Villa special spurs Spain

France, Italy step it up; the Netherlands have it easy
Last Updated 26 March 2011, 16:50 IST

France, Italy and Netherlands also extended their leads at the top with wins ranging from the laboured to the convincing but it was Spain's near hiccup that caused the biggest stir.  The European champions were trailing to a first-half Jaroslav Plasil goal before Villa scored twice in four minutes to reach 46 goals for his country, two more than Raul, and send Spain six points clear of the second-placed Czechs in Group I.

Spain's blushes were spared while France and Italy went some way to soothing their bruised reputations with Les Bleus beating Luxembourg 2-0 and the Azzurri sneaking a 1-0 win in Slovenia.

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.

While a noisy Granada stadium cheered Spain's fight back, 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.

After miserable World Cup showings last year, France and Italy have been seeking to make amends and standing on top of Groups 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 home.

Italy are the runaway leaders in that group with 13 points from five matches thanks to Brazil-born Thiago Motta's 73rd-minute strike against second-placed Slovenia.  

(Published 26 March 2011, 16:50 IST)

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