England's World Cup qualifying bid was stalled by a stunning 1-0 loss to Northern Ireland last night, while Thierry Henry revived France's chances of making it to next year's tournament in Germany.
Italy, the Netherlands and Israel all won their qualifiers, but Portugal wasted a chance to become the second European nation to clinch a berth in next year's tournament when it played a 0-0 tie at Russia.
Late last night, Mexico (6-1-1) rebounded from its loss to the United States last weekend by crushing visiting Panama, 5-0, to become the 10th nation in the 32-team field for next year's tournament. Only about 35,000 showed up for the match at 105,000-seat Azteca Stadium.
The United States, which clinched its fifth straight berth Saturday, played a 0-0 tie at Guatemala. D.C. United's Santino Quaranta started for the Americans (6-1-1), and former United player Bobby Convey hit the crossbar with a second-half free kick.
England lost to Northern Ireland for the first time since 1972 and at Belfast for the first time in 78 years, with David Healy beating an offside trap to chip the ball off the hand of goalkeeper Paul Robinson and into the goal in the 74th minute. Sven-Goran Eriksson, a Swede who is England's first foreign coach, already had been severely criticized following a 4-1 exhibition loss to Denmark last month and a 1-0 win at Wales on Saturday.
"I'm not going to resign," Eriksson said. "I am going to try and make it right in October, win two games and we've qualified."
But that won't be easy if England continues to play so poorly.
"Tonight it has been a bit of an embarrassment for the lads," captain David Beckham said. "Tonight hurts more than any night probably, but we stick together, that's all we can do. If we win the next two games, we go top of the group, that's all we have to do."
England will have to do it against Austria on Oct. 8 without striker Wayne Rooney, who picked up a yellow card.
Beckham tried to calm Rooney down, but the 19-year-old Manchester United striker pushed him away, cursed the linesman and ignored a plea from assistant coach Steve McClaren to compose himself.
Poland (8-1), which won 1-0 at Wales, leads Group Six with 24 points, five ahead of England (6-1-1), which hosts the Poles four days after the Austria match.
The eight European group winners and top two second-place teams qualify, and the other six second-place teams go to playoffs.
Luca Toni scored three goals and Mauro Camoranesi one as Italy overcame an early deficit to win at Belarus, 4-1. It was the first three-goal game for an Italian player in an away game, not including neutral sites, since Silvio Piola in a 1939 exhibition game at Finland.
Italy (5-1-2) is atop Group Five with 17 points, five ahead of Slovenia and Norway (both 3-2-3). Slovenia won at Moldova, 2-1, and Norway lost at Scotland, 2-1.
The Netherlands moved to the brink of qualifying with a 4-0 win over visiting Andorra. Ruud van Nistelrooy scored twice but missed a penalty kick for the Dutch (9-0-1), who lead Group One with 28 points. The Czech Republic, second at 8-2, is four points back following a 4-1 win over visiting Armenia.
In Dublin, Henry beat goalkeeper Shay Given with a curling shot in the 68th minute, leading France over Ireland, 1-0. France and Switzerland, which won 3-1 at Cyprus, have 16 points apiece and 4-0-4 records.
Israel, which won 2-0 at the Faeroe Islands on a pair of second-half goals, is one point back at 3-0-6, and Ireland is three behind at 3-1-4.
Despite failing to win with a man advantage for the entire second half, Portugal (7-0-3) heads Group Three with 24 points, five in front of Slovakia, which tied 1-1 at Latvia, and Russia (both 5-1-4).
Spain went ahead on Raul Gonzalez's goal in the 19th minute but gave up a goal to Mateja Kezman in the 69th and tied visiting Serbia-Montenegro, 1-1.