Sweden, with former Ryder Cupper Niclas Fasth and Henrik Stenson, and the Welsh team of Stephen Dodd and Bradley Dredge both shot rounds of 5-under 67 at the Victoria Clube de Golfe Course at Vilamoura.
For most of Friday's second round, the leader was Argentina. Angel Cabrera and Ricardo Gonzalez established a new foursomes, or alternate shot, record with an 11-under-par 61.
That team, which topped Fiji's old record of 62 from 2002, is alone in fourth place at minus-15.
'When we started the round, Angel got us to 3 under,' said Gonzalez. 'You never know when the round starts. We're very happy. Sixty-one, it's unbelievable.'
Argentina tallied nine birdies in a row through 16 holes, but Gonzalez set the team up at the par-5 17th. He hit the team's second to 30 feet, and Cabrera rolled in the eagle putt to reach 11 under for the round.
Despite how well the Argentine duo played on Friday, they are still looking up at three teams.
England struggled on the front nine and the problem was Donald's putter. He missed a short par save at the seventh and with Argentina blowing by everyone, Donald and Howell needed to make a move.
Howell converted a 5-foot birdie putt at the eighth, but Donald missed a 4-footer for par at nine. The squad made birdie at 12, then caught fire down the stretch to grab its share of the lead.
At the par-3 16th, Donald hit the tee ball 20 feet short of the hole and Howell drained the birdie putt. Donald missed the green with the team's second at the par-5 17th, but Howell chipped to 2 feet and Donald kicked in the birdie putt.
Howell hit England's approach to 6 feet at the 18th. Donald ran home the birdie putt, only the fourth at the closing hole on Friday, and put the defenders in great position.
'To look on the bright side, we didn't play that well today, but to still have a share of the lead is encouraging,' admitted Donald, who teamed with Paul Casey to win this event last year. 'We could have let that one go.'
Sweden was 2 under par through 13 holes, then Fasth tapped in a short birdie try at the 14th. Sweden parred the 15th and 16th holes, then ascended up the leaderboard in the last two holes.
Stenson's eagle try from 40 feet at the par-5 17th missed by a foot. Fasth cleaned up the birdie to reach 15 under par. At the last, Fasth drove into a fairway bunker but Stenson knocked the team's approach to 25 feet. Fasth drained the birdie putt to make Sweden the first team to post 16 under par.
'We finished birdie-birdie, which is always nice, but in general, we didn't have our best day out there,' said Fasth. 'Five-under par in our foursomes, we would have taken that this morning.'
The Welsh duo, who were only 1 under par at the turn, parred their next five holes on the back nine. They birdied 15 and 16 to get back into the mix, and then kept it up at the end.
At the 17th, the team reached the green in two, then Dodd ran a 40-foot eagle putt four feet past the hole. Dredge made the birdie try, but drove into the rough at 18. Dodd ran the team's approach to 10 feet and Dredge sank the birdie putt to join the logjam in first.
'We knew we had a few chances coming in,' said Dredge. 'We just stayed patient and had a great finish. We were rewarded for our patience.'
The Netherlands posted a 5-under 67 and are alone in fifth place at minus-14. Denmark carded a 4-under 68 and have sole possession of sixth place at 12-under-par 132.
Germany (68), Japan (70), France (70) and Chinese Taipei (71) are tied with Australia and India for seventh place at minus-11. Australia and India shared second place after Thursday's opening round, but struggled to 1-over-par 71s.
The United States team of Stewart Cink and Zach Johnson only managed a two- under 70 on Friday and are part of a group tied for 14th place at 9-under- par 135.