Spain are odds-on to follow Germany as the second team to qualify for UEFA EURO 2012 next Tuesday, while Groups B, F and H remain in the balance. Russia, France, the Netherlands and England can all make a big step towards automatic qualification, with the play-off scramble still undecided.
Match of the day
Italy - Slovenia, Group C, Stadio Artemio Franchi, Florence
Despite enjoying an eight-point cushion over their nearest rivals, Italy still require two more from their remaining three matches to be mathematically assured of qualifying. Slovenia’s visit could be enough, although victory is anything but assured judging by the Italians’ last outing, a laboured 1-0 win away to Faroe Islands. This recent rustiness could have something to do with the delayed start to the Serie A season, which is yet to get underway.
Fortunately Cesare Prandelli can rely on a rock-solid defence that has so far shipped just one goal, fewer than any other side in the campaign. Although he would welcome another match-winning contribution from flair players Andrea Pirlo and Antonio Cassano, the Azzurri supremo is banking on Italian realism to make the difference. "We are Italy and not Barcelona," insisted Prandelli. “I’ve never claimed that we have to take inspiration from Barcelona or model ourselves on them."
The other matches
Turkey travel to Austria with a golden opportunity to make virtually certain of a play-off berth. A win would hand the Turks a four-point lead over third-placed Belgium, with two matches remaining for both sides. Even so, Dietmar Constantini’s men can still target second spot, aided by their favourable fixture list.
Held 0-0 at home by Slovakia, Republic of Ireland visit Moscow on a mission to make up the two-point deficit with Russia, who have taken over top spot following their hard-fought 1-0 home victory over FYR Macedonia. With the top three still separated by just two points, Slovakia remain well in contention as they look to gain revenge against a plucky Armenia side that stunned them 3-1 in the away meeting.
Serbia entertain Faroe Islands with the wind back in their sails following their 1-0 victory in Northern Ireland. Despite a tough run-in, at home to Italy and away to Slovenia, the Serbs have every chance of pipping their rivals to a play-off berth. In order to make amends for that home reverse, Northern Ireland will have to win a double-header against Estonia prior to a daunting away trip to Italy.
France, currently three points clear at the top ahead of their trip to Romania, are unbeaten in 12 matches. Even so they are failing to fire, despite an array of attacking talent that includes the likes of Karim Benzema, Franck Ribery, Florent Malouda and Samir Nasri. Les Bleus have netted 11 goals in seven outings, an average of just 1.57 per match, and are yet to settle on a one or two-striker formation. Victory in Romania would nevertheless put France well on the way to qualification, given that their two closest rivals, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Belarus, will be going head-to-head in Zenica.
The Netherlands take their free-scoring forward line to Finland, who caused them the most problems in the first half of the campaign, narrowly losing 2-1 in Rotterdam. A win would keep the Dutch six points ahead of Sweden, who visit San Marino. The Scandinavians’ 2-1 defeat in Hungary has left them needing a miracle to bridge the six-point gap in their remaining three matches, even if they beat the Oranje at home on the final matchday.
A 1-0 home reverse by Greece means that Israel require nothing less than a victory in Croatia to keep alive their qualification hopes. Should they fail, the top two places will be decided by Greece’s home meeting with the Croatians on 7 October. Before that encounter, however, the 2004 European champions must bring three points back from Latvia to retain a chance of making their third consecutive EURO finals.
Although Wales did group leaders England a favour by sinking second-placed Montenegro in a 2-1 home win, there will be no love lost between the neighbours when they met at Wembley on Tuesday. The Three Lions will be going in search of three points to build a six-point lead over the Montenegrins, before the two meet on 7 October. A win over the Welsh would leave Fabio Capello’s men requiring just a draw in Podgorica.
Portugal, Norway and Denmark are all in contention for a top-two finish. With the Lusitanians not in action, a Norwegian win away in Denmark would move Egil Olsen’s men top and put them in pole position to qualify, given their favourable schedule. Three points behind Norway but with a match in hand, the Danish Dynamite face home matches against their two rivals either side of a trip to Cyprus, as the race for qualification looks set to go down to the wire.
Reigning world and European champions Spain should make sure of qualification without too many problems against visitors Liechtenstein. With second-placed Czech Republic not playing on Tuesday, a win would see La Roja extend their lead to eight points with two matchdays remaining.
Player to watch
Turkey’s fleet-footed winger Arda Turan has been busy making a name for himself with a flurry of decisive strikes for his country. The most expensive player in the history of Turkish football, Turan has fired in four goals since the start of the qualifying campaign, against Kazakhstan, Belgium and Austria. The Atletico Madrid wide-man’s most recent effort came on Friday, a last-minute winner in a 2-1 victory over Kazakhstan. With 12 goals from 46 appearances, the 24-year-old has become key to the Turks’ qualification push.
19 - 8 + 11: Any match featuring Dutch striker Robin van Persie is bound to produce goals, but not always at the right end. After losing 8-2 away to Manchester United the previous weekend, the Arsenal striker made amends at home to San Marino on Friday, netting four times in a 11-0 drubbing. This salvo takes the striker up to fourth in the goalscorers’ standings with six, trailing team-mate Klaas-Jan Huntelaar on ten, Miroslav Klose on nine and Mikael Forssell with seven.
What they said
"There’s no problem in the Spanish national team. The players know the difference between the league and La Selección, they know that they are representing Spain," Spain coach Vicente del Bosque on the rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Have your say
In the nine groups, which team will not qualify for the play-offs even if they finish in second place?