Barely seven weeks after the end of the World Cup, Europe's major soccer powers returned to serious competition on Friday as qualifying for 2012 European Championship began.
Based on one game alone, France already is in trouble.
Les Bleus have a new coach in 1998 World Cup winner Laurent Blanc. They also had a large and supportive crowd of 76,000 behind them at the Stade de France in Paris.
Neither came into play as France crashed to a 1-0 home defeat to Belarus, which is ranked 78th in the world compared to France's No. 21.
"It is a pity," Florent Malouda, the team's captain, told the booing fans after the final whistle.
"We were clumsy and naïve on the goal we conceded," said Blanc.
The loss was almost as comical, in fact, as Portugal's 4-4 tie at home in Guimaraes to another soccer minnow, in this case Cyprus.
Portugal showed at the World Cup that it wasn't much good with Cristiano Ronaldo on the field and Coach Carlos Queiroz on the bench. On Friday night, it showed it wasn't much good without them, either.
Ronaldo is sidelined by an ankle injury and Queiroz is serving a six-month suspension for insulting anti-doping officials in the course of their random testing prior to the World Cup.
The Cypriots scored twice in the first 11 minutes and although the Portuguese subsequently twice took the lead, they failed to hold it and Cyprus scored the tying goal in the next-to-last minute of play.
"We were uneasy on defense," was the understatement delivered afterward by Agostino Oliveira, the assistant coach who was filling in for Queiroz.
Elsewhere, matches went pretty much according to plan for the continent's big guns.
European and world champion Spain had no difficulty whatsoever in crushing Liechtenstein, 4-0, on the road in Vaduz.
Making the game more noteworthy than the result was that David Villa, playing in his 66th game for his country, scored his 44th goal, tying atop Spain's all-time list with Raul, who took 102 games to bag his 44.
Villa, who made a $53-millon move from Valencia to Barcelona in May, also hit the crossbar with a shot in injury time.
"I'll get there, no?" he joked with reporters afterward. "There's no rush."
Villa will have another chance on Tuesday if he plays in Spain's high-profile friendly against Argentina in Buenos Aires.
Also, Spanish striker Fernando Torres, who endured a miserable World Cup, showed he is gradually returning to form by scoring twice and bringing his total for the national team to 26.
The Netherlands, which made few friends in its 1-0 loss to Spain in the July 11 World Cup final in Johannesburg because of its overly physical and occasionally dirty play, showed that South Africa might have been nothing more than an aberration.
The Dutch rolled over San Marino, 5-0, in Serravalle, San Marino, with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar bagging a hat trick and Dirk Kuyt and Ruud van Nistelrooy each scoring once.
The game marked the return after a two-year absence for Van Nistelrooy, 34, who was left off the World Cup squad.
"It has been a long road here," he said, "and in that time you realize it is not just a normal thing to stand under the national anthem and to put this shirt on. And if it comes back again when you really thought it was not possible, then this is an exceptional moment."
Belgium, which has not defeated Germany since 1954, tried again — and failed again — in Brussels, where Miroslav Klose's 53rd goal for Germany earned it what Coach Joachim Loew called "an important" 1-0 victory.
"We showed the right spirit," said Loew, who coached the Germans to third place in South Africa. "I saw the team was hungry and that gives me confidence for the future."
There wasn't much spirit or hunger in Tallin, Estonia, at least among the visiting Italians, who had to come from behind to defeat the home side, 2-1.
Second-half goals less than four minutes apart by Antonio Cassano and Leonardo Bonucci allowed new Italian Coach Cesare Prandelli to end the Azzurri's seven-match winless streak in his first competitive game in charge.
"It's a strong emotion," he told RAI television.
The relief was also evident at Wembly Stadium in London, where Jermain Defoe scored three goals and Adam Johnson one as England dealt Bulgaria a 4-0 loss.
Wayne Rooney, who has not scored an international goal in almost a year, assisted on all four of the goals.
Qualifying for Euro 2012, set to be co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine from June 8 to July 1 that year, resumes on Tuesday.