Euro 2012 qual. - N Ireland hammered, Italy qualify

Tue, 06 Sep 21:53:00 2011

Northern Ireland's chances of qualifying for Euro 2012 are all but over after a crushing 4-1 defeat away to Estonia in Group C in Tallinn.

Players of Estonia celebrate scoring during their Euro 2012 group C qualifying soccer match with Northern Ireland in Tallinn - 0

Martin Vunk broke the deadlock on 28 minutes for the Estonians with their first attempt on goal with a sweet low effort much to the surprise of the Irish defence.

The lead was then doubled in a matter of minutes when Tarmo Kink pulled of a speculative effort from 35 yards. Goalkeeper Lee Camp made a complete hash of the audacious shot, with the dipping ball going through his legs, leaving his side with a massive mountain to climb.

Northern Ireland got a lifeline before the break when Raio Piroja headed an own goal. But that proved to be the only slice of luck as they were undone after their string of errors continued in the second period.

Defender Gareth McAuley gifted Sergei Zenjov Estonia's third and Kaimar Saag made it 4-1 in stoppage-time.

Estonia's remarkable result at the A Le Coq Arena keeps them in the hunt, albeit with a slight chance of qualification.

In contrast the result, and woeful performance, will do nothing to ease the level of criticism that has been building on NI manager Nigel Worthington. The 1,200 travelling army will have to reflect on yet another qualifying campaign gone wrong after a promising start.

Substitutes Saag and Zenjov made a telling impact from the bench for the victors. Their precision in front of goal was far too superior for the stretched Irish defence.

David Healy had an opportunity early on after the break as he tried in vain to scrap the ball in the net after an opening in the box. Craig Cathcart too had a half chance scaring the opposition defence but chances were limited on a night full of disappointment.

The introduction to forwards Warren Feeney and Ryan McQuoid did nothing to close the gap. Estonia took their chances effectively and saw out the win.

Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Camp endured a nightmare display and was at fault for three goals as the team crumbled when expectations of points were high.

Estonia capped off a startling display to earn three crucial points with a fourth in stoppage time with Saag completing the rout in some style.

Italy booked a ticket to the Euro 2012 finals after substitute Giampaolo Pazzini's late goal secured a 1-0 win over Slovenia as they recorded a seventh win in eight Group C matches.

The striker pounced with five minutes to go in a tense affair at the Artemio Franchi stadium to give Italy an unassailable eight-point lead over second-placed Serbia with both teams having only two matches to play.

The home side began well with three gilt-edged chances in the opening five minutes but laboured to create opportunities against a stubborn Slovenia defence until coach Cesare Prandelli threw on Pazzini, Claudio Marchisio and Mario Balotelli late on.

Slovenia, who lost at home to Estonia on Friday, have little chance of qualifying having slipped to fourth place in the group and trail Serbia by three points having played a game more.

Buffon pleased for Prandelli

Serbia stayed on course to clinch a play-off berth after early goals from Milan Jovanovic and Zoran Tosic helped them to a 3-1 home win over the Faroe Islands.

The result lifted the Serbs to second place in the group, with a good chance of clinching the runners-up spot. They are at home to leaders Italy on October 7 and away to Slovenia in their final match four days later.

Winger Jovanovic fired the hosts ahead in the sixth minute when he beat Faroe keeper Rene Torgard with a looping header after a deflected cross from the left by Aleksandar Kolarov.

The Manchester City left back turned provider again midway through the first half, when he set up Tosic to volley home an unstoppable shot from the edge of the penalty box.

The visitors pulled one back against the run of play in the 37th minute after Frodi Benjaminsen took a searching diagonal pass into his stride and steered the ball past Serbia's advancing keeper Bojan Jorgacevic.

Serbia's captain Dejan Stankovic was substituted at halftime after appearing to struggle with an injury in his 100th international appearance but his side continued to pile on the pressure after the break.

Jovanovic missed two sitters and Tosic had a stinging shot palmed away by the keeper before central midfielder Zdravko Kuzmanovic, also denied by a fine save, made it 3-1 with a scorcher from 20 metres.

Tosic and Kolarov hit the woodwork in the closing stages as Serbia enjoyed most of the possession in front of 10,000 fans at Partizan's stadium.

Andrew Bontiff / Reuters

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