Rio de Janeiro, Sep 8 (IANS) Argentina striker Lionel Messi says finishing first in the World Cup qualifying phase is not the team's priority. Argentina went to the top of the South American confederation's Conmebol standings Friday with a 3-1 victory over Paraguay in Cordoba, reports Xinhua. Messi twice hit the woodwork before curling in a trademark free-kick in the 63rd minute at the Mario Kempes stadium. Real Madrid's Gonzalo Higuain and Angel Di Maria also scored for Argentina while Jonathan Fabbro netted for Paraguay. "Finishing first in qualifying is not the most important thing," Messi said after the match. "What matters most is to get to the World Cup in good form and playing well as a team. "We knew it was going to be tough against Paraguay and that they would be compact in defence but fortunately we were able get the first goal early. After they levelled we didn't drop our heads and managed to get the result we wanted."
Berlin, Sep 8 (IANS) Germany sealed an expected 3-0 win against Faroe Islands in Group C to start with a win in 2014 World Cup qualifiers owing to a brace by Mesut Oezil and a goal by Mario Goetze at AWD Arena. This win Friday put Germany on top in Group C, reports Xinhua. From kick-off, Germany took over control against passive Faroes who defended deep to lurk for counter-attacks. The Germans staged short passing combinations and fast breaks to overcome the visitor's bulwark. Occasionally the Faroes were able to threaten the host with a few fast breaks. However, in the 28th minute Germany were rewarded for their efforts when midfielder Mario Goetze shrugged off five defenders at penalty line to beat goalkeeper Gunnar Nielsen with a low shot into bottom left. Germany pressed for goals but Klose and Mueller pulled just wide before the break. In second half Germany started where they left off as midfielder Mesut Oezil volleyed home a cross by Thomas Mueller following a fast break, nine minutes into second half. Germany remained offensive to produce goal-scoring opportunities but Faroe Islands goalkeeper Gunnar Nielsen gave the hosts a hard time with his saves. With 71 minutes into the match Mesut Oezil was not done when he scored another past Nielsen for the 3-0 final score. It was the highest win against Faroe Islands and the 500th win of the German national squad overall. "We were focused from the start. Our problem is that we need too many chances to score goals," Germany coach Joachim Loew said.
Moscow, Sep 8 (IANS/RIA Novosti) Russia failed to live up to coach Fabio Capello's hopes for a high-tempo flowing game when they beat Northern Ireland 2-0 in their opening World Cup qualifier. A first-half strike from Viktor Faizulin and a late penalty from Roman Shirokov gave Russia the win but Capello said his team still needed to develop a better passing game. "The movement of the ball was not fast enough, too many touches," Capello said Friday. "Everyone got the ball and touched the ball two, three, four times. This is not good. You need to move the ball faster." Russia will improve during the World Cup qualifying cycle, Capello said. He also hoped that first-choice striker Alexander Kerzhakov would end his lengthy scoring drought for Russia in competitive matches including several missed chances at Euro 2012. Kerzhakov suggested his missed chances against Northern Ireland did not necessarily mean he had played poorly. "The main thing is that we win. Neither in the national team nor at a club can you divide players into those who score or don't score," he said. Kerzhakov has 19 goals and 65 caps for Russia. --IANS/RIA Novosti ss/rd
Rio de Janeiro, Sep 8 (IANS) Substitute Hulk struck a 74th-minute winner to earn Brazil 1-0 victory over South Africa in their international friendly in Sao Paulo. Hulk, who replaced striker Leandro Damiao in the 63rd-minute, arrowed a low left foot shoot past Itumeleng Khune to save the hosts from a shock result at the Morumbi Stadium Friday, reports Xinhua. The goal failed to satisfy local fans who booed the team throughout the second half as South Africa pressured Brazil's defence with several goal-scoring opportunities. "We understand the fans are entitled to be unhappy, but that sort of reaction makes us uncomfortable," Brazil coach Mano Menezes said after the match. "We are trying to construct something that is positive for everybody. In the end the players are the ones who suffer." Young attacking duo Neymar and Lucas had a day to forget for Brazil while Chelsea's Oscar and Ramires were rarely allowed space to foray forward. Brazil will face China in another international friendly at Recife's Arruda Stadium Monday.
