World Cup champion Spain reclaimed first place in its qualifying group Tuesday night with a 1-0 victory over France in Paris.
Pedro Rodriguez scored in the 58th for Spain, which is now a point ahead of France in Group I. Spain had dropped two points behind France after a 1-1 draw with Finland on Friday, its second straight tie.
“They are three welcome points, and this changes our group position for the better,” Spain Coach Vicente del Bosque said. “We stuck to our way of playing tonight and we’re happy with that.
“There are still three games left so there is plenty of time left to drop points, for both sides,” del Bosque added. “This isn’t over, although it’s true France missed a chance to pull away.”
The nine group winners advance to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, while the eight best runners-up will compete in playoffs for Europe’s remaining four spots.
Germany surged eight points ahead in Group C by beating Kazakhstan, 4-1, and the Netherlands maintained its perfect run in qualifying with a 4-0 rout of Romania. The Dutch now lead Group D by seven points. Italy remained unbeaten, with Mario Balotelli’s double giving the Italians a 2-0 victory in Malta and a three-point lead over Bulgaria in Group B.
But England stumbled again, drawing 1-1 at Group H leader Montenegro to remain two points back after Dejan Damjanovic’s goal in the 76th minute salvaged the draw for the hosts in Podgorica, Montenegro.
England took the lead in the sixth minute when Wayne Rooney headed in a corner from Steven Gerrard after being left unmarked. England dominated most of the half, creating several good chances. But Montenegro took control in the second, and Damjanovic leveled from close range after a melee in a packed England goalmouth.
Egypt moved a step closer to its first World Cup in 20 years with a 2-1 victory over Zimbabwe. It was the first time fans had been allowed into the stadium for an Egyptian home game in more than a year.
Belgium remains ahead of Croatia in Group A on goal difference after Eden Hazard’s goal clinched a 1-0 victory over Macedonia. Croatia came from behind to win, 2-1, at Wales.
The qualifying hopes of bottom-place Scotland officially ended with a 2-0 loss at third-place Serbia.
Portugal claimed its first win in six games by beating 10-man Azerbaijan, 2-0, on the road. But it remains behind Israel in Group F on goal difference after the Israelis won 2-0 at Northern Ireland.
Russia is a point ahead of Israel and Portugal, but has two games in hand.
In Africa, the 10 group winners advance to a playoff to decide the continent’s five spots for Brazil. But Egypt, led by former U.S. coach Bob Bradley, look well on their way after Mohamed Aboutrika’s penalty kick in the 88th minute secured the win over Zimbabwe, the nation’s third win in three games.
●FIFA DECISION: FIFA has upheld the 1-0 win by the United States over Costa Rica in a snowy World Cup qualifier last week, saying the protest by the visitors was not filed correctly. The Ticos were angered by the decision of referee Joel Aguilar of El Salvador to allow the game in Commerce City, Colo., to be played on a snow-covered field. Protests also must be filed in writing to FIFA’s administration “no later than two hours after the match,” the regulations state. FIFA said it received the protest letter Sunday, two days after the game.