Europe is gearing up for the fourth instalment of qualifiers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ on Wednesday, with no fewer than 22 matches on the menu. A total of 18 teams have yet to taste defeat, but only four of those boast a 100 per cent record at this early stage.
Greece belong to that quartet, and will look to extend their winning run at home against Group 2 foes Switzerland, while fellow perfectionists England travel to Belarus in Group 6, Spain are away against Group 5 rivals Belgium and the Netherlands visit Norway in Group 9.
The situation is very tight in Group 7, meanwhile, with every team having lost at least one encounter.
The big game
Belgium-Spain, Group 5, Stade du Roi Baudouin, Brussels, 8.45pm CET
Rene Vandereycken's charges have enjoyed an excellent start to their campaign, collecting seven points from three outings, including a potentially priceless 1-1 draw in Turkey. Now 30 years of age, Wesley Sonck looks to be enjoying something of a second youth, and fired his 22nd goal in 45 appearances against Armenia at the weekend. That said, Belgium are above all a solid unit composed of tireless workers, such as Ajax's defensive midfielder Jan Vertonghen. Their next test could hardly be stiffer, though, as it brings them up against a team still riding the wave of euphoria inspired by their European title this summer. Spain have won all three of their qualifiers, scoring eight times without conceding, making them formidable opponents for anyone.
The other games
In Group 1, Portugal entertain Albania looking for a vast improvement on their last home qualifier, a morale-sapping 3-2 loss to Denmark. Victory could prove sufficient to send the Iberians to the top of the section.
Greece's defence has yet to be breached in Group 2, meanwhile, and they could streak further ahead at the summit if they can overcome a shaky Switzerland team. Elsewhere, their closest rivals Israel can expect a tough encounter in Latvia.
Fourth in Group 3 with one point from two games, Czech Republic will need to take risks at home against Slovenia as they attempt to fight their way back into the race for first place. For their part, Poland are preparing to match themselves against the best attack in the pool, with Slovakia having struck six goals and lying just a point behind their upcoming visitors.
Surprisingly placed second in Group 4, Wales have a daunting trip to Germany on the cards, but can draw confidence from their narrow 2-1 loss in Russia just over a month ago. John Toshack's new generation of talent intends to ruffle the feathers of their more celebrated rivals and can look forward to a more favourable set of fixtures in the second half of the campaign. At the same time, Guus Hiddink's Russia play host to a sturdy Finland team after an excellent second-half performance in their slender 2-1 defeat in Germany last time out.
In Group 5, Turkey welcome bottom-placed Estonia hopeful of making up the two points they lost at home against Belgium, with the two group leaders coming face to face in Brussels.
Despite their 5-1 success against Kazakhstan on Saturday, Fabio Capello's ambitious England will want a far more convincing display when they continue their Group 6 bid in Belarus. Fellow hopefuls Croatia will look for a boost to both their confidence and goal difference at home to Andorra.
The challenge for Group 7 leaders Serbia will be to take advantage of an evening off for both Romania and France to increase the gap at the top in Austria. Karel Bruckner's men have proved fragile on their travels, but are a more formidable proposition at home and could pose problems for the Balkan side.
Marcello Lippi has increasingly put the accent on youth since returning to the Italy helm, and that trend is set to continue with Luca Toni suspended for the visit of Montenegro. It is a game the Azzurri will be anxious to win to continue their favourable start in Group 8.
Lastly, in Group 9, the Netherlands have been racking up points without attracting too much attention, but that could all change if they take a significant step towards qualification with maximum points from their trip to Norway.
Player to watch
Lukas Podolski (GER)
He may see more of the bench at Bayern Munich than the pitch, but the 23-year-old forward reminded everyone of what he can do with his 31st strike in 58 appearances for Germany on Saturday, setting the Mannschaft on their way to a 2-1 triumph over Russia. "I'm confident when I'm with the national team," he said afterwards. "In my heart, I wanted to repay that confidence by scoring a goal."
710 - The number of minutes since Iker Casillas picked the ball out of his net for Spain. The last goal the Real Madrid goalkeeper conceded came 34 minutes into Spain's second outing at UEFA EURO 2008, against Sweden. His new tally beats his own previous record of 686 minutes from 2005.
What they said
"The team is showing a new side to itself. Even if our routines aren't quite perfect yet, we're on the right path. It won't be easy in Vienna but I love this kind of challenge," Radomir Antic, Serbia coach.
Have your say
Can Spain, Greece, England or the Netherlands maintain their perfect records throughout the qualifiers? Will David Villa finish as top scorer? Click on 'Add your comment' and tell us what you think.
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