One last mission for EURO hopefuls
The qualifying picture is still not fully complete ahead of the summer recess in Europe, with six more UEFA EURO 2012 outings on the menu tomorrow as a selection of the teams in contention make up their game in hand.
Germany are the biggest name in action and can take another giant stride towards Poland and Ukraine by taking all three points in Azerbaijan, while the tussle for second spot in groups D and E is no less engaging.
This Nordic derby has a long and proud history, even if previous jousts have tended to swing in Sweden’s favour. In their 83 meetings overall, Sweden have won no fewer than 63 times, drawing 11 and losing just nine while notching 282 goals and conceding 93. Erik Hamren’s men also have form on their side, having posted an impressive 4-1 success in Moldova on Friday, where Finland succumbed 2-0 earlier in the campaign.
Hamren will hope to have Zlatan Ibrahimovic back from a foot injury as his team look to close within three points of the Netherlands, who are yet to make the trip to Sweden. Victory would also leave them as the best second-placed side across all the sections, opening the door to an automatic qualification berth.
Germany remain the runaway leaders after a pair of Mario Gomez goals gave them a 2-1 success in Austria on Friday, that win putting them seven points clear of nearest challengers Belgium, who have played one game more. Joachim Low’s charges can practically guarantee themselves a place at EURO 2012 if they prevail in Azerbaijan, and they will travel with confidence having overcome the same opponents 6-1 at home. The bottom side in the pool are nonetheless capable of springing a surprise, as they showed by beating Turkey 1-0.
The mission for Estonia will be to climb within a point of second-placed Slovenia when they visit the Faroe Islands, though they will be taking nothing for granted after digging deep to down the islanders 2-1 on home soil. The Faroes have looked a little less tenacious this year, however, having secured just one point in three home outings, their most recent ending in a 2-0 reverse against Slovenia on Friday.
Despite a lengthy injury list, Belarus are keeping a tight grip on second spot, as they demonstrated by holding France to a 1-1 draw last time out. A win over Luxembourg would lift them to within a point of Les Bleus and, more importantly, move them clearer of their pursuers, but Bernd Stange’s side will need to be more effective in front of goal than in their previous meeting, when a goalless stalemate handed Luxembourg their only point so far.
Victory is imperative for Bosnia-Herzegovina against Albania, meanwhile, after they suffered an eye-catching 3-0 setback in Romania on Friday. Their rivals cannot be taken lightly, however, as they boast one point more in the standings and saw off Belarus 1-0 in their previous qualifier.
Hungary remain second despite suffering consecutive losses to the Netherlands in their previous fixtures, going down 4-0 and 5-3 to the clear frontrunners. They will be anxious to bolster their pursuit of the runners-up berth by toppling San Marino, who succumbed 8-0 to the same opponents in their previous meeting on the road to Poland and Ukraine.
Player to watch
Sweden forward Johan Elmander took advantage of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s absence in Moldova to prove he has lost none of his talent, helping himself to a double as his team prevailed 4-1. When Ibrahimovic is fit to feature, the new Galatsaray signing is usually asked to play deeper and take on more defensive duties, but with 16 goals in 54 appearances, Elmander remains a key figure in the Sweden line-up.
69 – The number of goals scored from 192 shots on target in Group E, by far the biggest haul across all the groups. The 30 conceded by San Marino undoubtedly help boost that figure, though the section minnows have struck just one of their own.
What they said
"We didn’t play our usual game against Austria. In Azerbaijan, we’ll need to control the ball better. If we manage to spread it out wide, we’ll have more space,” Manuel Neuer, Germany goalkeeper.