Spain and France rack up impressive friendly wins
Feb. 29, 2012, 6:58 p.m. EST

LONDON (AP) — With 100 days until this year’s European Championship kicks off, Spain, France and the Netherlands continued their preparations with impressive friendly wins Wednesday.

Roberto Soldado scored a hat trick to lead defending European champion Spain to a 5-0 win over Venezuela in Malaga, and France extended its unbeaten run to 18 matches with Oliver Giroud and Florent Malouda scoring for a 2-1 win over Germany in Bremen.

The Netherlands, European champion in 1988 and a three-time World Cup runner-up, withstood a spirited comeback by a makeshift England team to win 3-2 at Wembley, while Italy lost an unbeaten record in Genoa stretching back to 1924 when it lost 1-0 to the United States.

Few coaches will place too much importance upon the result of friendly matches played under relatively little pressure compared to the June 8-July 1 tournament in Poland and Ukraine, with Germany’s Joachim Loew among those to say beforehand he was more concerned with tweaking details and spending time with his players.

But France can take heart from a performance and win that came without several key players. France showed greater imagination in a match that failed to reach the intensity of previous meetings between the two great rivals and Giroud, leading scorer in the French league, put the visitors ahead in the 21st minute with a simple finish.

Malouda effectively sealed the win in the 69th, seven minutes after coming on as substitute, and Germany striker Cacau scored an injury-time consolation.

France, which had to endure a playoff to qualify for Euro 2012, has not been beaten since a 1-0 loss to Belarus on Sept. 3, 2010.

With all-time leading scorer David Villa injured and Chelsea striker Fernando Torres dropped from the squad for the first time in five years, Valencia striker Soldado marked his first Spain appearance in four years with three goals in the final friendly before coach Vicente del Bosque picks his tournament squad.

Cesc Fabregas set up goals for Andres Iniesta and David Silva before halftime, and Soldado added three more in his first appearance for the national team since 2007.

Spain has won all four of its matches against Venezuela.

England, led by under-21 coach Stuart Pearce following last month’s resignation of Fabio Capello, looked to have salvaged an improbable draw against the Netherlands when Gary Cahill and Ashley Young made the score 2-2 with just seconds remaining.

Arjen Robben scored his second goal of the match in stoppage time goal to give the visitors a 3-2 victory.

Robben had put the Dutch in front in the 57th, picking up possession deep inside his own half, racing forward and slotting the ball past goalkeeper Joe Hart as England’s defense dropped off. Less than two minutes later, substitute Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scored his 31st goal in 50 internationals for 2-0, although he and England defender Chris Smalling both had to be replaced after lengthy treatement for a clash of heads.

Cahill began England’s fightback in the 85th, popping up in an unfamiliar center forward position to score, and Young lifted the ball into the net five minutes later. But Robben had time to find the net again after being set up by Mark van Bommel.

England can take heart from an entertaining and courageous display, but Italy was stunned by the United States as Clint Dempsey’s second-half goal gave the Americans their first ever victory over the Azzurri in 11 meetings.

Dempsey became only the fourth American to score against Italy when he fired past Gianluigi Buffon in the 55th for Jurgen Klinsmann’s fifth victory in 10 games as U.S. coach.

It also served as a measure of personal revenge for the former Germany great, who lost the 2006 World Cup semifinal with his native country to eventual champion Italy.

Also Wednesday, Ireland salvaged a 1-1 friendly draw against fellow qualifier the Czech Republic when Simon Cox equalized Milan Baros’ 50th-minute opener with four minutes remaining.

Poland and Portugal drew 0-0 in the first match at National Stadium, the venue for the opening game at the European Championship in 100 days’ time, while co-host Ukraine won 3-2 at Israel.

Sweden won 3-1 at Croatia, Greece drew 1-1 with Belgium and Russia won 2-0 at Denmark.

Wales’ hopes of honoring deceased coach Gary Speed with a friendly victory over Costa Rica in Cardiff ended with a 1-0 defeat Wednesday.