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French blues deepen

FRENCH sporting pride took another hammer blow on Wednesday when Scotland shocked them 1-0 in Paris to put France’s hopes of qualifying for Euro 2008 in the balance.

Argentina stunned hosts France in the opening match of t

he Rugby World Cup last Friday and Scotland darkened the Parisian mood further when James McFadden’s second-half winner had the Tartan Army celebrating a famous Group B victory.

Scotland, who also won 1-0 in Glasgow, now top the group from Italy who showed their mettle to beat Ukraine 2-1 in Kiev. France are sweating in third.

“It’s the best result in modern times for Scotland,” manager Alex McLeish told Sky Sports. “Nobody gave us a prayer.”

Elsewhere across the continent on a busy night of qualifiers European champions Greece squandered a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with Norway in Group C while a resurgent England were firmly back on course in Group E after crushing Russia 3-0 at Wembley.

Germany were not in qualification action but they now have one foot already in the finals thanks to the Czech Republic’s 1-0 defeat of Ireland. Group D leaders Germany are now eight points above third-placed Ireland who have played a game more.

The Netherlands needed a stoppage time winner from Ruud van Nistelrooy in Albania to go joint top of Group G with Romania. In a clash between the sides jousting for top spot in Group A Poland earned a 0-0 draw in Finland to stay top.

Without suspended striker Thierry Henry, World Cup finalists France struggled to break down a disciplined Scotland side and they were hit with a sucker punch after 64 minutes when McFadden let fly from 25 metres and the ball swerved past the flailing arms of keeper Mickael Landreau. It was a cruel reminder of the last occasion that France played a qualifying tie at the Parc des Princes. In 1993 they lost 2-1 to Bulgaria and ended up missing out on the 1994 World Cup.

Scotland now have a golden chance to qualify for their first finals since the 1998 World Cup. They lead the group with 21 points from nine games, Italy have 20 and France 19.

Udinese midfielder Antonio Di Natale scored twice for world champions Italy with Andriy Shevchenko on target for Euro 2012 co-hosts Ukraine whose hopes have all but disappeared.

England’s Michael Owen took his international tally to 40 with two goals in the first half to help his side leapfrog over Russia into second place. Rio Ferdinand completed a satisfying night for coach Steve McClaren with a late third.

“In these last two games we’ve blown teams away in the first half hour,” said Owen, who was also on target in the 3-0 victory over Israel on Saturday.

Croatia still top the group with 23 points to England’s 20 after a 6-0 rout of Andorra. Russia, who had only conceded one goal before Wednesday, have 18.

Striker Sotirios Kyrgiakos scored twice for Greece but they were pegged back with John Carew and John Arne Riise gaining a 2-2 draw for Norway. Greece stay above Norway at the top of Group C but Turkey are closing in after a 3-0 defeat of Hungary.

Bosnia and Northern Ireland are both counting the cost of defeats. Bosnia lost 1-0 at home to Moldova, a result that leaves them four points behind Turkey and Norway.

Northern Ireland’s chances of qualification are also evaporating fast after their second successive loss in Group F. A Keith Gillespie own goal in the dying minutes condemned them to a 2-1 defeat in Iceland. — Reuters.

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