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England held in Podgorica, Wales & Scotland beaten

ESPN staff
March 26, 2013 « Serena ties Graf record with quarter win | Chartbeat test »
Wayne Rooney's early goal was not enough for England, as Dejan Damjanovic equalised © PA Photos
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England's path to Brazil remains far from straightforward after they were held to a 1-1 draw by Montenegro on Tuesday, as late goals punished Wales and the Republic of Ireland in their World Cup 2014 qualification aims.

Elsewhere, Northern Ireland were comfortably beaten by Israel - as Scotland's qualification hopes were officially ended by Serbia.

England remain two points adrift of Montenegro at the top of Group H after substitute Dejan Damjanovic's second half strike cancelled out Wayne Rooney's sixth minute opener and earned the hosts a point in Podgorica.

It all looked so good for Roy Hodgson's England side when Rooney - who had already seen a long-range lob rebound away off the post - headed home from Steven Gerrard's corner with barely six minutes gone.

But Montenegro, sparked by Damjanovic's introduction, enjoyed the upper hand in the second half - with the substitute getting the crucial touch after a desperate 76th minute goal-mouth scramble to secure a point.

Montenegro looked the more likely to get a winner in the dying stages, although Gerrard did force an impressive save from Mladen Bozovic as the spoils were eventually shared.

The contest was often fraught. The second goal England deserved - based on their strong start - might have come if Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson had viewed Stefan Savic's penalty box tangle with Welbeck as television viewers did in their replays. Instead of a spot-kick though, Welbeck was booked, as was Johnson earlier in the half. It proved to be a pivotal moment.

Montenegro were expected to improve in the second half and Stevan Jovetic gave an early warning when he planted his far-post header into the side-netting after Savic had crossed, and half-time substitute Damjanovic had an effort blocked as he turned quickly onto Mirko Vucinic's lay-off.

The pressure became relentless, with Gerrard among those culpable for getting dragged into an overwhelming desire to attack when the more necessary task was for England to remain solid and protect their lead.

On another break, Jovetic fed Vucinic to his right but the Montenegro skipper's shot curled just wide. Jovetic brought a superb save out of Hart before hitting the post from the corner. England had lost their poise and were doing nothing more than hanging on.

Another brilliant reaction save from Hart kept them in front. But the reprieve lasted only seconds as, in the scramble that followed, Damjanovic found the net.

Belatedly, England rediscovered their earlier zest. And Bozovic was lucky to get away with some sloppy handling in stoppage time as he allowed Gerrard's free-kick to slither through his fingers, with just enough force to send it over the bar and preserve a draw.

Elsewhere in the group, Poland and Ukraine are now within four points of England in the standings with a game in hand - after both picked up important wins.

Robert Lewandowski scored two penalties as Poland bounced back from their defeat to Ukraine by thumping minnows San Marino.

The Borussia Dortmund striker netted twice from the spot either side of Lukasz Piszczek's close-range strike while Lukasz Teodorczyk and Jakub Kosecki were also on the scoresheet to complete an easy night's work for the hosts.

Meanwhile, goals from Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Khacheridi earned Ukraine all three points against Moldova but only after the visitors had nearly caused an upset in Odessa.

Alexandr Suvorov netted what turned out to be a consolation for the visitors but meant a tense finish to the World Cup Group H qualifier for the home side, who also played out the final minutes with 10 men after losing Taras Stepanenko to a red card in stoppage time.

Wales saw their hopes of World Cup qualification all but ended as Croatia came from a goal down to claim victory at the Liberty Stadium.

Gareth Bale had given Wales the lead from the penalty spot after Dejan Lovren had brought down Joe Ledley. But goals inside the final 15 minutes from Lovren and Eduardo leave Wales 10 points adrift of the Group A pacesetters with only 12 left on the table for Chris Coleman's side.

The result was poor reward for a fine first-half performance from the hosts, but their inability to retain possession after the break eventually proved costly.

In the same group, Scotland were once again off the pace as they slumped to their fourth successive 2014 World Cup qualifying defeat against Serbia in Novi Sad, one that ended their hopes of being in Brazil in 18 months.

Gordon Strachan's much-changed side held out at the Karadjorje Stadium until the break but a second-half double by Heerenveen striker Filip Duricic gave the home side a deserved win.

Scotland remain bottom of Group A with two points from six games ahead of the trip to Croatia in June and on this evidence there is little chance of the first section win arriving. It was another dismal night for the Scots.

In the group's other game, Belgium defeated Macedonia thanks to Eden Hazard's goal to remain top of the standings.

Northern Ireland's Windsor Park woes continued as two late goals from Israel saw them defeated despite dominating for much of the game.

After disappointing home draws against Luxembourg and Azerbaijan in their last two World Cup qualifiers they failed to convert possession and territory into goals before sucker punch strikes from Lior Refaelov (77th minute) and Eden Ben Basat (84) cost them dear.

Captain Steven Davis went closest to getting his side on the scoresheet, but with three points from five matches in Group F and a winless run of 13 games, their prospects look grim from here.

The night's other game in the group saw Portugal beat Azerbaijan 2-0.

Jon Walters' brace was cruelly washed away at the death by Austria © PA Photos
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Austria midfielder David Alaba left the Republic of Ireland's World Cup qualifying hopes in peril as he edged manager Giovanni Trapattoni closer to the exit with a dramatic late equaliser.

Ireland were within a minute of securing a precious victory which would have propelled them into second place in Group C when the Bayern Munich man smashed an injury-time equaliser past goalkeeper David Forde to snatch a point which left his side in pole position to claim the runners-up spot instead.

It was a devastating conclusion to a tight encounter for the Republic, who dragged themselves back into the game after falling behind to Martin Harnik's cool 11th-minute strike.

Jon Walters levelled from the penalty spot and then headed Ireland in front at the end of the first half - and it was a lead they were to defend doggedly until the final throes.

A second draw in four days leaves Trapattoni's men knowing they face an uphill task to reach the play-offs.

Germany took another step towards next year's World Cup thanks to their Borussia Dortmund connection in a 4-1 win over Kazakhstan.

Marco Reus was on target twice with Mario Gotze and Ilkay Gundogan also scoring for Joachim Low's men. Greuther Furth's Heinrich Schmidtgal scored a consolation for the visitors, who caused Germany an unexpectedly high number of problems in the second half, leaving Low with plenty to ponder despite the victory.

Finally, Spain took a huge step towards qualifying for the World Cup after beating France in Paris to reclaim their place at the top of Group I.

A goal by Pedro on 58 minutes was enough to give Vicente Del Bosque's side the three points, and they will guarantee their place in Brazil next year if they can gain seven points from their final three qualifiers.

France gave a good showing of themselves but Spain created the better of the chances, and their task was made far easier when Paul Pogba was sent off on 78 minutes after picking up two yellow cards.

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