11/11/2011 05:17 EST | Updated 01/11/2012 05:12 EST

Croatia, Ireland power to big away wins in Euro playoffs to close in on 2012 finals

LONDON - Croatia and Ireland took command of their European Championship playoff matches with dominant away wins in the first leg on Friday, while Czech Republic also looks headed for the 2012 finals after a 2-0 home victory over Montenegro.

Bosnia-Herzegovina and Portugal head into the second leg of their playoff locked at 0-0, however, after Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo wasted the visitors' best chances in Sarajevo.

"It's a good result but it's dangerous over two legs because we didn't get the away win we deserved," said Portugal coach Paulo Bento, whose team was the most high-profile name failing to achieve automatic qualification from the group stage.

Croatia took revenge for its quarterfinal loss on penalties to Turkey at Euro 2008 by thrashing Guus Hiddink's side 3-0 in Istanbul, with Ivica Olic, Mario Mandzukic and Vedran Corluka scoring.

"It is almost impossible to qualify now," Hiddink said.

Captain Robbie Keane scored twice in Ireland's 4-0 win against nine-man Estonia, which had its two centre backs sent off on a dismal night for a host country playing the biggest match in its history.

"It should be all over," Keane said. "You can't take anything for granted but if we don't qualify, we'll be devastated."

Vaclav Pilar and Tomas Sivok were the second-half scorers for the Czechs, who should maintain their record of reaching every European Championship since Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993.

All four of the second legs are on Tuesday.

Germany and the Netherlands — two of the favourites for next year's tournament in Ukraine and Poland — were held to draws in friendlies, while fellow European heavyweights Italy and France both won.

Switzerland stifled the Dutch in a 0-0 stalemate in Amsterdam and Germany needed second-half goals by Simon Rolfes and Thomas Mueller to rally to a 3-3 draw in Ukraine.

Loic Remy extended France's unbeaten run to 16 matches by grabbing the winner in a 1-0 victory over the United States while strikers Mario Balotelli and Giampaolo Pazzini scored in Italy's 2-0 win in Poland.

Two years after failing to qualify Russia for the 2010 World Cup via the playoffs, Hiddink was hoping for better luck in charge of Turkey, which reached the semifinals of Euro 2008.

Turkey beat Croatia on penalties en route to the last four in Austria and Switzerland but the Croats were far superior in Istanbul, Olic providing the perfect start when the Bayern Munich forward latched onto a deflected cross by Corluka to bury his finish.

Mandzukic headed home Dario Srna's cross in the 32nd before Tottenham right back Corluka scored with a near-post header after the restart.

"I did not expect this result," Croatia coach Slaven Bilic said. "Nobody comes and expects to score three goals in this fantastic stadium."

Like Turkey, Ireland was also left heartbroken in the playoffs for the 2010 World Cup, knocked out by France when Thierry Henry handled the ball in the build-up to the decisive goal in the second leg.

The Irish should have no problems this time after wrapping up a comfortable victory in Tallinn aided by some woeful, indisciplined defending from Estonia, which is seeking to qualify for its first major tournament since independence in 1991.

Keith Andrews had already put Ireland ahead with a powerful header in the 13th when Andrei Stepanov received a second yellow card for clattering into Keane in the 35th when he was the last man.

Jonathan Walters and Keane made it 3-0 before Estonia had captain Raoi Piiroja dismissed in the 77th, the defender earning a second booking for a blatant handball as he chased down Keane.

The Los Angeles Galaxy striker wrapped up the win from the penalty spot after Stephen Hunt was brought down.

"We are proud of our players because of their commitment, their mentality and their belief," Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni said.

The 47th-ranked Czechs gave up eight places to Montenegro in the FIFA rankings but their big-game experience showed in Prague.

Montenegro, which only gained independence five years ago, drew both its games against England in qualifying but was under pressure for much of a one-sided match.

"We didn't play (like) we wanted to," Montenegro coach Branko Brnovic said. "We still have one more chance. It will be tough because we need to win by three goals. But I remain an optimist."

Bosnia-Herzegovina and Portugal were meeting in a repeat of the 2010 World Cup playoff, which the Portuguese won 2-0 on aggregate.

The Bosnians have improved since then but was again second-best on a lumpy pitch against the joint eighth-ranked team in the world, which boasted world-class wingers Ronaldo and Manchester United's Nani.

It was Ronaldo who shone in Zenica but he lacked a cutting edge, wasting opportunities either side of halftime for the Euro 2004 runner-up and Euro 200o semifinalist.

"We'll be favourites to win on home turf," Ronaldo said.

In other friendly matches between Euro 2012 qualifiers, Greece drew 1-1 with Russia while Denmark beat Scandinavian rival Sweden 2-0 at home.