Friday, March 22, 2013

Albania 1 - Norway 0; Iceland 2 - Slovenia 1

Ljubljana was the site of the home match for struggling Slovenia as they looked to revive their flagging campaign against unfancied Iceland.  With less than a dozen minutes left in the half, Slovenia appeared to have revived their chances.  A weak headed clearance by an Iceland centerback bounced right to Milivoje Novakovic, who half-volleyed into the side netting after a quick reaction to give the home side a 1-0 lead.  Iceland from then on gained the upper hand, but the score remained 1-0 going into the break.

In the second period, Iceland did not let off the gas.  They were rewarded ten minutes in when Gylfi Sigurdsson curled a thirty-yard free kick into the right upper ninety from straight on, leaving the sparse crowd stunned.  Kolbeinn Sigthorsson found himself through on a long through ball, but after a nice first touch he shot weakly into the goalkeeper's legs, allowing Slovenia the let off.  With twenty minutes to go, a well-designed Slovenia free kick allowed Novakovic to shot low and to the side of the wall, but his shot to the bottom right was pushed to safety by a diving Hannes Halldorsson.  Dejan Lazarevic came off the bench for Slovenia and made an impact with two hard driven shots, the second of which required Halldorsson to one-hand punch away on a horizontal dive to maintain parity.  With a dozen minutes left, Iceland had found the lead.  A pass into Sigurdsson led to the Tottenham midfielder dancing Slovenia captain Bostjan Cesar off the ball before slotting away to the near post.  Iceland would hold on to win 2-1 and move into second place in Group E.

Oslo is in Norway but the stands were filled by Albania supporters as the two sides met with second-place on the line.  The first half did not provide many chances, but Norway came closest with about ten minutes left.  A three-versus-three break saw a nice back-to-the-goal pass by Norway's Markus Henriksen to Tarik El Younoussi, whose shot on goal was deflected inches wide of the post by Armend Dallku.  Dallku's block kept the score level on 0-0, which would be the score heading into the intermission.

An incredibly well-designed dead ball play from Albania provided the opener.  A ball on the outside right edge of the Norwegian penalty area was made for a curled in ball, so Albania instead slotted a pass across the top of the box from where an instep shot from Hamdi Salihi left the entire Norway team flat-footed as it sailed into the top corner.  Norway desperately tried to level the score to no avail.  Andi Lila picked up two yellow cards in the final six minutes, leaving Albania with ten men with stoppage time still to be played, but Norway were unable to capitalize.  Albania win 1-0 and go joint-second in the group.

Switzerland 10 pts +6
Iceland 9 pts +1
Albania 9 pts +1
Norway 7 pts 0
Cyprus 3 pts -4
Slovenia 3 pts -4

Gylfi Sigurdsson 55, 78

Milivoje Novakovic 34

Hamdi Salihi 67

Match Reports:

Highlights: (Iceland v. Slovenia) (Albania v. Norway)

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