Big guns fire and take command in qualifying


Soccer Football - World Cup Qualifiers Europe - Group D - Kazakhstan v France - Astana Arena, Nur-Sulta, Kazakhstan - March 28, 2021 France's Lucas Digne and Clement Lenglet after the match REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

(Reuters) - France, England, Germany and Italy all head their groups after victories in World Cup qualifying on Sunday while Spain left it late to win in Georgia and Denmark smashed eight past Moldova.

World champions France got their first win of the campaign by beating Kazakhstan 2-0 in Nur-Sultan after a stuttering start to qualifying with Wednesday's 1-1 draw at home to Ukraine.

Forward Ousmane Dembele broke the deadlock in the 20th minute with a right-foot shot after being set up by Anthony Martial following a defence-splitting pass from Paul Pogba.

Les Bleus doubled the lead on the stroke of halftime when Sergiy Maliy headed a cross into his own net.

France were in comfortable control of the game and should have added a third in the 76th minute, but Kylian Mbappe's penalty was saved by Aleksandr Mokin.

France moved top of the Group D standings with four points, two ahead of Finland and Ukraine who drew 1-1 in Kiev.

It was a more nervous affair for Spain who needed a stoppage time goal from halftime substitute Dani Olmo to grab a 2-1 win away to Georgia in Group B.

After being held 1-1 at home by Greece in their opener on Thursday, the Spanish fell behind two minutes before the interval.

Georgia thrilled the 15,000 fans in the Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena when 20-year-old winger Khvicha Kvaratskhelia fired them ahead after his side had coasted past a passive defence.

But Ferran Torres levelled in the 56th and Luis Enrique's side pressed for a winner and finally found one when Olmo let fly from long range and although goalkeeper Giorgi Loria got a hand to the shot it dropped just under the bar into the net.

Georgia's frustration increaed when Levan Shengelia was sent off in the final seconds.

Spain have four points, two behind leaders Sweden who maintained their 100% start with a 3-0 win in Kosovo.

KANE HEADER

Harry Kane scored his first England goal since 2019 to lead his side to a comfortable 2-0 win against Albania in Group I.

The home side initially made things difficult for England but once skipper Kane headed home in the 38th minute, a fine angled header from a Luke Shaw cross, it was a relatively uncomplicated outing for Gareth Southgate's team.

Kane also hit the woodwork, as did Phil Foden, before midfielder Mason Mount doubled England's lead just past the hour mark with a deft finish from Kane's pass.

England are top with six points from two games before their clash with likely rivals Poland at Wembley on Wednesday.

The Poles are on four points after beating Andorra 3-0 with Robert Lewandowski on target again, with two goals in Warsaw. Hungary are also on four points after winning 3-0 in San Marino.

Germany maintained their perfect start after an early Serge Gnabry goal gave them a 1-0 win over Romania in Group J but they will be disappointed not to have taken more of their chances.

Gnabry scored a 17th-minute winner as he swept the ball home from seven metres after Kai Havertz beat the offside trap on the right flank and squared an inch-perfect pass to the forward.

Joshua Kimmich rattled the crossbar with a thunderbolt from 30 metres two minutes later and Romania goalkeeper Florin Nita then took centre stage as he made a flurry of saves to deny the 2014 World Cup winners a bigger win in Bucharest.

Romania created very little at the other end but midfielder Nicolae Stanciu missed a gilt-edged chance to snatch a draw when he hit the side-netting from close range in the 90th minute.

Armenia are level on six points with Germany after an impressive 2-0 win over Iceland secured with goals from Tigran Barseghyan and Khoren Bayramyan.

Italy top Group C with maximum points after Andrea Belotti and Manuel Locatelli secured a 2-0 win over Bulgaria in Sofia.

The Azzurri are ahead of Switzerland on goal difference after Xherdan Shaqiri's second minute strike was enough for a 1-0 win over Lithuania in St Gallen.

Denmark lead Group F with six points from their opening two games and a handsome plus 10 goal difference after crushing Moldova 8-0, their record win in major tournament qualifying.

Five goals in a 21 minute spell in the first-half did the damage, as the Danes ran away with the game -- Sampdoria's Mikkel Damsgaard and Kasper Dolberg both scoring twice.

Denmark wore t-shirts with "Football Supports Change" on the front for their team photograph to raise awareness of human rights issues in Qatar, who host the 2022 World Cup.

Austria are on four points after recovering from a goal down to claim a 3-1 victory over the Faroe Islands. Scotland are third after a second straight draw, 1-1 in Israel, with Ryan Fraser cancelling out Dor Peretz's first-half opener.

(Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Pritha Sarkar and Ken Ferris)

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