Netherlands, Italy need last-minute equalizers in Euro 2016 qualifying
The Netherlands and Italy needed late equalizers to rescue draws in European Championship qualifying on Saturday. And a pair of goals plus an assist by Gareth Bale put Wales atop its group.
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scored in injury time as the Netherlands drew with Turkey 1-1 in Amsterdam, and Eder scored the key goal on debut for Italy, which drew 2-2 with Bulgaria.
Still, Italy dropped two points behind Croatia in Group H after Croatia routed Norway 5-1.
Bale led Wales to a 3-0 win over Israel
The top two finishers from each of the nine groups qualify automatically. The best third-place team also qualifies, and eight more teams can advance through playoffs.
Here is a look at the three groups in action on Saturday:
Huntelaar deflected a Wesley Sneijder shot two minutes into second-half injury time to salvage a 1-1 draw for the Netherlands against Turkey in Amsterdam.
Burak Yilmaz's first-half strike, also deflected, long looked like sealing a win for Turkey.
The draw kept the Netherlands in third place in the group. Coach Guus Hiddink was relieved with the result. "If you lose this match, you totally lose your grip on qualification," he said.
Group leader the Czech Republic also left it late to steal a point with Vaclav Pilar's equalizer in the last minute of regulation time earning a 1-1 home draw against Latvia. The draw marked the first dropped points by the Czechs in qualifying.
Latvia led on the half hour thanks to a swift counterattack goal by Aleksejs Visnakovs.
Iceland continued its strong form in qualifying by beating Kazakhstan 3-0 in Astana. Veteran Eidur Gudjohnsen celebrated his return from international retirement by opening the scoring with his first goal since 2009, and Birkir Bjarnason scored in each half to complete the win.
Bjarnason's first came when he rose unmarked to head home a Gylfi Sigurdsson free kick, and the second was a deflected shot in second-half injury time.
Even a hat trick was not enough for Edin Dzeko to be the dominant player of Group B. Dzeko scored all three goals for Bosnia in its romp over Andorra, but all eyes were on Bale and his extraordinary performance.
"He never lets us down and it was a great performance," coach Chris Coleman said of Bale, as Wales remains on course to qualify for its first big championship since the 1958 World Cup.
Bale's performance gave Wales 11 points, two more than Israel, which lost its perfect winning record.
In Brussels, Belgium's slew of quality players made sure to remain in contention for Euro 2016 with a convincing 5-0 win over Cyprus. Marouane Fellaini scored twice to keep Belgium close in the standings with 8 points. "We have Marouane back at his best," captain Vincent Kompany said.
Belgium travels to Israel on Tuesday.
"We could not do any better, we go to Israel with a clear head, and the next game wil be just as important," Kompany said.
Eder rescued a 2-2 draw for Italy to extend the Azzurri's unbeaten streak in qualifying to 25 matches.
Italy took the lead with an own goal from Yordan Minev, but Bulgaria struck back with scores by Ivelin Popov and Ilian Micanski in the opening 17 minutes.
In the 84th, Brazilian-born Eder controlled well just beyond the area, spun around his marker, and curled a shot into the far corner.
It was a perfect response to controversy over foreign-born players this week, with Inter Milan manager Roberto Mancini saying "The Italian national team should be Italian."
"I respect everyone's opinion but I think all this controversy is useless," said Eder, who has nine goals for Sampdoria this season. "I just hope I can secure some more playing time with this shirt."
In Zagreb, Croatia convincingly beat Norway 5-1 with goals from Marcelo Brozovic, Ivan Perisic, Ivica Olic, Gordon Schildenfeld and Danijel Pranjiic.
Norway's Alexander Tettey cut Croatia's lead to 3-1 in the 81st and Tarik Elyounoussi failed to convert a penalty for Norway in the 69th.
Croatia played the last 20 minutes without red-carded Vedran Corluka.
Also, Azerbaijan beat visiting Malta 2-0 with early and late goals from Cavid Huseynov and substitute Dmitri Nazarov.
Croatia tops the group with 13 points. Italy has 11, Norway nine, Bulgaria five, Azerbaijan three and Malta one.