Euro 2016 Qualifier: Iceland stun Netherlands, Pelle fires Italy to win
REYKJAVIK, OCTOBER 14
World Cup semi-finalists, the Netherlands` hopes of qualifying for Euro 2016 took another blow on Monday as a Gylfi Sigurdsson double gave Iceland a 2-0 win over the European giants.
Iceland — who only just missed out on a place at their first ever World Cup finals when they lost in the play-offs for this year`s global showpiece — top Group A alongside the Czech Republic with a perfect nine points from three games while the Dutch, who lost to the Czechs in their opening qualifier, are six points adrift in third place.Croatia and Italy top Group H, also with nine points apiece, but their victories on Monday couldn`t have been more different, the Croats whipping Azerbaijan 6-0, one short of their record victory over Andorra in the Euro 2008 qualifiers.
Italy, who had eked out a 2-1 win over Azerbaijan last Friday, relied on a goal from Graziano Pelle on his debut to scrape a 1-0 victory over minnows Malta, who played for an hour with 10 men following Michael Mifsud`s dismissal.
Italy coach Antonio Conte admitted there needed to be a big improvement if they are to see off Croatia in Milan next month.
“The big game against Croatia will tell us just how good we are after these first two months,” said Conte, who saw centre-back Leonardo Bonucci sent off late on.
“We need to get down to work if we`re to succeed.”
Wales, who have not been at a major finals since the 1958 World Cup, overcame being reduced to 10 men to edge Cyprus 2-1 in Cardiff and hold a one point lead over Israel, who beat Andorra 4-1, in Group B.
“When I saw the red card I thought it had killed us,” said Wales coach Chris Coleman.
“We never had determination in the last campaign, we were too soft. We are a different group of people this time, the players have really matured.”
Their respective victories gave them some breathing space over two of the favourites to qualify from the group World Cup qualifiers Bosnia-Herzegovina and Belgium, who drew 1-1.
Sigurdsson put Iceland ahead in the 10th minute with a coolly taken penalty after Gregory van der Wiel had fouled Birkir Bjarnason.
Both Dutch skipper Robin van Persie and fellow veteran Arjen Robben had excellent chances to level midway through the first-half but the former saw his effort saved by Hannes Halldorsson while the latter was off target.They were left to regret those misses as the sparkling Sigurdsson added a second three minutes before the break, the Swansea City player tucking the ball away when the Dutch defence failed lamentably to deal with a corner.
It was his fourth goal in his last three games for Iceland.
Dutch coach Guus Hiddink acted to turn things round at half-time, replacing Wesley Sneijder with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, but it made little difference and left the veteran coach with a lot of thinking to do.
Croatia had the game wrapped up by half-time as they went in 4-0 up.
Andrej Kamaric converted veteran Darjo Srna`s cross in the 11th minute but it was substitute Ivan Perisic who terrified the visiting defence once he came on in the 24th minute.
He scored a brace — the first a header from Ivan Rakitic`s freekick — while 21-year-old Marcelo Brozovic added a fourth in time added on of the first-half.
Playmaker Luka Modric made it 5-0 from the penalty spot before he was removed four minutes later and the shellshocked visitors went 6-0 down as Rashad Sadygov put through his own net just after the hour mark.
Their Balkan neighbours Bosnia also took a lead into the half-time break, a smart left-footed effort by Edin Dzeko giving them a 1-0 advantage over Belgium.
The Bosnians had goalkeeper Asmir Begovic to thank for going in ahead as he produced a great save from Romelu Lukaku two minutes before half-time.
The visitors, though, did get back on equal terms six minutes into the second-half as Toby Alderweireld set up Roma midfielder Radja Nainggolan to beat Begovic from the edge of the area.