Bigwigs enter world cup finals

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Its ‘celebration’ time for Italy, England and Netherland as they enter the world cup finals.
Poland, Croatia and Portugal also booked their passage but France, the 1998 winners, must wait until the final round of games on Wednesday to wrap up a place in Germany next summer after being held to a 1-1 draw in Switzerland.

England skipper David Beckham was sent off as Sven-Goran Eriksson’s men beat Austria 1-0 in Manchester but that setback was forgotten just over three hours later when the Dutch beat the Czech Republic 2-0 in Prague.

That Group One result meant England were assured their place as qualifiers as one of two best runners-up.

It also sent Poland, the current Group Six leaders, into the finals.

Italy beat Slovenia 1-0 in Palermo to win Group Five while Croatia beat Sweden 1-0 in Zagreb to also ensure a best runners-up place.

Portugal came from behind to beat Liechtenstein 2-1 in Aveiro to win Group Three.

Beckham became the first England player to be sent off twice in his international career following his infamous dismissal against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup.

On Saturday, he was red-carded after two fouls in quick succession on Andreas Ibertsberger.

The England captain received his first yellow card for raising his arm in an aerial challenge and then was red-carded after jumping into a tackle on Ibertsberger.

Frank Lampard scored England’s only goal with a first half penalty.

Eriksson said: “I’m delighted that we now know we will be taking part in the World Cup in Germany next year. It has been a difficult start to the season for us but, together with our victory against Austria, this is the reward for all the hard work that has been done over the past year.

“Our win today showed the character and determination we have in this group of players. They were focused. The fans have played a huge part in every game.”

Italy needed only a draw in their penultimate qualifier in the Sicilian capital but they took all three points thanks to a 78th minute goal from substitute Cristian Zaccardo to win Group Five.

Victory for Italy, who have qualified for every World Cup apart from the 1958 finals in Sweden, was sweet revenge for their 1-0 defeat to Slovenia in Celje in October 2004, their only loss in qualifying.

“I’m happy to have qualified and I’m particularly pleased for Zaccardo as the goal meant so much to him,” said Italy coach Marcello Lippi.

“I thought we deserved the victory for all our hard work. We created a sackful of chances and conceded almost nothing to Slovenia.”

In Prague, the Netherlands dealt a devastating blow to the Czechs’ hopes of qualifying with a 2-0 away win.

Raphael van der Vaart opened the scoring for the Netherlands in the first half with a 32nd-minute goal followed by teammate Barry Opdam six minutes later.

It was the Dutch side’s 10th win in 11 qualifiers.

Croatia booked a place in their third successive finals when Darijo Srna scored from the penalty spot in the 57th-minute after Swedish defender Olof Mellberg had handled.

In Berne, France, missing first choice strikers Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet, struggled to a 1-1 draw with Switzerland in Group Four.

The result means that France lie third behind Israel, who lie top but have completed all their games following their 2-1 win over the Faroes, and Switzerland, who are ahead with a plus-three goal difference.

It took a 53rd minute goal from substitute Djibril Cisse to break the deadlock, the out-of-favour Liverpool striker using his muscular presence to capitalise on a horrendous error in the Swiss central defence.

But Switzerland’s Ludovic Magnin struck back with 10 minutes to play.

France now play Cyprus at home on Wednesday in their final group match while Switzerland travel to Ireland, who beat the Cypriots 1-0 earlier Saturday and are fourth in the group standings just one point adrift.

“This point means that everything will be played for in the last match,” said French coach Raymond Domenech. “They posed us some problems with the width of their game, their aggressiveness.

“Against Cyprus, it’s simple: we have to score. I think three goals more than the Swiss if the Swiss win in Ireland.”

In Brussels, a Fernando Torres double lifted Spain to a 2-0 win over Belgium and one step closer to gaining automatic qualification from Group Seven.

The win pushed Luis Aragones’ side on to 17 points, two behind Serbia-Montenegro who saw off Lithuania 2-0.

But if the leaders slip up against Bosnia-Hercegovina on Wednesday, Spain go through as winners if they see off minnows San Marino.