Ireland and Croatia erased bad memories with stunning footballand seven goals earlier today as they made preliminary bookings forthe Euro 2012 soccer finals by crushing Estonia and Turkeyaway.
In the other playoff first legs, Czech Republic overcameMontenegro 2-0 in Prague where Vaclav Pilar scored after 63 minutesand Tomas Sivok in added time while Bosnia and Portugal slugged outa goalless draw on a poor surface in Zenica.
Ireland, seeking to forget the disappointment of their infamous'Henry handball' playoff defeat by France in the qualifiers for the2010 World Cup, won 4-0 in Estonia in their first leg while Croatiabeat the Turks 3-0 in Istanbul.
For Croatia, it was a satisfying triumph as goals from IvicaOlic, Mario Mandzukic and Vedran Corluka went some way to exactingrevenge for their quarter-final defeat by the Turks in the 2008finals. They struck early and silenced the home crowd.
"It is virtually decided," Turkey coach Guus Hiddink said. "Itwas very difficult for us after they scored in the second minute --I guess I will make changes for players who will play for theirhonour now."
Ireland, seeking to reach their first major tournament since the2002 World Cup finals, galloped to victory in Tallinn thanks to aKeith Andrews header after 13 minutes and second-half strikes fromJon Walters and two from Robbie Keane, his second an 88th minutepenalty.
By then, the home team were down to nine men having lost AndreiStepanov, who was sent off after 34 minutes, and Raio Piiroja,after 77.
This left Giovanni Trapattoni's side with a straightforward taskin Wednesday's playoff second leg in Dublin as they extended theirunbeaten run to 10 games.
Captain Keane said: "We came here to get a result, but nobodythought we'd have got one like that... This game should be over now-- and if we don't qualify we'll be devastated."
Ireland were devastated two years ago when French strikerThierry Henry handled the ball in setting up a goal bundled in byWilliam Gallas as France beat them to qualify for the 2010 WorldCup finals in South Africa.
Trapattoni, who has rebuilt Ireland since that setback into asolid and spirited outfit with a pragmatic and powerful streak, wasquick to praise his players.
"We are proud of our players because their commitment, mentalityand attitude was very professional and they believed in what Iasked of them," he said. "We have to be serious for Tuesday andhave respect."
Both sides missed chances in Bosnia but Portugal will be thehappier ahead of the second leg.
Portugal coach Paulo Bento said: "We had a brilliant first halfand a good second half -- and we have achieved a good result here,but a dangerous one, given it's a knockout stage. We did not scorea goal, but we deserved one."
He was less enthused by the playing surface.
"Portugal played on a pitch which UEFA should not have allowed,but we tried to do the best we could," he added.
On a busy night of friendlies for teams who had already reachedEuro 2012, Mario Balotelli justified his place as leader of Italy'sattack by scoring their opening goal in a 2-0 win in Poland --co-hosts with Ukraine of next year's tournament.
Ukraine almost produced an upset, but after leading Germany 3-1they had to settle for a 3-3 draw in Kiev's newly-renovatedOlimpiyskiy Stadium where the 2010 World Cup semi-finalists wererescued by a 77th minute goal from Thomas Mueller.
France struggled to a lacklustre 1-0 win over the United Statesthanks to a second half goal from substitute Loic Remy.
"It could have been better," said coach Laurent Blanc. "But someplayers were playing their first game for France and we made a lotof changes."
Netherlands, losing finalists at the 2010 World Cup, also failedto impress in a 0-0 draw with Switzerland but coach Bert VanMarwijk defended his team against catcalls from the home crowd inAmsterdam.
"This team has performed excellently for three and a half yearsand we are widely admired for that. Today, they had a bad dayagainst a tough opponent and didn't deserve such a reaction fromthe crowd," he said.
Bosnia-Hercegovina 0-0 Portugal
Czech Republic 2-0 Montenegro
Estonia 0-4 Rep of Ireland
Turkey 0-3 Croatia
Orignal From: Euro 2012 qualifying wrap