Spain, England and Netherlands have won all their games to date and are out to consolidate their leads on Matchday 6 of the European Zone qualifying competition for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Fellow big names Germany and Italy are in similarly strong positions after dropping just two points apiece so far.
The reigning European champions face the hardest assignment of the three sides with one hundred per cent records, with Turkey lying in wait in Istanbul. England take on Ukraine in London, while the Dutch can expect the easiest ride of all at home to Macedonia.
There are 20 other qualifiers taking place across the continent on Wednesday and with many teams staking convincing claims to a place in South Africa next June, another exciting day is in store. As ever, FIFA.com is on hand to set the scene.
The big game
Czech Republic-Slovakia, Prague, Wednesday 1 April, 20.30 (local time)
Sixteen years after they came into being Czech Republic and Slovakia face off in a fascinating encounter that will be crucial to their qualification hopes in Group 3, where the Slovaks lie second, one point and one place ahead of the Czechs and with a game in hand.
"We have a young team full of talented players," said Slovakia's seasoned striker Marek Mintal. "We just need to focus on getting the points and to avoid putting any needless pressure on ourselves." The Czechs, meanwhile, are still rebuilding following the retirement of Jan Koller, Pavel Nedved and Karel Poborsky, and coach Petre Rada's team of youthful and more experienced heads can expect a stiff test from their neighbours.
The other games
Denmark and Hungary, the leading duo in an unpredictable Group 1, could move seven points clear of struggling favourites Portugal and Sweden if they overcome the respective challenges of Albania and Malta at home.
In Group 2 Israel travel to Greece five days after being held to a draw at home by the former champions of Europe. Another tight match is expected in Heraklion, which could be to the advantage of a resurgent Switzerland side, who have strung together three consecutive wins since their autumn slip-up against Luxembourg.
Northern Ireland are on top in Group 3 and have the chance to avenge a 2-0 reverse in Slovenia last October when the two sides meet again in Belfast. The men in green are a single point clear of Slovakia but have played two games more.
After easing past Liechtenstein on Saturday Germany can expect a stiffer test when they travel to Wales. Pushing Joachim Low's men for the automatic qualification slot in Group 4 are Russia, who lie four points behind with a game in hand and take on lowly Liechtenstein in Vaduz.
Group 5 frontrunners Spain have the joint best defensive record in the Europe Zone and have now gone 30 games since their last defeat. Nevertheless Vicente del Bosque's charges can expect a testing evening in Istanbul, where the fervent Turkish crowd will attempt to knock them off their stride. Turkey slipped down to third after losing to the Spanish at the weekend. Replacing them in second after a 4-2 win in Belgium were Bosnia-Herzegovina, who will be intent on repeating the trick when they square off with the Red Devils again in Zenica.
Fabio Capello's England are brimming with confidence after scoring 14 goals in four games to lead the way in Group 6. The revitalised English entertain Ukraine in London, while second-placed Croatia will expect nothing less than victory on their trip to Andorra.
Group 7 leaders Serbia have a rest day, giving France the opportunity to close the gap. Les Bleus secured a vital 1-0 win in Lithuania on Saturday and will be looking for another three points when the two meet again at the Stade de France.
Giovanni Trapattoni, the man who took Italy to Korea/Japan 2002, returns home on Wednesday evening as his Republic of Ireland side attempt to relieve the Italians of the lead in Group 8. With two wins and a draw in their three away games, the unbeaten Irish have proved they can travel, while Marcello Lippi's men have also yet to experience defeat and can go five points clear if they prevail in Bari.
Bert van Marwijk's Netherlands are dominating proceedings in Group 9 and another win at home to Macedonia will put them on the brink of qualification.
Player to watch
Andriy Shevchenko (Ukraine)
Having found the back of the net just once in ten games since moving back to Milan, the former Chelsea striker is out to forget his domestic woes on his return to England. The 32-year-old will hope to mark the occasion by scoring his 40th international goal.
6 - The number of goals scored by the leading marksman in the continental campaign, Belgium striker Wesley Sonck. Snapping at his heels are the trio of Wayne Rooney (England), David Villa (Spain) and Edin Dzeko (Bosnia-Herzegovina), all of whom are on five. The top scorer across all the confederation's is Fiji's Osea Vaakataleseau with ten goals. With five games left to boost his tally of nine, Burkina Faso's Moumouni Dagano is the man best placed to overtake him.
What they said
"Scotland have a lot more quality than we do. They've got some talented forwards and Darren Fletcher is a very strong player too." Iceland midfielder Aron Gunnarsson assesses his side's task against the Scots.
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