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Portugal routs Malta to stay alive
By Mitch Phillips
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 15 - 10 - 2009

Portugal completed stage one of its unlikely World Cup turnaround when a 4-0 home win over Malta Wednesday secured it a place in the playoffs five months after ot looked dead and buried.
On the final night of European qualifying the two remaining automatic slots for next year's finals went to Switzerland and, into a major tournament for the first time, Slovakia, while Slovenia, Ukraine and Greece took the other two playoff berths.
Spain hammered Bosnia 5-2 away to complete a perfect qualifying campaign with 10 wins out of 10. The Netherlands, which won all eight of its games in the five-team Group Nine, was the only other team with a 100 percent record.
World champion Italy was losing 2-0 at home to Cyprus until a hat trick by Alberto Gilardino in the last 13 minutes secured a 3-2 win.
Germany also needed a 90th minute goal by Lukas Podolski to secure a 1-1 home draw with Finland in another dead rubber.
Four months ago Portugal looked down and out. The 2006 semifinalist had lost at home to Denmark and followed that with three successive goalless draws. It was then being held 1-1 in Albania before Bruno Alves snatched an injury-time winner to start the recovery. A late equalizer against Denmark followed and, as Group One rivals Sweden and Hungary dropped points, last weekend's win over Hungary somehow put them back in command of their own destiny.
It duly delivered the victory it needed over Malta Wednesday with goals by Nani, Simao Sabrosa – who got two on Saturday – Miguel Veloso and Edinho.
The two-legged playoffs take place on Nov. 14 and 18. They will be seeded on the basis of the FIFA world rankings published Friday and the draw will be made in Zurich Monday.
Russia, France and Greece are likely to be the other seeded teams with Ukraine, Ireland, Bosnia and Slovenia pitched against them.
Norway, second in Group Nine behind the Dutch, was the unlucky runner-up to miss out.
Slovakia took the direct route and can celebrate a first appearance in a major tournament since it began playing as an independent nation in 1994. Saturday's surprise home defeat by Slovenia briefly derailed it but Wednesday's 1-0 win in Poland, secured by a Seweryn Gancarczyk own goal after three minutes.
Slovenia did all it could with a 3-0 win in San Marino, which was enough to secure second place ahead of Czech Republic, who drew 0-0 at home with Northern Ireland.
Switzerland needed only a point to top Group Two and acheived it with a goalless home draw with Israel. Greece took the runner-up spot after a 2-1 win over Luxembourg.
After beating Group Six winner England last week Ukraine looked odds-on to make the playoffs with a win over Andorra and any nerves it might have had were dispelled when Andriy Shevchenko scored after 22 minutes. An own goal and contributions from Oleg Gusev, Yaroslav Rakitsky, Yevgen Seleznov and Andriy Yarmolenko completed a 6-0 rout.
Croatia, who won 2-1 in Kazakhstan with a last-minute goal by Nico Kranjcar, finished third, a point behind Ukraine.
England finished with a 3-0 win over Belarus at Wembley helped by two goals for stand

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