Italy, France stretch leads in Euro qualifying

Manchester: Italy sneaked a 1-0 win in Slovenia and France beat Luxembourg 2-0 as the European heavyweights soothed bruised reputations by taking charge of their Euro 2012 qualifying groups.

The two teams who contested the 2006 World Cup final were not at their most convincing though and were given a lesson in how to stamp authority over weaker opposition by 2010 World Cup runners-up Netherlands who thrashed Hungary 4-0.

There were few witnesses to Serbia`s resilience in a 2-1 comeback win over battling Northern Ireland in a match played behind closed doors in Belgrade while Belgium sprang a surprise in Austria as Axel Witsel struck twice in a 2-0 victory.

After miserable World Cup showings last year, France and Italy have been seeking to make amends and standing on top of Group D and C respectively the future is looking brighter.

France took their time to settle against a Luxembourg team ranked almost 100 places below them and despite dominating possession they had to wait until the 28th minute before defender Philippe Mexes headed in.

Les Bleus sealed the points 18 minutes from time when Yoann Gourcuff volleyed in after a Franck Ribery cross was deflected by a Luxembourg defender.

With much of the pre-match talk focusing on the return of World Cup rebels Ribery and Patrice Evra, the pair had a quiet game apart from being booed by 2,000 of their own fans who had travelled across the border.

Also having a quiet game were Serbia, serving a one-match crowd ban imposed because of a riot their fans caused in a qualifier in Italy last year.

Bureau Report