chances you should score more than one,” said Dutch Coach Bert van Marwijk.

European and world champion Spain also made hard work of it on Friday but eventually overcame Lithuania, 3-1, in Salamanca thanks to a pair of second-half headed goals by Fernando Llorente and another by David Silva.

“We lacked shape in the first half, but we improved and we were deserved winners,” said Spain Coach Vicente del Bosque.

Portugal gave new Coach Paulo Bento an emphatic 3-1 home victory over Denmark in his first game in charge, with Nani scoring twice and Cristiano Ronaldo once at the Stadium of the Dragon in Porto.


The win was vital for the Portuguese, who had lost to Finland and been tied by Cyprus in their opening qualifying matches.

Russia, which had lost at home in Moscow to Slovakia in its previous qualifier, built a 3-0 lead against Ireland in Dublin and then almost threw it away, conceding two late goals before prevailing, 3-2.

Euro 2012 will open in Warsaw on June 8, with the final set for Kiev, Ukraine on July 1.

Qualifying play resumes with a full slate of matches Tuesday and then takes a break until late March.