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Holland, Ukraine inch closer to finals

London: A dramatic day of action in Europe ended with Ukraine, Holland and Croatia all eyeing a place in next yearís World Cup finals in Germany but Ireland were left frustrated by an astonishing fightback by Israel.

The Czech Republic, Switzerland, Sweden and Poland also boosted their chances on a day of 22 qualifiers, ahead of another 13 European games scheduled for Wednesday.

But it was a bleak day for Brazilís 1970 World Cup winning captain Carlos Alberto, now the coach of Azerbaijan. He was ordered off from the dugout after a furious exchange with the fourth official during his sideís 0-3 home defeat to Poland in Baku.

That result lifted Poland two points clear of England at the top of group VI, but they have played one more match.

It was a good day for Ukraine who ended the night with the biggest lead in any of the eight European groups ' going five points clear at the top of group II after a 2-0 win over Kazakhstan while their nearest rivals Turkey and Greece drew 0-0 in Istanbul.

Holland also took a significant step forward with a 2-0 win over Romania in Rotterdam which kept them on top of group I. Arjen Robben and Dirk Kuijt scored for the Dutch, but Adrian Mutu, back in the Romania side after the end of his seventh-month ban for cocaine use, had a poor match and never looked like scoring.

The Dutch stayed one point clear of the Czech Republic who crushed Andorra 8-1. In Sofia, Croatia effectively killed off Bulgariaís hopes of a place in Germany next year with a 3-1 win in the Bulgarian capital to consolidate their place at the top of group VIII.

Ireland raced into a 2-0 lead over Israel in Dublin with goals from Ian Harte and Robbie Keane in the first 12 minutes. But Israel staged an astonishing fightback with goals from Avi Yechiel and a twice-taken penalty by Avi Nimni to force a 2-2 draw, despite almost constant Irish pressure in the second half.

Not all those with aspirations of qualifying for the finals had matters all their own way. Group V leaders Italy dropped two points in a 0-0 draw in Oslo, but still lead their section by four points from Norway and Slovenia, who drew 1-1 away to Belarus.

Spain joined Serbia & Montenegro on 12 points at the top of group VII when they beat Lithuania 1-0 in Valencia.

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