Netherlands on the hot seat


By Andrew Dampf ,AP

ROME — The Netherlands fell to another surprising loss and fellow continental powers Italy and Belgium also struggled in European Championship qualifying Monday, while Croatia showed off its goal-scoring credentials.

Meanwhile, Wales stayed atop Group B with a 2-1 win over Cyprus and is on course to qualify for its first major championship, with the 2016 tournament in France expanded to 24 teams for the first time.

Swansea midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson scored both goals as Iceland beat the Netherlands 2-0 to hand coach Guus Hiddink his third loss in four matches since taking over after the World Cup.

The win kept Iceland perfect in three qualifiers and left it level atop Group A with the Czech Republic, which got its third straight win by beating Kazakhstan 4-2 in Almaty.

Italy labored to a 1-0 win at tiny Malta, where Graziano Pelle scored on his debut. The Azzurri are tied for the Group H lead with Croatia, which routed Azerbaijan 6-0.

Belgium trails Wales after a 1-1 draw at Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The top two finishers from the nine groups qualify automatically. The best third-place team also qualifies automatically, and the other eight can qualify through a playoff.

Group A Iceland beat the Netherlands for the first time in 11 meetings to heap pressure on Hiddink.

Sigurdsson scored scored twice before the break. He converted from the penalty spot in the 10th after Stefan de Vrij had brought down Birkir Bjarnason and volleyed powerfully into the roof of the net in the 42nd after the Dutch defense failed to clear a corner.

��It really is painful that we lost here,�� said Dutch captain Robin van Persie.

But he refused to blame Hiddink.

��Guus is a fantastic coach,�� Van Persie said. ��We are all working as hard as we can to play well.��

Turkey remained anchored to the bottom of the group with Kazakhstan after gaining its first point with a 1-1 draw at Latvia.

After opening its campaign with a 2-1 win over the Netherlands and beating Turkey by the same score on Friday, the Czechs wrapped up victory over Kazakhstan inside an hour thanks to goals by Borek Dockal, David Lafata and Ladislav Krejci.

The hosts showed off their prowess at set pieces with two late goals by Yuri Logvinenko from corners, on either side of a fourth Czech strike from Tomas Necid.

In Latvia, Bilal Kisa opened the scoring for Turkey shortly after halftime with a long-range shot and Valerijs Sabala equalized with a 54th minute penalty.