England, Argentina on top, Spain grab late lifeline

PARIS, Aug 11, 2010 (AFP) - Embattled England and Argentina put their World Cup traumas behind them with desperately-needed wins on Wednesday, while world champions Spain needed a last-minute goal to draw in Mexico.

England, playing for the first time since their 4-1 defeat to Germany in the World Cup second round, came back to defeat Hungary 2-1 with captain Steven Gerrard scoring two fine goals.

Steven Gerrard (2ndR) celebrates scoring his second goal against Hungary in London, on August 11, 2010. AFP

Argentina, beaten by the Germans in the quarter-finals in South Africa, shrugged off the controversy surrounding the sacking of Diego Maradona to beat Ireland 1-0.

Newly-crowned world champions Spain drew 1-1 in front of 100,000 fans in Mexico City while Laurent Blanc's reign as France coach began with a 2-1 defeat to Norway, as he fielded a side purged of its disgraced World Cup rebels.

World Cup runners-up Holland put out a second-string side in Donetsk and drew 1-1 with Euro 2012 co-hosts Ukraine while Germany, semi-finalists in South Africa, also used a back-up team and drew 2-2 in Denmark.

At Wembley, Gerrard helped Fabio Capello avoid more embarrassment after Phil Jagielka had put through his own goal to give Hungary a shock lead, although there were doubts over whether or not the ball had crossed the line.

Liverpool star Gerrard scored twice in four minutes to give some respite to Capello on a day when the Italian called time on David Beckham's international career.

"I am really happy with the new players. It was a game we had to play with pressure. People spoke about the fans booing and there was big pressure but the new players played with confidence," said Capello.

Argentina, with Lionel Messi receiving warm applause, began the post-Maradona era with a hard fought victory over Ireland at a refurbished Lansdowne Road stadium in Dublin.

Angel Di Maria's first half strike consigned Giovanni Trapattoni's men to defeat in the first international game in the renamed Aviva Stadium.

Trapattoni missed the match as he recovered in hospital after minor abdominal surgery while Robbie Keane made his 100th appearance for Ireland.

"It was good to get the massive blow of World Cup elimination out of our system," said Argentina coach Sergio Batista.

Blanc insisted that he was pleased with his inexperienced France team, which included eight new caps.

Hatem Ben Arfa put France ahead shortly after half-time but two goals from Erik Huseklepp took Norway to victory.

"We always play to win so when we lose we aren't satisfied," said Blanc. "But we have to overlook the score this evening as I saw some interesting things. Some players produced some quality which will help us in the future."

At a hot and humid Azteca Stadium, Manchester United's Javier Hernandez put Mexico ahead in the 12th minute, and it wasn't until injury time that David Silva delivered the equalizer for Spain.

Spain started only three players who began the July 11 World Cup final victory over the Netherlands - goalkeeper Iker Casillas, defender Carles Puyol and midfielder Sergio Busquets.

"We had more control than Mexico, but we lacked width and failed to get in deep," said Spain coach Vicente del Bosque.

"Without much preparation, my players played like they had spent time training when, in truth, some trained for the first time yesterday."

Danish substitute Mads Junker inspired Denmark to come from 2-0 down to force a 2-2 draw against Germany in Copenhagen.

Junker created one for Dennis Rommedahl and scored the leveller four minutes from time after Germany had gone 2-0 up through Mario Gomez and Patrick Helmes. PSV Eindhoven midfielder Jeremain Lens put the Dutch side in front in the second half against Ukraine, while Lokomotiv Moscow midfielder Alexander Aliev pulled the scores level just a minute later.

On a busy night of friendlies, which were warm-ups for September's Euro 2012 qualifiers, Slovenia edged Australia 2-0, Sweden saw off Scotland 3-0, Russia beat Bulgaria 1-0 while tournament co-hosts Poland lost 3-0 at home to Cameroon.

Samuel Eto'o was on target twice for the Africans.

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