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Orange army South Africa bound

June 07, 2009 15:30 IST
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The orange-clad army of Dutch fans can start booking flights for South Africa after the Netherlands became the first European nation to qualify for next year's World Cup finals with victory in Iceland on Saturday.

A 2-1 win in Reykjavik, courtesy of goals from Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel, left the Dutch uncatchable at the top of qualifying Group Nine with a maximum 18 points, 11 clear of second-placed Scotland who only have three games left.

"Winning six straight World Cup qualifiers deserves a compliment," Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk told RTL4-TV.

"My goal was to qualify for the finals so now we have a year to prepare us. But we also want to win the last two qualifying matches."

England's fans will have to wait a little longer to firm up their travel plans, but a 4-0 win in far-flung Kazakhstan means, like the Dutch, they also have a 100 percent record after six qualifiers and a healthy seven-point lead in Group Six.

Serbia piled the pressure on France in Group Seven, opening up a five-point lead at the top thanks to a 1-0 home victory over Austria while Denmark beat Sweden 1-0 in Stockholm to remain in control of Group One.

Stuttering Portugal kept alive their hopes of qualifying with a last-gasp 2-1 victory in Albania that kept them in touch in Group One, but only just.

They have nine points, seven behind Denmark and four shy of second-placed Hungary with four matches remaining.

Only the winners of the nine European qualifying groups automatically qualify for South Africa with the best eight runners-up having to come through a two-legged playoff.

However, with a year to go until the tournament starts, the Netherlands can relax after completing their qualifying mission with consummate ease. They join South Korea, Japan, Australia and hosts South Africa on the confirmed list of finalists.

England, who missed out on Euro 2008, have been transformed under Fabio Capello, although the 4-0 win 3,500 miles away from home in Almaty will not linger long in the memory.

They endured a rocky opening 35 minutes before goals from Gareth Barry and Emile Heskey, his first competitive goal for seven years, deflated their hosts. Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard finished the job after halftime.

"If we beat Andorra (on Wednesday) we are nearly there," Lampard, who scored the winner in last week's FA Cup final for Chelsea, told Setanta Sports. "It's been a good week."

Croatia, Belarus and Ukraine look set to scrap for runners-up spot behind England. Croatia drew 2-2 at home to Ukraine to stay second, seven points behind England, while Belarus moved above Ukraine into third place with a 5-1 thrashing of Andorra.

Nenad Milijas's penalty gave Serbia a 1-0 home win over Austria to keep them on track for their second consecutive World Cup finals.

Slovakia are on course for their first World Cup after a 7-0 victory over San Marino put them top of Group Three with 15 points, two ahead of Northern Ireland.

World champions Italy were not in competitive action but warmed up for the Confederations Cup with a 3-0 friendly victory over Northern Ireland in Pisa.

Italy lead Group Eight by one point from Ireland with a game in hand after Ireland and Bulgaria drew 1-1 in Sofia.

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