Germany, Italy stroll as French labour

Paris: Germany and Italy continued their leisurely stroll towards the Euro 2012 finals with wins which underlined their domination of their groups but France dropped unexpected points by drawing in Belarus.

Three-time winners Germany thanked a Mario Gomez double as they floored neighbouring Austria 2-1 in Vienna and Die Mannschaft now stand seven points clear of Belgium in Group A with a game in hand while the Austrians will have to find alternative entertainment next summer.

In Group C, Italy were all business in swatting Estonia 3-0, Giuseppe Rossi, Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini all on target for the Azzurri.

Italy stayed five points clear of Slovenia, 2-0 winners in the Faroe Islands, with a game in hand, and need only win two of their last four matches to guarantee progress to the finals.

Coach Cesare Prandlli had warned the Italians they would have to work, remembering a tough 2-1 win eked out in Tallinn last September.

But once Rossi had fired in the opener midway through the opening period it was all one-way traffic.

"No games are ever easy, it becomes easy when you play like we did tonight," insisted Prandelli.

"After you score a goal it becomes much easier to keep the ball and we did that tonight.”

If Germany and Italy are cantering towards the line as a berth for the finals in Ukraine and Poland beckon, France still have work to do.

Coach Laurent Blanc was clearly unimpressed as his charges laboured to a 1-1 draw against Belarus in Minsk.

The point still keeps Les Bleus - champions in 1984 and 2000 - four points clear of the eastern Europeans - but they are making heavy weather of their passage.

Eric Abidal returned after a frantic ten weeks first saw him have surgery on a liver tumour then regain his place in the Barcelona side in time to lift the European Cup at Wembley.

But his return to the nationalteam was marked chiefly by the left back putting the ball through his own net on 20 minutes.

Florent Malouda swiftly levelled but the French could not find the win which would effectively have sewn up the group.

Blanc, who came under fire recently over alleged proposals to introduce race quotas at youth level before an internal investigation cleared him, was frustrated.

"It was a disappointing match, especially in the first half. We lacked a bit of freshness - I don`t think we deserved to win tonight," Blanc told French television.

"They`ve taken four points off us in two matches and that`s a lot - yet they are not a better team than us. We came for three points and we didn`t get them."

In other Friday action, Sweden thumped Moldova 4-1 away but are struggling to catch the Dutch, who have a perfect record after six matches.

Although the Scandinavians have a match in hand they have six points to make up.

Croatia gained a potentially crucial win in Group F as two goals inside three minutes from first Mario Mandzukic then Nikola Kalinic saw off Georgia, who had taken the lead through Jaba Kankava after 17 minutes.

The Croatians lead 2004 champions Greece, who host Malta on Saturday, by two points but have played one more game.

In Group I, there was a rare win for Liechtenstein, who beat Lithuania 2-0 with goals from Philippe Erne and Michele Polverino, the win moving the tiny hosts to within a point both of the Lithuanians and Scotland.

Holders Spain lead the way in the group with a perfect 15 points from five games.

Bureau Report

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