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Rediff.com  » Sports » World Cup Qualifiers: Volatile Balotelli grabs winner and headlines

World Cup Qualifiers: Volatile Balotelli grabs winner and headlines

September 11, 2013 09:43 IST

World Cup Qualifiers: Volatile Balotelli grabs winner and headlines

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Italy qualified for next year's World Cup with two games to spare on Tuesday but almost inevitably it was volatile striker Mario Balotelli who grabbed the headlines.

Balotelli missed a host of easy chances in Italy's 2-1 win over CzechRepublic in Turin and could easily have been sent off, although he did slot home the winning penalty.

Those misses and a rash challenge on Tomas Sivok capped a first half to forget, with some among the Juventus Stadium crowd whistling the forward in exasperation at his antics.


Image: Mario Balotelli of Italy (9) and Theodor Gebreselassie of Czech Republic compete for the ball
Photographs: Claudio Villa/Getty Images

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'I hit him but I didn't do it on purpose'

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"I was trying to get the ball and didn't even see the player, so for me it wasn't even a yellow," Balotelli said. "I hit him but I didn't do it on purpose."

He even risked a second yellow after reacting to a foul in the second half, and it was only the measured actions of referee Jonas Eriksson that stopped him getting into another unnecessary confrontation.

"At times you react because they go too far, at other times you manage to control yourself. You always try to control yourself, but it's not easy when you're out on the pitch."

Balotelli had missed Italy's nervy 1-0 win over Bulgaria on Friday after being sent off in the reverse fixture with the Czechs in June and has frequently been warned that he will be a target for provocation.


Image: Mario Balotelli of Italy (9) and Daniel Kolar of Czech Republic (right) compete for the ball
Photographs: Claudio Villa/Getty Images

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Racist abuse

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As Italy's most prominent black player, he has been the subject of intense media focus and frequent bouts of racist abuse from opposition fans, who use his outlandish behaviour as an excuse for chants such as "there are no black Italians".

Monkey chants have also been an increasing feature in Italian stadiums.

In a country struggling with deep economic problems, immigrants and minority groups are being targeted, and many want to see Balotelli act as an ambassador for non-white Italians, and see him as to blame for the insults.

He attracted negative headlines again this week when he missed a meeting with Cecile Kyenge, Italy's Congolese-born Minister of Integration who has been the target of racist abuse by Italy's far right.


Image: Mario Balotelli of Italy celebrates scoring
Photographs: Claudio Villa/Getty Images

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England stay top after holding firm in Ukraine

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Unadventurous England defended stoutly to contain Ukraine and edge closer to next year's World Cup finals after a scrappy 0-0 draw on Tuesday left the Group H leaders in pole position to secure a ticket to Brazil.

A point from an untidy match which featured few goalscoring chances after a hectic opening 10 minutes moved England on to 16 points with two matches to play, one ahead of Ukraine and Montenegro with Poland two points further back.

Unmarked Ukraine defender Artem Fedetskiy wasted his side's best opening after 73 minutes when from six metres out he headed straight at keeper Joe Hart from a corner.


Image: James Milner of England and Yevhen Khacheridi of Ukraine battle for the ball
Photographs: Clive Rose/Getty Images

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'It was for them to be adventurous, not us'

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Frank Lampard then almost capped his 100th England appearance with the winner when his stooping header crept past a post in stoppage time.

"It was probably a fair result. I think we had clear control of the game in the second half," England manager Roy Hodgson said.

"It was for them to be adventurous, not us. In the first half, there were quite a few interesting situations. Perhaps we did not have quite the quality we needed to make that count.

"We have lost seven players from the original squad and I think we have to be more than satisfied... We gained the result without riding our luck."

England, who have yet to register a group win so far against any team other than Moldova and San Marino, welcome Montenegro to Wembley on October 11, the same night Ukraine host Poland.

In the concluding fixtures four days later, England host the Poles with Ukraine away at San Marino and Montenegro playing Moldova.


