Brazilian-born Liedson kept alive Portugal’s slender World Cup qualifying hopes with a late equalizer against Group 1 leaders Denmark in Copenhagen.
Defeat would have all but spelt the end for Portugal, who made the semifinals in the 2006 World Cup and boast the world’s most expensive footballer in Cristiano Ronaldo. Liedson, who plays for Sporting Lisbon and recently became a Portuguese citizen, scored with a header three minutes from time to give his new country a 1-1 draw. But Carlos Queiroz’s men are down to fourth in the group, seven points behind Denmark, three behind Hungary and two adrift of Sweden who leapfrogged them with a 2-1 against the Hungarians in Budapest on Saturday. New Barcelona striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored a dramatic late winner for the Swedes. All four teams have three matches remaining with Portugal’s best hopes of a playoff spot for second place, their campaign fatally undermined by a disastrous 3-2 home defeat to the Danes in Lisbon last year. Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner put the home side ahead against the run of play, two minutes before the break as he scored neatly from close range. Liedson, who came on at half time, did little until his rose to head home a corner. Reigning World Cup champions Italy stayed top of Group 8 with a 2-0 win in Georgia. Home captain Kakha Kaladze scored two disastrous headed own goals to give Italy a vital three points. Kaladze, who plays in Serie A for AC Milan, made his blunders in the 57th and 67th minutes. Italy lead Ireland by one point heading into Wednesday’s testing qualifier against Bulgaria in Turin. Second-placed Republic of Ireland kept up the pressure as Tottenham’s Robbie Keane scored a vital late winner in the 2-1 victory over Cyprus. Keane headed home after 83 minutes after Marios Ilia had equalized Kevin Doyle’s fifth minute opener for the Irish. Slovakia drew 2-2 with neighboring Czech Republic to stay top of tightly-contested Group 3. Substitute striker Milan Baros headed home with six minutes left to deny the Slovaks victory. Stanislav Sestak put the group leaders ahead on the hour mark, but Daniel Pudil equalized eight minutes later. Marek Hamsik put Slovakia ahead again with a 73rd minute penalty before Baros intervened. Second-placed Northern Ireland were denied a famous victory in Poland as midfielder Mariusz Lewandowski scored a late equalizer in a 1-1 draw. Kyle Lafferty put Northern Ireland ahead in the 38th minute, but Lewandowski salvaged a point for the Poles on 80 minutes. Slovakia lead the group by two points from Northern Ireland with a game in hand, but must visit Windsor Park on Wednesday. France wasted an opportunity to close to within two points of Group 7 leaders Serbia as they were held to a 1-1 home draw by Romania at the Stade de France.
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Defender Julien Escude scored an own-goal in the 55th minute to undermine the home side who had taken the lead through Thierry Henry just after the break. France have 14 points from seven games to be four adrift of Serbia who they visit on Wednesday in a crucial qualifier. Stephane Grichting and Marco Padalino scored with late headers to give Switzerland a 2-0 win closest rivals Greece to stay top of Group 2. European champions Spain later closed on the World Cup finals after coasting to a 5-0 win over Belgium to stay six points clear in Group 5. Valencia pair David Silva and David Villa both scored twice with Barcelona defender Gerard Pique also on target. In earlier matches, Russia and Scotland kept their World Cup hopes alive with vital home wins. Russia thrashed minnows Liechtenstein 3-0 in St Petersburg in Group 4 to move to within a point of leaders Germany, who still have to come to Moscow. In Glasgow, Scotland scored two second half goals to beat Macedonia 2-0 in Group 9. Scott Brown’s first international goal and a superb individual effort from James McFadden did the trick for the home side. They can seal second place in the group with a victory over the Netherlands, who are already qualified for South Africa, on Wednesday.