Amsterdam, Sep 8 (IANS) World Cup runners-up the Netherlands opened their World Cup 2014 qualifying campaign with a 2-0 win over Turkey here. After the early disappointing Euro 2012 exit, Louis van Gaal took over as coach of the Dutch national football team from Bert van Marwijk, reports Xinhua. He started with a 4-2 loss in a friendly against Belgium in August and decided for some major changes in his squad for the first World Cup qualification matches against Turkey and Hungary. Against Turkey van Gaal had several surprises in his line-up. He began with Robin van Persie as central striker, although he expressed his confidence in Klaas-Jan Huntelaar before the previous game against Belgium. He also preferred goalkeeper Tim Krul of Newcastle United instead of regular first-choice Maarten Stekelenburg of AS Roma. The team contained two debutants, Daryl Janmaat and Jordy Clasie of Feyenoord. The new inexperienced line-up was not able to put the Turks under pressure. On the contrary, the visitors had the initiative. However, the Netherlands took the lead in the 17th minute with van Persie heading a Wesley Sneijder corner Friday. Turkey created some chances to equalise but failed to score. Omer Toprak's header hit the cross bar on the stroke of halftime. In the first quarter after the break Turkey had the initiative but after that the Netherlands took control. Luciano Narsingh secured the victory with a goal in injury time. Next Tuesday the Netherlands meet Hungary in Budapest. The Hungarians won their first match in Group D 5-0 against Andorra.
Moscow, Sep 8 (IANS/RIA Novosti) Russia beat Northern Ireland 2-0 in their World Cup qualifier here under coach Fabio Capello, in his first competitive game in-charge. Michael O'Neill's Northern Ireland team were the clear underdogs but their failure to create a single clear-cut chance in O'Neill's first competitive game may worry the new coach, giving little impression that the team could mount a surprise bid for a place in Brazil 2014. "We could have scored more goals. I'm very satisfied with what we demonstrated today," said Capello Friday. Capello said the cut-up pitch and Ireland's defensive tactics had caused Russia problems. "It was difficult because the pitch was not perfect," he said. "It was difficult to find space because there were so many players in front of the goal." His counterpart O'Neill said Northern Ireland had not played to their best. "We're disappointed to lose the game," O'Neill said. "We were disappointing in our possession at times. We had to work so hard off the ball." Russia took the lead in the first half-hour after a neat passing move, Alan Dzagoev feeding Alexander Kerzhakov in the box, who laid the ball off for midfielder Viktor Faizulin to score his first international goal with a left-footed shot into the top-left corner. Roman Shirokov scored the hosts' second from the penalty spot in the 78th minute with a shot into the bottom-right corner of the goal after Craig Cathcart barged into Alexander Kokorin in the box. "At 1-0, we were well in the game. The very soft penalty killed the game for us," O'Neill said. "My initial thought was that (the referee) had booked the striker for his theatrics," he said, adding that a "very poor" pitch could have caused Kokorin to trip. Northern Ireland's best hope came when Gareth McAuley headed a Chris Brunt corner wide as the Russia defence were slow to react. Soon after the break, Vasily Berezutsky headed wide at a Russia corner. Russia began to sit back and concentrate on keeping possession, while right-back Alexander Anyukov won himself a yellow card for time-wasting as early as the 64th minute. There was a minute's silence before the match in memory of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl ice hockey team killed in a plane crash a year before. --IANS/RIA Novosti ss/rd
New York, Sep 8 (IANS) Top-seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus overcame a lacklustre opening set to beat third-seeded former champion Maria Sharapova of Russia 3-6, 6-2, 6-4, setting up a showdown against three-time champion Serena Williams at the US Open women's final. Fourth seeded Williams gave another quick fire to her opponent Sara Errani in 64 minutes, downing the No. 10 seed Italian 6-1, 6-2 Friday, reports Xinhua. Williams, a 14-time grand slam singles winner, holds a record of 9-1 against Azarenka including three victories this year from Madrid Masters final, Olympic and Wimbledon semifinals. Azarenka's only triumph over the American came from the 2009 Miami Masters. Last year