England, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Spain and Ukraine are all in a position to pick up their third consecutive 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifying victory on Saturday. Meanwhile, Croatia, France and Portugal travel to Ukraine, Romania and Sweden respectively, where the troubled trio will be desperate to alleviate their early travails with inspiriting away wins.
The big game
Sweden-Portugal, Saturday 11 October, 20.00 CET, Rasunda stadium, Solna
Sweden, who will be without the services of captain and chief goal-getter Henrik Larsson, made a discreet start to their Group 1 campaign with a 0-0 draw in Albania and a narrow home victory against Hungary. Fortunately for coach Lars Lagerback, he will be able to call on the extravagant gifts of Inter Milan's Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a player able to settle any encounter with a flash of brilliance.
Opponents Portugal, for their part, will have key midfielders Deco and Maniche missing through injury when they look to recover from their 3-2 defeat by Denmark. The manner of the reverse, the Iberians' first FIFA World Cup qualifying loss at home for 15 years, has already put considerable pressure on new coach Carlos Queiroz.
The other matches
Denmark, who are due to host Malta, should continue their unbeaten start to Group 1, while Albania, the group's surprise early leaders, will have their mettle tested over in Hungary.
On the back of 3-0 and 2-0 away-day victories against Luxembourg and Latvia respectively, Otto Rehhagel's Greece will be aiming to consolidate their lead atop of Group 2 when they welcome bottom side Moldova. Israel, meanwhile, will be confident of taking all three points from their trip to Luxembourg, who sprung a huge surprise last time out with a 2-1 win in Switzerland. Boasting just one point from their two games so far, Ottmar Hitzfeld's charges cannot afford another slip-up at home to Latvia.
A Czech Republic side currently undergoing an extensive overhaul are set to face the top two teams in Group 3 within the space of four days, starting with a trip to Poland. The Czechs' task will be made no easier by the absence of three first-choice midfielders: Jan Polak, Tomas Rosicky and Marek Matejovsky.
Boosted by the return of Michael Ballack, Torsten Frings, Arne Friedrich and Jermaine Jones, Group 4 leaders Germany will be targeting all three points and an improved performance against UEFA EURO 2008 revelations Russia. However, Guus Hiddink's well-drilled unit will be without injured striker Roman Pavlyuchenko.
Over in Group 5, Estonia, pointless from two games, will have their work cut out denying European champions Spain from increasing their unbeaten run to 26 matches. La Roja's closest challengers, Turkey and Belgium, host Bosnia-Herzegovina and Armenia respectively.
Fresh from a thrilling 4-1 win in Croatia last time out, England should not have to worry about the Wembley boo boys when they welcome Kazakhstan to London. But for the real fireworks in Group 6, look no further than the Ukrainian city of Kharkov, where Andriy Shevchenko and Co welcome Slaven Bilic's Croatia. The home fans will see the match as a perfect opportunity to avenge their side's 3-1 aggregate defeat by the Croatians in a play-off for a place at France 1998.
Lithuania, currently flying high at the top of Group 7, travel to Belgrade to face Serbia, while the pool's two favourites, Romania and France, lock horns in Constanta. The pair are familiar foes having drawn 0-0 at EURO 2008, and neither side has hit top form in their two games thus far. Les Bleus, runners-up at Germany 2006, are hoping that will change with the return of captain Patrick Vieira, while their Romanian rivals will look to their talismanic duo of Christian Chivu and Adrian Mutu.
Injury-ravaged Italy, whose absentees include goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, can expect a heated reception in Bulgaria, even though their first place in Group 8 is not at risk.
Finally, over in Group 9, Scotland will host Norway determined to keep the pressure on leaders the Netherlands. The Oranje, meanwhile, take on bottom side Iceland in Rotterdam.
Edwin van der Sar (NED)
The 37-year-old agreed to put a temporary end to his international retirement in order to wear the Dutch gloves against Iceland on Saturday and Norway on Wednesday. Having called time on his international career after the quarter-final defeat by Russia at EURO 2008, his 128th appearance, Van der Sar stepped in after the withdrawals of both Maarten Stekelenburg and his replacement Henk Timmer.
3.47 - The average number of goals scored in Germany-Russia matches - 59 strikes spanning 17 games. An impressive 45 of these were registered by the Germans en route to 12 wins, two draws and three losses.
What they said
"You can only count on a young player if he is genuinely good, and not just because he's doing rather well for his club. It's up to the coach to know when the moment has arrived to select a young player," England coach Fabio Capello, referring to 19-year-old Theo Walcott's three-goal performance in the 4-1 win over Croatia.
Have your say
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