Upsets abound in friendly matchesLONDON - Tetchy Brazil were upset, 1-0, in Switzerland while Argentina beat Italy, 2-1, even without Lionel Messi on a mostly successful night for South American teams in friendlies ahead of next month’s World Cup qualifiers.
Paraguay, bottom of their qualifying group and with almost no hope of reaching its fifth straight World Cup finals, managed a shock 3-3 draw away to an unusually sloppy Germany side on coach Victor Genes’s debut.
A largely experimental Spain team earned a 2-0 away win over Ecuador to keep the European flag flying in the steamy Pacific port city of Guayaquil with goals from Alvaro Negredo and Santi Cazorla for the world champions.
England, by no means sure of a direct berth into the World Cup finals, fought back twice for a 3-2 win over Scotland at Wembley in an enthralling first clash between the bitter rivals since 1999.
In the night’s only World Cup qualifier, Russia blew a chance to overtake Portugal at the top of European Group F when they were upset, 1-0, by Northern Ireland in Belfast, with Martin Paterson scoring the only goal two minutes before halftime.
The 2014 World Cup hosts Brazil, fresh from their Confederations Cup triumph, were disappointing in Berne where they failed to recover from a Dani Alves own goal just after the interval. Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari argued that his team was less prepared than the Swiss for an international date at the end of the mid-year off-season.
Argentina, missing captain Messi due to muscle fatigue, won their first meeting with Italy in 12 years with striker Gonzalo Higuain, a fine successor to Gabriel Batistuta, opening their account with his 21st goal in 34 internationals.
Substitute midfielder Ever Banega added the second before Lorenzo Insigne pulled one back in the match in Rome in honor of Argentine-born Pope Francis and preceded on Monday by the visit of both teams to the Vatican.
Germany was 15 minutes away from a shock defeat, having ended the first half down, 3-2, to Paraguay, but substitute Lars Bender came to their rescue with a 75th-minute equalizer.
A leveler from Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi’s regular rival for FIFA’s World Player of the Year award, salvaged a 1-1 draw for Portugal at home to the Netherlands in the Algarve while Belgium and France were deadlocked in a 0-0 draw in Brussels.
Another of the world’s leading strikers, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, got a hat trick as Sweden beat Norway, 4-2, in Stockholm.