OVIEDO: Spain avenged a rare loss to Slovakia with a 2-0 victory on Saturday as Spain pulled level on points with Slovakia and took the lead of Group C on head-to-head results. Spain got early goals from Jordi Alba and Andres Iniesta to deal Slovakia its first loss in qualifying for next summer’s tournament. Last year, Slovakia ended Spain’s 36-game unbeaten run in qualifiers. Also, Sweden lost star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic to injury in a 1-0 defeat to Russia in Group G. Here is closer look at Saturday’s qualifying matches:
GROUP E England achieved its target in Serravalle. Wayne Rooney fell just short of his. With a routine win against a San Marino team that included a barman, a lawyer, a pharmacist, and a student, England guaranteed its place in Euro 2016 with three games to spare and remained on course to finish group play with maximum points. Rooney started the match needing two goals to surpass Charlton’s record. He got one from the penalty spot in the 13th minute but was taken off just before the hour mark, denying him a chance of a second goal against a tiring home defense late on. He’ll get a first chance to reach 50 goals against Switzerland tomorrow. “It would have been great if it had happened tonight,” Rooney said, “but it will be (great) tomorrowy, if selected, with the tradition at Wembley.” An own goal, as well as second-half goals by Ross Barkley, Theo Walcott (two), and Harry Kane completed England’s win. Switzerland roared back to beat Slovenia 3-2 and remain second at six points behind England. Switerland was losing 2-0 until Josip Drmic scored his first of two goals in the 80th. Valentin Stocker leveled in the 84th before Drmic got the winner four minutes into stoppage time. Slovenia is third, while Estonia beat Lithuania 1-0 and is fourth.
GROUP C Last year’s shock defeat at Slovakia on the heels of Spain’s poor showing at the 2014 World Cup had many wondering if it was time for coach Vicente del Bosque to start over. And although he promised to rejuvenate his side, a starting lineup of 11 veterans from the Brazil World Cup played like two-time European champions and could have won by a wider margin. “Objective accomplished,” Iniesta said. Alba headed in a well-placed pass from David Silva to get Spain going in the fifth minute. Iniesta then converted Spain’s dominance into a second goal after Diego Costa earned a penalty kick a half-hour in. Also, Ukraine beat Belarus 3-1 to remain in third place, three points behind Spain and Slovakia, and setting up a big match at Slovakia tomorrow. Luxembourg edged Macedonia 1-0 with an injury-time goal to escape last place.
GROUP G Russia moved back into contention for an automatic qualifying spot with the win over Sweden, while group leader Austria won its sixth game in a row. Artyom Dzyuba’s 38th-minute strike ended Russia’s 11-month wait for a competitive goal before a hectic end to the match saw both teams fail to convert good chances. Russia, in its first match under new coach Leonid Slutsky, stayed in third place but was only one point behind Sweden, which holds the second of the automatic qualifying places. Ibrahimovic was replaced by Ola Toivonen at halftime after complaining of a leg injury. Coach Erik Hamren said it was not clear if Ibrahimovic would be able to play against Austria on Tuesday. “It’s a big difference if he’s playing or not, because he’s a world-class player,” Hamren said. Austria needs just one point from its last three games in order to qualify after beating Moldova 1-0 at home thanks to Zlatan Junuzovic’s goal. Also, fourth-place Montenegro won 2- 0 at home against Liechtenstein with goals from Fatos Beciraj and Stevan Jovetic. — AP