: Defending title-holder Spain and a cluster of former champions coasted to comfortable 2014 World Cup qualifying wins across Europe.

Spain overtook France at the top of Group I on goal difference on the back of its 4-0 rout of Belarus in Minsk, while in Dublin, Germany inflicted a record 6-1 home defeat on an injury-ravaged Republic of Ireland on Friday.

England entertained at Wembley with a 5-0 demolition of San Marino, Italy saw off spirited Armenia and 2018 World Cup host Russia added zest to its hopes of making it to Brazil with a 1-0 win over a Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal in Moscow.

World and European champion Spain warmed up for its showdown with France on Tuesday in style as Pedro Rodriguez fired a hat-trick in its emphatic victory.

“The players were relaxed from the beginning and played well together, with depth and recovered the ball well. The talent of the players did the rest. Amongst them, Pedro stood out,” said Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque.

Ruthless Germany maintained its grip on Group C, giving Ireland a night to forget at Lansdowne Road.

Ireland was playing under the title ‘Irish Free State’ when Spain won 5-0 in Dublin 71 years ago, but Germany gave Giovanni Trapattoni’s men a lesson that will earn its own unfortunate place in the history books.

Despite missing a host of regulars Irish fans will be questioning the continued stewardship of Trapattoni, who insisted he could rebuild his side after the disappointment of its Euro 2012 misadventure where it lost all three games.

The damage was done in Dublin by doubles from Marco Reus and Toni Kroos, with Mezut Ozil and Miroslav Klose adding to Ireland’s misery.

Perfect nine

Germany moves on to a perfect nine points with Sweden three points back after nervy 2-1 come-from-behind win in the Faroe Islands. The Swedes had to dig deep to prevent a major upset in Torshavn against a team ranked a massive 131 rungs below them in FIFA’s world rankings.

Italy took outright possession of Group B after their win in Armenia with Bulgaria held to a 1-1 draw by Denmark.

Fabio Capello’s Russia earned its first ever win over Portugal in the post-Soviet era courtesy of Alexander Kerzhakov’s first half goal in Moscow.

Russia, which agonisingly missed out on the 2010 finals on away goals to Slovenia in the play-offs, took sole possession at the top of Group F, with Portugal now placed second, three points behind.

Brace by Messi

At Montevideo, Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi scored twice as Argentina defeated Uruguay 3-0 to remain comfortably on course for the finals in Brazil. The victory kept the 1978 and 1986 world champion on top of the nine-nation South American group while continental champion Uruguay remains in the final automatic qualifying place. — Agencies

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