Five games will take place in European Zone qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ on Wednesday. And though some of the meetings on this shortened bill might look one-sided on paper, the big guns on duty should be taking nothing for granted at this time of their year. With the domestic season having barely begun in some countries and players still short of competitive football, the potential for an upset or two is greater than ever.
The big game
Faroe Islands-France, Group 7, Torshavn, 17.00 (local time)
Second in Group 7 with eight points to make up on leaders Serbia, albeit with two games in hand, the French cannot afford any more mishaps if they want to avoid the play-offs. Half of Raymond Domenech's squad have yet to begin their domestic seasons, Franck Ribery is carrying an injury and is unlikely to play, and Patrick Vieira and Philippe Mexes both missed out on selection. The biggest problem for Les Bleus in this campaign has been scoring goals. Despite their formidable array of forwards, France have managed only seven in five games so far.
The other games
While the Netherlands made sure of top spot in Group 9 some time ago, the battle for second place is set to intensify. Though Scotland are in the driving seat at the moment, FYR Macedonia and Norway have not given up hope of finishing runners-up and taking one of the eight play-off places.
The Norwegians lie bottom of the section after a disappointing run of results, but have the opportunity to atone for that and close to within a point of the Scots when the two sides meet in Oslo. A draw or win would suit the visitors, who have home games against the Macedonians and the Dutch to come.
Group 6 rivals Belarus and Croatia meet for the very first time in a crucial encounter in Minsk. The improving Belarussians, coached by the German Bernd Stange, only just missed out on qualification for Germany 2006 and UEFA EURO 2008, and lie just two points behind tomorrow's guests and Ukraine having played one game less.
The Croatians have yet to recover their poise after last September's 4-1 reverse by England. Ten points adrift of the English, Slaven Bilic's side were held to a 2-2 draw by the Ukrainians in their last match and further dropped points in the Belarussian capital could deal a fatal blow to their faltering play-off bid.
Slovenia have an ideal opportunity to overtake Czech Republic and Poland and climb up to third in Group 3 when they entertain bottom-placed San Marino. Still very much in the hunt for second place, currently occupied by Northern Ireland, the Slovenians have scored just five goals to date and will be looking to towering striker Milivoje Novakovic to boost that modest figure against the section's also-rans.
Germany, who lead Russia by a single point in Group 4, face a potential banana skin on their trip to Azerbaijan, who are led by their former coach Berti Vogts. The Azeris have yet to score in five attempts, but do have an impressive defensive record and could condemn the Germans to a frustrating evening.
Mindful of that, Joachim Low has named a largely full-strength squad that includes Michael Ballack, who has just returned from injury. Torsten Frings was overlooked, however, with his place going to Thomas Hitzlsperger.
Player to watch
Brazilian by birth but now a German national, 28-year-old striker Jeronimo Claudemir Barreto, otherwise known as Cacau, has been called up by coach Joachim Low for the trip to Azerbaijan. A Bundesliga player since 2000, the Stuttgart forward made his Germany debut on their short tour of Asia at the end of May.
2 - The number of teams who have yet to score a goal in the qualifying campaign: Azerbaijan and Malta. The Azeris do boast one of the tightest defences in the competition, however, having conceded a mere five goals. The worst defensive record in the European Zone belongs to San Marino, who have let in 32 goals in seven games.
What they said
"Be true to yourselves and the France shirt. Any result other than victory is a disaster," France coach Raymond Domenech.
Have your say
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Read news, results, fixtures and standings on your team in South Africa 2010 qualifying.