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Spain, Portugal and Italy grab important World Cup qualifier wins

Spain and Italy have taken important steps towards qualifying for next summer's World Cup in Brazil. England, Portugal and Belgium also grabbed important wins, while France and the Netherlands were held to draws.

Cristiano Ronaldo (R) vies for the ball with Northern Ireland's Steven Davis during the 2014 World Cup European zone group F qualifying football match between Northern Ireland and Portugal at Windsor Park in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on September 6, 2013. AFP PHOTO/ PETER MUHLY (Photo credit should read PETER MUHLY/AFP/Getty Images)

Fußball WM-Qualifikation Nordirland Portugal

Spain earned a 2-0 win in Finland Friday, with goals from Jordi Alba and Alvaro Negredo. The defending World and European champions are now three points ahead of France, who drew 0-0 with Georgia, and leading Group I with 14 points.

Alberto Gilardino's header proved the winner for Italy in their away match versus Bulgaria. The Italians are now seven points clear in Group B with three matches to play.

England beat Moldova 4-0 at home, with a Danny Welbeck brace following early goals from Steven Gerard and Rickie Lambert. The win puts them atop Group H with 15 points, ahead of Montenegro – who drew 1-1 with Poland – on goal difference with a game in hand. Ukraine kept their qualification hopes alive with a 9-0 victory against San Marino, giving them 14 points.

Cristiano Ronaldo's hat trick helped Portugal to a 4-2 away win over Northern Ireland and atop Group F. Russia, who trail them by just two points, made easy work of Luxembourg in a 4-1 victory.

A stoppage time penalty from Robin Van Persie salvaged a 2-2 draw for the Netherlands in Estonia, keeping them undefeated in World Cup qualification. The Dutch are first in Group D with 19 points. Romania, who defeated Hungary 3-0, are six points behind in second place.

Belgium are on track for World Cup qualification after their 2-0 win over Scotland gave them a five point cushion atop Group A with two matches to play. Croatia, in second place, were held to a 1-1 draw away to Serbia, while Macedonia were 2-1 winners at home to Wales.

Switzerland managed only a point at home in a thrilling 4-4 draw with Iceland. Despite the result they still lead group E with 15 points, four ahead of Norway, who beat Cyprus 2-0.

Greece took advantage of Bosnia-Herzegovina's 1-0 home loss to Slovakia with a 1-0 away victory of their own against Liechtenstein. The two sides are tied atop Group G with 16 points each. Slovakia are just four points behind them.

Friday's full UEFA World Cup qualifying results:

Macedonia 2-1 Wales

Serbia 1-1 Croatia

Scotland 0-2 Belgium

Czech Republic 1-2 Armenia

Malta 1-2 Denmark

Italy 1-0 Bulgaria

Kazakhstan 2-1 Faroe Islands

Germany 3-0 Austria

Ireland 1-2 Sweden

Romania 3-0 Hungary

Turkey 5-0 Andorra

Estonia 2-2 Netherlands

Norway 2-0 Cyprus

Slovenia 1-0 Albania

Switzerland 4-4 Iceland

Russia 4-1 Luxembourg

Northern Ireland 2-4 Portugal

Latvia 2-1 Lithuania

Bosnia-Herzegovina 0-1 Slovakia

Liechtenstein 0-1 Greece

England 4-0 Moldova

Ukraine 9-0 San Marino

Poland 1-1 Montenegro

Georgia 0-0 France

Finland 0-2 Spain

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