it was Williams who snapped the Belarussian's US Open journey in round of 32. The semifinal clash between Azarenka and Sharapova was a rematch of their meeting in this year's Australian Open final, but it was nothing like the 6-3, 6-0 rout registered by Azarenka in claiming the crown in Melbourne for her maiden grand slam title. After dropping her racket in euphoric disbelief, Azarenka did her signature shuffle dance and blew kisses to the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd after shaking hands at the net here at the Flushing Meadows. The Russian held Azarenka off valiantly before succumbing in the last game. "Maria came out firing and placed the ball well," said Azarenka, who became the first player from Belarus to reach a US Open singles final. "I was just trying to find my rhythm and just fight. I tried to give whatever it takes. Give it all. That worked for me to pull it out." Sharapova dominated the opening set, cracking winners off both wings from the opening game, while a surprisingly tight Azarenka registered just one winner. Azarenka double-faulted on break point in her first service game to fall behind 2-0 and did so again in the sixth game to sink into a 5-1 hole. Then Sharapova lost control of her serve. Serving for the set in the seventh game, the 2006 US Open winner double faulted twice in a row to hand Azarenka a service break. The second set swung the other way with Azarenka belting the ball more freely and controlling play after dropping serve in the first game. Service breaks in the second and fourth games helped the World No. 1 seize a 4-1 lead on her way to levelling the match. The Russian, who completed her grand slam by winning the French Open in June, could not withstand the groundstroke pressure applied by Azarenka, who will be seeking her second career grand slam singles crown Saturday.
Moscow, Sep 8 (IANS/RIA Novosti) Arsenal's Andrei Arshavin will stay out of the Russia team he used to captain unless he starts playing regular club football, Russia coach Fabio Capello said. Arshavin was dropped from the team for Russia's 2-0 win over Northern Ireland Friday and was jeered when he came on from the bench in his last international appearance, a 1-1 friendly draw against Ivory Coast last month. "You need to play games," Capello said when asked whether Arshavin had an international future. Arshavin has been out of the Arsenal first team for almost a year and a proposed transfer move to his old club Zenit St. Petersburg is yet to materialise. Arshavin has scored 17 times in 74 games for Russia and last captained the team at Euro 2012 in June. Israel are Russia's next opponents, hosting Capello's team Tuesday. --IANS/RIA Novosti ss/rd
Dubai, Sep 8 (IANS) Australia lost the second T20 cricket match against Pakistan by six wickets after the game went down to the wire. The match finished with a dramatic super over to decide the final result, handing the hosts the T20 title in the process with a 2-0 lead in the three game series here Friday. Batting first, Pakistan made 151/4 before Australia matched the total for the loss of eight wickets, leaving it to super over to decide the result. Australia made 11/1 in their single over before Pakistan chased down the target off the final delivery. Captain George Bailey top-scored with 42, Shane Watson hit 33 and David Warner made 31. Pat Cummins, Mitch Starc, Shane Watson and Dan Christian all took one wicket each for Australia. Brief scores: Pakistan 151/4 (Hafeez 45, Jamshed 45) beat Australia 151/8 (Bailey 42; Ajmal 2-20) through super over.
St. Petersburg, Sep 8 (IANS/RIA Novosti) Russia's two World Cup qualifiers against Portugal will decide the winner of Group F, former Russian goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev said. But the 33-year-old Zenit St. Petersburg stopper, who quit international football last month to spend more time with his family, said the real tests will come in October and next June. "I think there will be two decisive matches - the home game in October in Moscow and the away game in June in Portugal. It's clear these will decide the outcome," said Malafeev. The task is not beyond Russia, he said. "If everything is given, and the tactics are right, then it's possible to outplay any team." Russia's other opponents in Group F are Azerbaijan and Luxembourg. Malafeev has 29 caps for Russia and was the country's first-choice goalkeeper at Euro 2012. He was left to raise his two children on his own after his wife Marina died in a car crash in March last year. --IANS/RIA Novosti ss/rd