The Netherlands and Italy needed late equalisers to earn draws in Euro 2016 qualifying on Saturday, while Gareth Bale inspired Wales to a fine win in Israel that left them top of their group.
The Dutch were heading to a first competitive defeat on home soil since October 2000 after Burak Yilmaz put Turkey ahead in Amsterdam, but a 92nd-minute shot by captain Wesley Sneijder deflected into the net off Klaas-Jan Huntelaar to spare Oranje blushes and secure a 1-1 draw.
A defeat might have made Dutch coach Guus Hiddink’s position untenable, and even the draw leaves last year’s World Cup semi-finalists in third place in qualifying Group A, five points behind second-placed Iceland and two points ahead of Turkey.
“It wasn’t a bad match, but not our best either,” said Hiddink. “A defeat would have been catastrophic but the (equalising) goal keeps us in the running.”
Only the top two in each group qualify automatically for next year’s finals in France, along with the best third-place finisher.
The Czech Republic lead the section, although they required a last-minute goal by substitute Vaclav Pilar just to earn a 1-1 draw with Latvia in Prague after Aleksejs Visnakovs had given the away side the lead.
They are a point ahead of Iceland, who won 3-0 in Kazakhstan with Birkir Bjarnason scoring twice after veteran forward Eidur Gudjohnsen put them ahead in Astana.
– Debut goal for Eder –
Antonio Conte’s Italy are in a rather more comfortable position than the Netherlands and remain unbeaten in Group H after coming back to draw 2-2 with Bulgaria in Sofia.
Yordan Minev’s early own goal gave the Azzurri the lead, but Ivelin Popov and Ilian Micanski both scored for Bulgaria to turn the game on its head.
AFP / Nikolay Doychinov
Italy’s Forward Ciro Immobile shoots in front of Bulgaria’s Aleksandar Aleksandrov during the EURO 2016 Group H football match in Sofia on March 28, 2015
The hosts looked to be heading for a win in Ivaylo Petev’s first game as coach but Brazilian-born debutant Eder, of Sampdoria, came off the bench to save a point for Italy with a fine strike with six minutes left.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Eder told Rai Sport. “Conte had faith in me and I’ve scored a goal wearing an important jersey. I hope I’ll go on to be given other chances.”
Nevertheless, it is Croatia who top the group by two points from the Euro 2012 runners-up after a romping to a 5-1 win at home to a Norway side featuring 16-year-old Real Madrid prospect Martin Odegaard.
Marcelo Brozovic gave Croatia the lead with a curling strike on the half hour and Ivan Perisic, Ivica Olic, Gordon Schildenfeld and Danijel Pranjic added further goals in the second half.
The hosts were comfortable despite having Vedran Corluka sent off in the second half, with Norway missing a penalty through Tarik Elyounoussi before Alexander Tettey pulled one back.
Elsewhere in Group H, Azerbaijan moved off the bottom by defeating Malta 2-0 in Baku in former Croatia star Robert Prosinecki’s first game as coach.
– Brilliant Bale –
Meanwhile, Madrid winger Bale scored a second-half brace as Wales cruised to a 3-0 win in Israel that put them top of Group B.
Israel came into the game in Haifa in first place having won their opening three qualifiers, but Bale set up Aaron Ramsey to give the visitors the lead late in the first half.
Bale doubled their advantage shortly after the restart from an exquisite free-kick before forcing the sending-off of Israel defender Eytan Tibi and then making it 3-0 on 77 minutes.
AFP / Jack Guez
Wales’ midfielder Gareth Bale celebrates his goal during the Euro 2016 qualifying football match between Israel and Wales in the Israeli coastal city of Haifa, on March 28, 2015
Chris Coleman’s side have won three and drawn two of five matches in Group B and lead the way with 11 points, two ahead of Israel.
“To come out on top is amazing. The first half was very hard. We did a lot of running, closed them down well, and luckily got the goal which gave us a lot of confidence,” Bale told Sky Sports.
“We came out in the second half buzzing and showed what a good team we are.”
Belgium can go level on points with Wales if they win their game in hand in Israel on Tuesday, after the Red Devils eased to a 5-0 victory over Cyprus in Brussels.
Manchester United’s Marouane Fellaini scored twice with Christian Benteke, Eden Hazard and Michy Batshuayi also on target.
Bosnia and Herzegovina claimed a much-needed win in their first match under Mehmed Bazdarevic as Manchester City’s Edin Dzeko’s hat-trick secured a 3-0 success in Andorra.