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UEFA World Cup qualifying wrap: Montenegro rise, Northern Ireland slip
15 Nov, 2012 4:19 AM GMT
Montenegro climbed to the top of Group H after defeating minnows San Marino 3-0 in World Cup qualifying action on Wednesday.
Andrija Belibasic netted a brace and Elsad Zverotic added another as the Balkan nation moved to 10 points after four games, two points clear of England, Poland are third on five points with a game in hand, while San Marino languish at the foot of the table without a win.
Fiorentina striker Stevan Jovetic was one of several first-choice players rested by manager Branko Brnovic for the match against San Marino.
The two sides met in September, with Montenegro producing a thumping 6-0 win and the result was never in doubt on Wednesday.
Delibasic broke the deadlock after 14 minutes, on hand to tap the ball home from close range.
The Rayo Vallecano striker doubled the hosts' advantage in the 31st minute with a poacher's goal from inside the six-yard box.
Montenegro put the result beyond doubt with a third on 68 minutes thanks to Zverotic.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland's hopes of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil were dealt a blow after they were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Azerbaijan in Group F action.
The guests took a surprise fifth-minute lead through Rauf Aliyev before veteran David Healy levelled proceedings in the dying moments as Northern Ireland played out their third successive stalemate.
After earning an historic 1-1 draw in Portugal, Michael O'Neill's men were full of confidence and they had a host of chances from the outset.
However, Northern Ireland were unable to make the most of their opportunities and were punished early on when Aliyev hit the back of the net from 30 yards after a swift counterattack.
Nonetheless, the hosts enjoyed countless possession but they were unable to land the killer punch.
Craig Cathcart and Chris Baird wasted no less than four chances between them but Healy spared his side's blushes with a delightful free kick deep into injury time.
Northern Ireland are on three points, four points adrift of the qualifications places with six games still to play.