Spain, Germany, England find form in World Cup qualifying
World and European champion Spain romped to a 24th straight qualifying win on Friday, although no one in the country was able to see it.
Pedro Rodriguez scored a hat trick as the world's best team routed host Belarus 4-0 in one of a group of big wins for Europe's leading nations in 2014 World Cup qualifying.
Yet, celebrations were muted in the debt-ridden country after no broadcaster paid to televise the national team's match for the first time in 29 years.
Spain's wasn't the most convincing win of the third round of regional qualifiers, with Germany handing Ireland its worst loss since 1971, 6-1 at Dublin.
Wayne Rooney celebrated being handed the temporary England captaincy by scoring twice in a routine 5-0 win over San Marino, taking his goal total in international matches to 31, fifth on the country's all-time list.
But Italy was again unconvincing in beating Armenia 3-1, and the Netherlands managed only a comfortable 3-0 win over Andorra, which is 201st in the rankings.
However, Euro 2012 semifinalist Portugal, led by Cristiano Ronaldo, couldn't make the most of its dominance against Russia and lost 1-0 in a match between the top two teams in Group F.
The Portuguese are three points behind Russia, which is unbeaten under new coach Fabio Capello and has three straight wins in qualifying.
Also, Belgium enhanced its burgeoning reputation as a growing force in Europe with a 3-0 win in Serbia, which lost a home World Cup qualifier for the first time in more than 10 years.
Sweden and the Czech Republic needed second-half rallies to avoid draws against weak competition, beating Faeroe Islands 2-1 and Malta 3-1, respectively.
The victory for the Swedes left them second in Group C, three points behind Germany ahead of their meeting in Berlin on Tuesday.
The third straight qualifying victory for Germany was launched by Marco Reus' goals in the 32nd and 40th minutes before Mesut Oezil's penalty kick and goals by Miroslav Klose and Toni Kroos (two) turned it into a rout.
Spain warmed up for its Group I match against France, which surprisingly lost 1-0 at home to Japan in a friendly on Friday, by stretching its winning run in qualifying that dates back to September 2007.
Pedro set up Barcelona teammate Jordi Alba for the opener before scoring the remaining three goals himself in Minsk, putting Spain ahead of France on goal difference. Both countries have six points and only one team qualifies automatically from each group.
Spain, seeking an unprecedented fourth straight major international tournament trophy, is enjoying a golden era in its soccer history, but that still didn't persuade broadcasters to pay for coverage.
The blackout came after the producer, Sport Five, failed to reach a deal with any Spanish television channel. This was the first time a Spain match was not broadcast at home since 1983, when the team visited Malta.
Rooney was playing for England for the first time since Euro 2012 and was given the captain's role with Steven Gerrard suspended and Frank Lampard sidelined with injury. Rooney marked the occasion by joining Manchester United teammate Danny Welbeck in scoring twice at Wembley Stadium.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also scored for the hosts, who moved to the top of Group H.
It wasn't such a good night for Oxlade-Chamberlain's Arsenal teammate, Theo Walcott, who will spend the night in a hospital after colliding with goalkeeper Aldo Junior Simoncini early in the game.
Russia's winner against Portugal came with its only shot on goal in the first half, Alexander Kerzhakov scoring in the sixth minute.
Ronaldo, who has scored six times in his last three Spanish league games for Real Madrid, barely had a sniff in Moscow.
"Maybe we weren't as calm as we usually are," said Portugal coach Paulo Bento, whose team is the only leading European nation not to be atop its group at this stage.
Eddie Johnson scored two goals for the United States, including the winner in second-half injury time, in a 2-1 victory over Antigua and Barbuda. The road win put the Americans in position to advance to CONCACAF's final qualifying round if they beat Guatemala on Tuesday night in Kansas City, Kan.
Canada beat undermanned Cuba 3-0 in Group C. The Cubans had only 11 players for the game, and finished with 10 after striker Roberto Linares was ejected for a challenge that crumpled captain Kevin McKenna.
In South American qualifying, host Argentina took the overall lead with 17 points as Lionel Messi scored two second-half goals and Sergio Aguero added another. Messi scored in the 66th and added another with a free kick in the 80th while Aguero scored in the 75th.
Alejandro Chumacero scored in the second half to lift host Bolivia into a 1-1 draw with Peru, while Colombia beat Paraguay 2-0.
Radamel Falcao scored two second-half goals as Colombia improved to 16 points in eight matches — among the leaders in qualifying — and left Paraguay with only four points from five matches, the worst record among the nine teams.
Felipe Caicedo scored twice as Ecuador defeated Chile 3-1 in Quito. Ecuador improved to 16 points, Chile has 12.