| nothing friendly about this: Gerald Asamoah of Germany challenges Dutch defender Jaap Stam during their friendly tie in Gelsenkirchen Wednesday. The Netherlands won 3-1. (Reuters)
London: The Netherlands handed Germany a rare home defeat when a performance full of counter-attacking flair earned them a 3-1 victory in Gelsenkirchen on Wednesday. The game was the pick of 18 friendlies on the continent, though the six teams involved in Euro 2004 qualifiers will feel their matches were the day’s more important business.
In those three qualifiers Wales made it three wins out of three in Group Nine with a 2-0 success in Azerbaijan, San Marino were denied a first-ever European qualifying point as a last-minute own goal gave Latvia a 1-0 away win in Group Four and Cyprus beat Malta 2-1 in the battle between Group One’s two winless teams.
In other friendlies, reigning European champions France easily beat Yugoslavia 3-0, Italy were held to a 1-1 home draw by World Cup semi-finalists Turkey and, at the other end of the soccer spectrum, Luxembourg drew 0-0 at home with the Cape Verde Islands.
Elsewhere, Denmark beat Poland 2-0, Croatia won 1-0 in Romania, Norway beat Austria by the same score in Vienna and the Czech Republic fought out a 3-3 draw with Sweden in Prague.
The match of the night came at the home of Schalke 04 where World Cup finalists Germany controlled possession for long periods but were found out by the speed and finishing of the Dutch.
Striker Patrick Kluivert put the visitors ahead after 22 minutes but Fredi Bobic celebrated his international return after an absence of nearly five years with a diving header for the equaliser.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink restored the Dutch lead in the 69th minute and Ruud van Nistelrooy got the third 10 minutes later after another quick break.
“It was a world-class game,” said Van Nistelrooy.
The match was useful for both sides, who lead their respective Euro 2004 qualifying groups with two wins each.
Doing even better are Wales, who sit proudly top of Group Nine with a maximum nine points after their convincing 2-0 win in Azerbaijan. Wales, missing several first-choice players through injury, won it with headers from Gary Speed and John Hartson.
They top the group after earlier beating Finland and Italy. Wednesday’s win stretched their unbeaten run to eight games — matching their previous record — and boosted their chances of qualifying for their first major tournament since the 1958 World Cup. San Marino looked set to earn their first-ever European qualifying point after losing all 28 of their previous games until Carlo Valentini scored a heartbreaking own goal in the last minute to hand Latvia a 1-0 win.
Latvia lead Group Four with seven points, three ahead of Hungary, who drew 1-1 with Moldova in a friendly.
Two goals from Eric Carriere and one from Olivier Kapo rewarded France for their dominance over Yugoslavia.
Olympique Lyon striker Carriere scored after 11 and 50 minutes, Kapo rounding off a good night for the hosts 20 minutes from time. Yugoslavia did show some bright touches early on and only good goalkeeping by Fabien Barthez prevented Mateja Kezman putting them on the scoresheet.
The latest victory means that France are unbeaten in five games under Jacques Santini, who replaced Roger Lemerre after the team’s first round World Cup exit.
Turkey dominated the early stages against Italy in Pescara and deservedly went ahead through Belozoglu Emre’s long-range goal after 28 minutes.
Emre’s Inter Milan teammate Christian Vieri slid in an equaliser 10 minutes later and though Filippo Inzaghi missed a great late chance to win it, it was another uninspiring night for the Italians and their embattled coach Giovanni Trapattoni.
Poland found themselves outclassed by resurgent Denmark in Copenhagen.
AC Milan striker Jon Dahl Tomasson scored the first goal after jigging through the cumbersome Polish defence in the 22nd minute and also had a hand in the second scored by Thomas Roell Larsen in the 72nd.
In late matches, Spain beat Bulgaria 1-0 in Granada where Jose Mari scored the only goal of the game after 10 minutes.
Portugal beat Scotland 2-0 on a waterlogged pitch which made a mockery of the occasion. Pauleta scored twice in the first half during which Portugal contrived to miss a penalty on a bog of a pitch in Braga.
Further afield, Tunisia and Egypt drew 0-0 in Tunis where former French boss Roger Lemerre took control of Tunisia for the first time. The match was held up for 30 minutes when a floodlight pylon caught fire resulting in a power outtage at the ground.