Wales, Iceland move closer to qualifying for Euro 2016
The Associated Press
Jun. 12, 2015
Wales and Iceland both moved closer to qualifying for the 2016 European Championship on Friday, while the game between Croatia and Italy was overshadowed by a swastika symbol that had been etched onto the pitch.
Gareth Bale moved Wales closer to a first major tournament since 1958 by scoring to secure a 1-0 victory over Belgium that lifted the country top of Group B. Iceland is trying to qualify for its first ever tournament and came from a goal down to beat the Czech Republic 2-1 and take over the lead in Group A.
In Group H, Croatia maintained a two-point lead over Italy after a 1-1 draw at home in Split, but the talking point was the Nazi symbol that could be clearly seen outlined on the pitch — apparently etched in by someone before the game.
"We weren't aware of it on the sidelines," Italy coach Antonio Conte said. "Not because of the tension of the match, but you couldn't see it. I was only told about it at the end of the match. There is so much sadness that such a thing could happen."
Here is a look at Friday's qualifying games:
PSV Eindhoven teammates Georginio Wijnaldum and Luciano Narsingh scored second-half goals Friday as the Netherlands beat Latvia 2-0 in Riga to move closer to second place in its European Championship qualifying group.
Iceland's win meant it leapfrogged the Czech Republic to lead the group by two points after six rounds. The Netherlands is now three points behind the Czechs. Turkey, which got a late winner from Arda Turan for a 1-0 victory in Kazakhstan, is fourth.
The Dutch win was the first on the road for Guus Hiddink since he started his second stint in charge of the national team after it finished third in last year's World Cup.
"We had to win, and we did," said midfielder Wesley Sneijder.
Wijnaldum poked the ball just inside the post in the 67th minute and Narsingh added the second four minutes later.
In Reykjavik, Borek Dockal opened the scoring for the Czechs before Aron Gunnarsson and Kolbeinn Sightorsson gave Iceland the win.
Wales is close to ending its wait for an appearance at a major tournament.
Bale pounced on a defensive mistake to score the winner against Belgium in the 25th minute, lifting the Welsh to the top of Group B.
With four games left, Wales is three points above Belgium and — more importantly — five points clear of third-place Israel, which lost 3-1 at Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The 1958 World Cup was the last major finals involving Wales, even though the country has had top players down the years such as Ryan Giggs, Ian Rush and Mark Hughes.
Led by the irrepressible Bale, who has five goals in the group, the current generation is making its mark under coach Chris Coleman and has won three and drawn three of its six games for its best ever start to a qualifying campaign.
Cyprus beat Andorra 3-1 and is tied on points with Israel. Bosnia-Herzegovina is a point further back in fifth, with Edin Visca (2) and Edin Dzeko the scorers against Israel.
Italy stretched its unbeaten run in qualifiers for European Championships and World Cups to 46 matches thanks to a cheeky chipped penalty that canceled out a disputed opening goal for Croatia.
Italy forward Stephan El Shaarawy had tapped in from eight yards but his goal was incorrectly ruled offside. While several Italy players were protesting to the officials, Croatia resumed play and Mario Mandzukic scored on the counter-attack.
Mandzukic had an earlier penalty saved and then gave away a spot kick when he handled Andrea Pirlo's free kick. Candreva converted.
Norway missed the opportunity to make up ground on Croatia and Italy and remained third — two points behind Italy — following a 0-0 draw at home against Azerbaijan. Even Hovland headed Pal Andre Helland's cross off the post with four minutes left.
Bulgaria was two points further back after winning 1-0 in Malta, despite Ilian Micanski missing a penalty on the stroke of halftime.
Ivelin Popov scored in the 56th minute to hand Bulgaria only its second win of the qualifying campaign.