Italy makes sluggish start to WCup qualifying

Associated Press Modified: September 8, 2012 at 12:48 am •  Published: September 8, 2012

Italy was held to a 2-2 tie at Bulgaria, and England, Germany, France and the Netherlands got off to winning starts Friday night in their first matches in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.

Argentina defeated visiting Paraguay 3-1 in South American qualifying as Lionel Messi scored on a spectacular free kick following goals by Angel Di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain, while Colombia routed Uruguay 4-0 and Ecuador beat Bolivia 1-0.

Jamaica rallied to beat the United States 2-1 in Kingston as Rodolph Austin and Luton Shelton scored on free kicks. With their first win in 19 games against the Americans, the Reggae Boyz overcame Clint Dempsey's goal 35 seconds in — the fastest U.S. goal in a qualifier.

"Jamaica deserved that win. They were hungrier and they were more determined," U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. "We have to fix it now."

Canada beat visiting Panama 1-0, with Dwayne De Rosario scoring off Atiba Hutchinson's quick free kick in the 77th minute — his Canadien record 20th international goal. Mexico won 2-0 at Costa Rica in a late game in the North and Central America and the Caribbean region, getting goals from Carlos Salcido in the 43rd minute and Jesus Zavala in the 51st.

Defending champion Spain and World Cup host Brazil won exhibitions, but the Selecao was jeered at home for its lackluster 1-0 win over South Africa.

Showing little of the form that took the team to the European Championship final in the summer, Italy was denied victory when Georgi Milanov equalized for 89th-ranked Bulgaria in the 66th minute at Sofia.

Stanislav Manolev beat goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon with a 30-yard shot to put the hosts ahead in the 30th minute, but Pablo Osvaldo gave the Azzurri a 2-1 lead with his first two international goals, in the 37th and 40th minutes.

"A point is OK," Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said. "We always have problems at the beginning of the season. It's a shame we didn't manage to score a third goal, when we were winning 2-1.

That was the only big surprise of the opening group of qualifiers, although Portugal was hardly impressive in rallying to a 2-1 win over Luxembourg as Cristiano Ronaldo scored the equalizer for the visitors and celebrated, give days after refusing to celebrate goals for Real Madrid because he said he was "feeling sad."

Daniel Da Mota put the hosts ahead with a 30-yard drive in the 14th minute, Ronaldo tied it in the 27th with his 37th international goal and Helder Postiga scored the go-ahead goal in the 54th.

England won 5-0 over Moldova for its biggest road victory margin in 19 years. Frank Lampard converted a third-minute penalty kick after Tom Cleverley's shot struck Simion Bulgaru's arm, then doubled the lead with a header in the 29th.

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