Five automatic berths for UEFA EURO 2012 will be secured during the last round of qualifying matches on Tuesday. The successful nations will join the five group winners that can already begin packing their bags for Poland and Ukraine next summer, namely Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, England and Spain, who won the event back in 2008.
In the four groups that remain in the balance, the current leaders all have their destiny in their own hands. Russia welcome Andorra, France take on nearest challengers Bosnia-Herzegovina, Greece travel to Georgia, and Portugal face Denmark. The identity of the team set to qualify automatically as best runner-up will also be decided, with numerous scenarios still possible.
The remaining eight second-placed teams will then take part in four two-legged play-offs, from which the last quartet of qualifiers will emerge. The home matches will take place on 11 and 12 November, with the return legs scheduled for 15 November. The draw for these play-offs will be held on 13 October in Krakow.
The big game
France-Bosnia-Herzegovina, Group D, Stade de France, Paris, 9 pm CET
Fifteen months after their 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ debacle, a significantly improved France side find themselves in with an excellent chance of qualifying for their tenth consecutive finals of a UEFA European Championship and FIFA World Cup. A draw will suffice for Laurent Blanc’s charges, who have now gone 14 matches without tasting defeat. They would do well to bear in mind previous French sides in similar positions, such as the one that missed out on USA 1994 by losing their last two qualifying matches at home.
Deprived of numerous regulars, including the injured duo of Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery, Laurent Blanc could return to a classic 4-2-3-1 in order to flood the midfield. Opposite number Safec Susic, guaranteed to see his team participate in the play-offs at worst, has nothing to lose, and claims to have drawn valuable lessons from the 2-0 home defeat by France earlier in the campaign. “We’ve got a couple of ideas about how to get a result,” commented Bosnian captain Emir Spahic.
The other games
The task facing Belgium, who are likely to require a victory in Germany to finish second in the group, appears formidable. Joachim Low has stressed his desire to obtain a tenth successive win, as well as to maintain the integrity of the competition. That approach could well play into the hands of Turkey – lying in wait a point behind the Belgians – who welcome struggling Azerbaijan to Istanbul.
Republic of Ireland-Armenia
Barring an enormous shock against Andorra, Russia, who already boast a two-point lead over their nearest challengers, will claim first place in the section. The play-off place will go to the team that emerges victorious from a winner-takes-all clash in Dublin between the Irish and the surprising Armenians, who sit a point behind Giovanni Trapattoni’s men, and who have already put in the best qualifying performance in their history.
Lying far behind Cesare Prandelli’s new-look Italy, Serbia must take all three points from their away match with Slovenia, who are out of the qualifying picture altogether. Trailing surprise packages Estonia by one point, a draw will not be good enough for the Serbians, due to the fact that the Baltic nation, who have now completed their fixtures, enjoy a better head-to-head record.
Pride alone will be at stake in Tirana when Albania and Romania cross swords, as neither team can now mathematically qualify.
Sweden are assured of finishing second behind the all-conquering Dutch, who they welcome to Solna on Tuesday. While Hungary could conceivably equal the Swedes’ points tally, the Scandinavians hold a superior head-to-head record. Sweden have every incentive to beat the Netherlands, given that a victory would seal automatic qualification as the best of the nine group runners-up.
One point in Georgia will be enough for Greece to top Group F and qualify, irrespective of Croatia’s result, because the head-to-head results favour the Hellenic outfit. However, if the Croatians can find a way past Latvia, they will still be in with a chance of claiming the automatic slot available to the best-placed runner-up. For this scenario to play out, they need a draw in the Sweden-Netherlands game, a winner in the Denmark-Portugal fixture, and for Russia to avoid defeat against Andorra.
The key issues have already been decided in this pool, with England qualifying directly and Montenegro set for the play-offs.
Denmark, having collected four points out of six from Norway during this qualifying campaign, are now assured of finishing in the top two. To win the group, they must beat Portugal. If Sweden fail to beat the Netherlands in Group E, the direct-qualifying runner-up with the best overall record could end up emerging from this section.
Defending European champions Spain will have a crucial role in deciding who finishes as runners-up in Group I. After having comfortably dispatched the Czech Republic 2-0 on Friday, the Spaniards face a Scotland side determined not to relinquish the second position they currently occupy in the table. If La Roja pick up another home victory, the Czechs will only require a point away to Lithuania to secure second place thanks to their head-to-head advantage over the Scots.
Player to watch
Cristiano Ronaldo, despite carrying a muscle injury, has taken the risk of playing in Portugal’s decisive match with Denmark, judging that his absence, when coupled with the injuries to Pepe and Fabio Coentrao, would jeopardise his country’s chances of pulling off the victory they need.
2.50 – The average number of goals per match scored by Germany since Joachim Low took over at the helm. Die Nationalmannschaft have found the net 177 times – and conceded just 57 times – in 72 matches during the former Freiberg player’s time in charge.
What they said
“If we don’t qualify, I’ll resign immediately,” Russia coach Dick Advocaat, prior to his team’s victory over Slovakia on 7 October.
Have your say
Will Portugal qualify for EURO 2012?