Image: Frank Lampard of England heads wide in the last minutes
Photographs: Clive Rose/Getty Images

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Uninspired Germany overcome Faroes 3-0

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Germany, treating the match like a tedious household chore, duly overcame a rugged Faroe Islands side 3-0 on Tuesday to maintain their predictable progress towards a place at the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil next year.

Coach Joachim Loew said his side had "done their duty" after their seventh win in eight Group C games left them on 22 points, five clear of Sweden, who beat Kazakhstan earlier in the day.

Per Mertesacker gave the Germany a 1-0 halftime lead although they had to wait until the last 20 minutes for further goals when Mesut Ozil converted a penalty won by Thomas Mueller, who scored the third goal himself.

The hosts had Atli Gregersen sent off for the foul which led to the penalty.


Image: Mesut Ozil of Germany
Photographs: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

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'It was our duty to get the three points and we did it'

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"It was our duty to get the three points and we did it," Loew told German television, looking distinctly unenthusiastic.

"We saw that the Faroes can defend well. It was not easy to come through. We must especially improve our final pass and our finishing," added the coach, who had suggested in March that teams such as the Faroes should take part in a preliminary competition rather than go straight into the group stage.

The Germans next host Ireland before finishing off away to Sweden and need two points from the two games to guarantee top spot.

Like many other teams before them, Germany found the Faroese part-timers to be a tough proposition on home ground. They were made to battle for their points although there was never any doubt about the outcome.


Image: Head coach Joachim Low of the Germany
Photographs: Greg Fiume/Getty Images

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Netherlands celebrates World Cup place

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The Netherlands and Italy celebrated becoming the first European teams to book places at next year's World Cup in Brazil on Tuesday when the final pieces of the continent's qualifying jigsaw began to fall into place.

The Dutch sealed their place after a Robin van Persie double gave them a 2-0 win in Andorra.

Bosnia, who have also yet to play in a finals, stayed top of Group G on goal difference after they won a rip-roaring game 2-1 in Slovakia and second-placed Greece beat Latvia 1-0 in Piraeus.

But the biggest cheers could be heard in Dutch and Italian towns and cities as they booked their places with two matches to spare.

The Dutch, World Cup runners up in 2010, had to wait until the 49th minute to take the lead against Andorra who have lost all eight games, scoring none and conceding 24.


Image: Netherlands' Robin Van Persie (9) celebrates with teammate Darryl Janmaat after scoring a goal against Andorra
Photographs: Albert Gea/Reuters

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'We could not have qualified quicker for the World Cup than the way we did'

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Van Persie's second after a goalkeeping error means the Netherlands will take part in their 10th World Cup next year.

Qualification represents something of a redemption for Dutch coach Louis van Gaal who failed to steer the country to the 2002 World Cup in his previous stint as coach.

"We have done the job. We could not have qualified quicker for the World Cup than the way we did. We are the first from Europe," Van Gaal told reporters.

On the match itself, he added: "We did very well. We gave our all in the first half and we made the breakthrough after the interval. That's just how we wanted it."


Image: Netherlands' Jeremain Lens (right) fights for the ball with Andorra's Emili Garcia
Photographs: Albert Gea/Reuters

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Drought over

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France also had a good night as their five-match run without a goal ended in a 4-2 win over Belarus although they had to come from behind twice before winning with goals by Samir Nasri, Paul Pogba and a double from Franck Ribery, including a penalty.

Six teams have now joined Brazil in the draw for the finals with Italy and the Netherlands through along with four Asian qualifiers - Japan, Australia, Iran and South Korea.

There was also plenty for Germany, Switzerland, Russia, France, England and Bosnia to be happy about but there was gloom for Romania, Israel and Ireland plus the Czechs as their hopes either disappeared totally or became no longer feasible.

There is also some renewed belief in Iceland, who have never reached a major finals, after they beat Albania 2-1 in Reykjavik to move into second place behind Switzerland in Group E.


Image: Samir Nasri (left) and Franck Ribery of France celebrate victory
Photographs: Julian Finney/Getty Images

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