England squandered a two-goal lead in a 2-2 draw against Austria yesterday in its opening match of qualifying for the 2006 soccer World Cup.

"We played well enough to win the game but unfortunately we didn't," England Coach Sven-Goran Eriksson told Sky Sports. "It is now more important we take three points at Poland on Wednesday."

Midfielders Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard scored for 1966 World Cup champion England, before Roland Kollmann and Andreas Ivanschitz scored midway through the second half for the home team.

"We've scored two good goals and dominated for 70 minutes then were all over the place for 20 minutes," Gerrard said. "The game should have been won at 2-0 but we let them back in."

Elsewhere, Greece lost at Albania, France drew against Israel and Portugal beat Latvia.

The eight European group winners qualify for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, along with the two best runners-up. The other six second-place teams play off for three places. Germany qualifies automatically as host of the tournament.

In other matches in Group 6, Wales drew, 1-1, at Azerbaijan. Poland won, 3-0, at Northern Ireland.

Daniele de Rossi and Luca Toni scored for Italy as it rallied after conceding a first-minute goal to beat Norway, 2-1, in Marcello Lippi's first competitive match in charge. John Carew had put visiting Norway ahead. Milenko Acimovic got all host Slovenia's goals as it beat Moldova, 3-0, in the other Group 5 game.

Greece, which won the European championship in June, suffered a 2-1 defeat at Albania in Group 2, while the matches between host Denmark and Ukraine, and Turkey and visiting Georgia, were tied 1-1.

France, World Cup champion in 1998, failed to score against visiting Israel in Group 4 as the teams drew, 0-0. France had won both matches against Israel in qualifying for this year's European championship. Host Ireland won, 3-0, against Cyprus and Switzerland thrashed the visiting Faroe Islands, 6-0.

Portugal, beaten by Greece in the Euro 2004 final, opened its qualifying campaign with a 2-0 win at Latvia. Manchester United winger Cristiano Ronaldo scored in the 58th minute, then a minute later his cross was met by striker Pauleta for the second goal.

Estonia, one of three teams in Group 3 playing a second qualifying match, leads the standings with a maximum six points after beating Luxembourg, 4-0. Slovakia has four points following a 1-1 draw at Russia, a point ahead of Portugal.