PARIS (AFP) - Giorgio Chiellini stole the show in Italy’s win over Azerbaijan while the Netherlands escaped acute embarrassment and Belgium went on a goal blitz in Euro 2016 qualifying on Friday.
New Holland manager Guus Hiddink was heading for a second successive defeat after lowly Kazakhstan, ranked 127th in the world, took an early first half lead in Amsterdam. But Klaas Jan Huntelaar cancelled out Russian-born defender Rinat Abdulin’s shock 17th minute opener with Ibrahim Afellay and Robin van Persie from the penalty spot ensuring potential disaster was averted.
The Dutch are placed third in Group A, three points behind the Czech Republic, who followed up their opening win against the World Cup third-placed side with a 2-1 defeat of Turkey, and Iceland, 3-0 winners in Latvia.
In Palermo, Chiellini scored all the goals in Italy’s 2-1 win over Azerbaijan to push the Azzurri on top of Group H on goal difference from Croatia, who saw off Bulgaria 1-0. Chiellini broke the deadlock one minute from the interval, only to negate that effort with an own goal in the 77th minute.
His journey from hero back to villain back to hero was completed five minutes later when securing the winner at the end of a game where he had virtually matched his goal tally of the past seven years.
The Juventus defender became the first player to score a goal and an own goal in a Euro qualifier since Fernando Hierro for Spain in 1999.
And in an intriguing twist the man who caused World Cup shame when taking a bite out of Chiellini in Brazil, Barcelona star Luis Suarez, was returning for the first time since that dental attack for Uruguay in a friendly in Saudi Arabia.
“It would have been a great pity if we hadn’t won tonight,” Chiellini told Rai.
“We all showed what we’re capable of and I think the public appreciated our performance. This is a win that will serve us well for the future.”
Italy coach Antonio Conte added: “The lads put in a good performance but we have to be more clinical. There was little else they could have improved on.”
Norway are lying third in Group H after a 3-0 win in Malta with the goals coming from two players from the English Championship - Cardiff teenager Mats Moller Daehli and Blackburn Rovers forward Joshua King, who got a double.
Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale was unable to work his magic for Wales as Chris Coleman’s side were held to a goalless draw by Bosnia-Hercegovina in Cardiff.
The performance pleased me more than the point,” Coleman told Sky Sports.
“The crowd were incredible, the atmosphere reminded me of when I was a player and we took on teams at Cardiff Arms Park,” added Coleman, looking to guide Wales to their first major finals since the 1958 World Cup.
After an opening win over Andorra Wales were left top of Group B, ahead of favourites Belgium, who got their Euro 2016 campaign up and running with a 6-0 rout of minnows Andorra.
Israel beat Cyprus 2-1 in Group B’s other game in Nicosia. The road to the Euro 2016 finals continues on Saturday with World Cup winners Germany in Poland and Scotland hosting Georgia.