France limp, Dutch impress
France ground out an unconvincing 2-0 win at minnows Luxembourg, the Netherlands thrashed Hungary 4-0 while Thiago Motta capped his full Italy debut with the winner at Slovenia in Euro 2012 qualifying.
Laurent Blanc’s France welcomed back their shamed World Cup duo Patrice Evra and Franck Ribery but they could only score once in each half against their plucky hosts in a dour Group D match in the tiny central European state.
Roma defender Philippe Mexes put Les Bleus ahead with a 28th-minute header from Samir Nasri’s corner, while Lyon’s Yoann Gourcuff sealed the win with 18 minutes left, half-volleying home after Franck Ribery’s cross.
Italy earned a good win at Slovenia in an even and entertaining clash that saw Internazionale midfielder Motta, born in Brazil but naturalised due to his Italian heritage, score the game’s only goal on his first competitive appearance with a sweet finish from the edge of the box on 73 minutes.
Both keepers had been well tested in a fiery encounter, with Gianluigi Buffon impressive in his first competitive match for the Azzurri since injuring himself before their humiliating first-round exit at the World Cup.
The Netherlands made light work of Hungary with a 4-0 win at the Ferenc Puskas Stadium, with Rafael van der Vaart’s shot creeping through Gabor Kiraly in the home side’s goal to give the visitors an early lead.
The impressive Ibrahim Afellay doubled the advantage on the stroke of half-time after good combination play from Robin van Persie and Dirk Kuyt, who added a goal apiece in the second half as the Dutch romped away on the break.
The Dutch have a 100 per cent record after five Group E games, with Hungary second on nine points.
Belgium clinched an important 2-0 Group A win in Austria thanks to a man-of-the-match performance from Standard Liege starlet Axel Witsel.
Club and country team-mate Steven Defour has drawn all the hype in recent years but Witsel showed an opportunist’s knack to exploit hesitant goalkeeping from Juergen Macho on six minutes, adding a second on 50 minutes with a superb chest and volley.
Belgium go second in the group, five points behind leaders Germany, although Austria have a game in hand when they play Turkey next week.