Portugal Beats Russia to Take Lead in World Cup Qualifying Group

Portugal defeated Russia 1-0 to move into first place in its qualifying group for the 2014 soccer World Cup in Brazil.

Belgium took sole possession of the top spot in its group and Bosnia-Herzegovina increased its lead as qualifying resumed in Europe last night. Italy also improved its lead by drawing with the Czech Republic as Mario Balotelli was sent off for two yellow cards.

The winners of each of the nine European groups qualify for the World Cup, with the best eight runners-up going into a playoff for the remaining four slots.

Helder Postiga scored in the ninth minute in Lisbon as Portugal overtook Russia at the top of Group F. Portugal has 14 points from seven of 10 games, while Russia is second with 12 points from five games.

Israel, which didn’t play last night, is third with 11 points from six games. Luxembourg and Azerbaijan, also in Group F, drew 1-1.

Kevin De Bruyne and Marouane Fellaini scored as Belgium beat Serbia 2-1 to sit atop Group A with 19 points. Croatia fell three points behind after losing at home 1-0 to Scotland on Robert Snodgrass’s goal. It was Scotland’s first win in seven qualifiers.

Italy’s 0-0 draw in Prague leaves it four points ahead of Bulgaria and five ahead of the Czech Republic in Group B. Balotelli was sent off after picking up yellow cards in the 68th and 72nd minutes. Malta won 1-0 at Armenia in a matchup of the bottom teams in the group.

Second-Half Scoring

Bosnia-Herzegovina scored all of its goals in the second half in routing Latvia 5-0 to maintain its three-point lead in Group G over Greece, which beat Lithuania 1-0. Third-place Slovakia drew 1-1 in Liechtenstein.

Ukraine also scored all its goals in the second half of a 4-0 rout in Montenegro that tightened the race in Group H.

Montenegro still leads the group with 14 points, two more than idle England. Ukraine, which like England has played one fewer game than Montenegro, is third with 11 points. Poland is fourth with nine points following a 1-1 draw in Moldova.

Austria and Ireland both won at home to pull within five points of Germany after six games in Group C.

David Alaba and Marc Janko scored as Austria beat Sweden 2-1 in Vienna. Robbie Keane celebrated his record 126th game for Ireland by scoring all the goals in a 3-0 win against the Faroe Islands in Dublin.

Iceland and Albania each missed a chance to overtake Switzerland at the top of Group E. Albania drew 1-1 at home with Norway, while Iceland was beaten 4-2 at home by Slovenia.

Switzerland, which plays Cyprus today, has 11 points, Albania has 10 points and Iceland nine.

In the only game in Group I, Finland beat Belarus 1-0 for its first win in qualifying.

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