Ukraine make history as first Euro qualifiers

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World Cup first-timers Ukraine were cracking open the vodka after becoming the first European team to qualify for the finals with room to spare on Saturday…

 Ukraine, who join Germany, who as hosts qualify automatically, have led an impressive campaign in Group Two and it appeared they would still need a result from their next match against Turkey following their 1-1 draw away to Georgia on Saturday.

However Turkey’s subsequent 2-2 draw at home to Denmark left Ukraine with an unmatchable seven point lead over the Turks.

The Ukrainians will have been grateful for the injury-time equaliser by Denmark’s Soren Larsen which saved them the trouble of needing to take something from their home game with Turkey on Wednesday.

 Throughout, Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin has not just had to rely on the talent of Andriy Shevchenko, the AC Milan marksman, and will be looking forward to parading his side in Germany next summer.

For some of Europe’s big guns, however, it’s far from over and there’s still all to play for before qualifying winds up this October.

England, forever in search of the holy grail that is the World Cup they last won in 1966, remain second in Group Six after a Joe Cole goal allowed Sven-Goran Eriksson’s side to scrape a 1-0 win against Wales.

Eriksson was satisfied with the performance of a team which many pundits in England are predicting will win next summer’s showpiece.

However the Swede knows it was nothing to get carried away with.

"I’m very happy with the result," said Eriksson, whose side were whipped 4-1 by Denmark in a friendly barely a fortnight ago.

"We have three games to go and hopefully we will stay where we are in the group."

England sit behind Poland, who continued their impressive campaign with a 3-2 win against Austria in Chorzow.

The hosts had surged to a 2-0 lead before Austria got back on track to reduce the deficit.

Poland now have a two-point lead over England but, along with basement side Azerbaijan, have played one game more (eight) than the rest of the teams in the group.

Poland host Wales in Warsaw on Wednesday and whatever the result, and that of their final match, against England in Manchester, they are guaranteed a place in the play-offs.

For England’s historical rivals France, whose international credentials are fresher having won the World Cup in 1998 and the European Championships two years later, the return of Zinedine Zidane proved a help although not decisive.

France’s campaign has been flagging since Raymond Domenech took over as coach of ”Les Bleus”, and Zidane and Lilian Thuram came out of their international retirement to lend a hand.

Zidane was his usual inspirational self in midfield, however it was the boots of Liverpool striker Djibril Cisse which proved most lethal to Jakkup Mikkelson in goal for the Faeroe Islands.

France dominated the match, and came out 3-0 winners to claim their first group win since beating Cyprus last October.

Cisse grabbed the opener for the hosts and added a second-half goal to an unfortunate own goal for the visitors.

France now share the same number of points as Switzerland and the Republic of Ireland but lie third on goal difference.

Cisse was delighted his brace had come on the night that Switzerland and Israel drew.

"It’s always great to score goals and take the points, especially when Israel and Switzerland draw," said Cisse, who nonetheless limped off with a slight calf problem.

"We managed to enjoy ourselves out there tonight, but we know that the big match is still to come against Ireland (Wednesday). That will be a different affair altogether."

Group Four has proved to be one of the most tightly-contested in the Europe zone qualifying, and Domenech knows there is now little room for mistakes.

"This win is just one of four we have to secure to finish first in the group," he said.

"We had to win tonight to go into the match against Ireland with confidence. We’re still in the race. The team is hungry. We can’t do anything about the results from other group matches – all we’re doing is concentrating on the four matches we have to win.

"In Ireland we will have to be solid, work for each other and not let them dictate the play. If we score three goals, I won’t be complaining."