France, Portugal braced for tense finale

Star-studded France and Portugal face a nail-biting Tuesday night if they're to fill two of the five remaining automatic qualifying places for UEFA EURO 2012.

Germany, Italy, Netherlands, England and world and European champions Spain are already through, leaving four group winners spots to be decided as well as a best runners-up slot from the nine groups The eight remaining second-placed teams will go into the play-offs, a lottery that 1998 FIFA World Cup™ winners and 2000 European champions France and Portugal, the Euro 2004 runners-up, are desperate to avoid.

France tackle Group D rivals Bosnia-Herzegovina in Paris where a draw will put Laurent Blanc's side into the finals in Poland and Ukraine next summer. France are a point ahead of Bosnia and will be buoyed by having won the first match between the two sides in Sarajevo last year thanks to quickfire second-half goals from Karim Benzema and Florent Malouda.

Blanc's team are already certain of a play-off place having defeated Albania 3-0 on Friday. With around 12,000 Bosnian fans expected to make the trip to Paris, France centre-back Adil Rami sought to raise the pre-match temperature by labelling Bosnia playmaker Miralem Pjanic "a cry-baby, who does nothing but fall over". But Rami was quick to assess the danger of star striker Edin Dzeko, labelling the Manchester City striker "the number one danger" in Safet Susic's side.

In Group H, Portugal and Denmark have 16 points each ahead of their crunch clash in Copenhagen. The Danes, having lost 3-1 in Porto in the countries' first meeting last year, need to win to snatch the automatic qualifying spot while a draw will be enough for Portugal. Portugal made a disastrous start to their campaign which played a role in the ousting of Carlos Queiroz as coach.

His successor Paolo Bento has galvanised the squad, but their brittle defence was exposed in Friday's 5-3 win over Iceland. "I never plan to draw or lose," said Bento. "Portugal will play with two possible results that would allow us to finish in first place, but the priority is to win."

In Group B, Russia are virtually certain of qualifying as they have a two-point lead over the Republic of Ireland and welcome hapless Andorra to Moscow, their visitors having lost all nine matches, scoring just one goal.

Ireland face Armenia in Dublin over whom they have a one-point lead, but coach Giovanni Trapattoni is determined not to let his players get swept away on a tidal wave of Irish optimism. "The Armenian players play in strong leagues. We must play with 100 per cent mentality and 100 per cent attitude and 100 per cent concentration and be careful of silly mistakes," said the Italian.

Ireland captain Robbie Keane, his country's record scorer with 51 goals, is a major doubt with a groin injury.

Former champs optimistic
Greece, the 2004 European champions, top Group F ahead of their trip to Georgia after a 2-0 win over rivals Croatia on Friday. A draw in Tbilisi will be enough for Greece regardless of Croatia's result at home to Latvia.

Germany with nine wins in nine Group A matches complete their campaign against second-placed Belgium in Dusseldorf. To make the play-offs, Belgium must match or better Turkey's result against Azerbaijan as the Turks, defeated 3-1 by Germany on Friday, have the better head-to-head record.

Italy have already taken top spot in Group C. Estonia are second after coming from behind to beat Northern Ireland 2-1 on Friday but Serbia can snatch the play-off spot by beating Slovenia.

In Group E, the Netherlands have a perfect 27 points from nine games and are the tournament's top scorers with 35 goals. They tackle Sweden, who are already assured of a play-off spot, but a win for the Swedes in Stockholm will ensure automatic qualification as best runners-up.

Sweden suffered a 4-1 defeat in Amsterdam last October, and on Tuesday will be without key striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who picked up a suspension with a yellow card in Friday's win over Finland. "Without Zlatan, we'll be forced to play a bit differently, but our basic game plan against the Netherlands remains the same," said coach Erik Hamren.

Group G has already been settled with England in top spot and Montenegro taking the play-off spot.

Spain had already made sure of qualifying with a perfect seven wins in seven games in Group I and face Scotland in Alicante. The Scots are second but the Czech Republic, with a better head-to-head record, can snatch a play-off berth by picking up more points in Lithuania than Scotland in Spain.