Spain, Italy hope to seal Euro 2012 places

Spain and Italy can join already-qualified Germany at next year's European Championship by winning home matches on Tuesday as the qualifying competition approaches its critical phase.

Updated: September 05, 2011 14:14 IST
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London: Spain and Italy can join already-qualified Germany at next year's European Championship by winning home matches on Tuesday as the qualifying competition approaches its critical phase.

Germany joined co-hosts Ukraine and Poland in Euro 2012 on Friday with an eighth straight Group A win, and Spain will also advance if the world champions beat Liechtenstein in Logrono as expected to maintain their perfect record in Group I.

Italy, which Spain replaced as world champions last year, must beat second-placed Slovenia to guarantee top spot in Group C. Any other result in Florence and the Azzurri can still definitely progress if Serbia - the only other country able to catch them - slips up at home to the Faroe Islands.

The top-ranked Netherlands are the third team to have won all their qualifying games so far but even another victory, away to Finland, is unlikely to put them through for certain from Group E, given that second-place Sweden visit San Marino, which lost 11-0 to the Dutch on Friday and hasn't scored in eight games.

Elsewhere, England will move six points clear of Montenegro and confirm its position as favorite to win Group G if it beats British rival Wales at Wembley, and France will also be on the brink of qualifying with an away victory against Romania in Group D.

With the Czech Republic only drawing 2-2 at Scotland on Saturday, Spain can qualify from Group I with two matches to spare with a seventh straight win.

Vicente Del Bosque's team comes into the qualifier against the group's bottom side on the back of a 3-2 win over Chile in an ill-tempered friendly on Friday.

Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas will hope his two-goal haul in that match after coming off the bench - his second coming in injury time - has done enough to earn a starting spot.

"Everything is going well for us but we have to continue forward and not become too over-confident," said Fabregas, whose club colleague Xavi Hernandez is set to win his 103rd cap - making him Spain's most-capped outfield player.

Italy, meanwhile, have an eight-point lead in its group but need to sharpen up its attack if it wants to also go through with two matches left.

The Azzurri struggled to break down a packed Faroe Islands defense on Friday and had to be content with Antonio Cassano's early strike in an unconvincing 1-0 win.

"We're going to be facing a team that will be playing to keep alive its chance of qualifying, so theoretically we should have more space to play," Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said of Slovenia, which is still second despite a surprise 2-1 home defeat to Estonia on Friday.

Netherlands had no problem finding the back of the net 11 times against San Marino, with Robin van Persie's four-goal salvo helping the Dutch to their biggest international victory and putting them in good heart for what will be a tougher trip to Helsinki.

"Against Finland, it's a challenge to refocus after all the euphoria," captain Mark van Bommel said. "Everybody thinks it's going to be easy, but it's not. We still have to play a couple of matches to qualify for the European Championship."

An eighth straight qualifying win may not be enough for the World Cup runners-up to clinch qualification, though, because a high-scoring win in San Marino would keep Sweden six points behind and mathematically in contention to win the group.

After losing 2-1 to Wales in Cardiff, Montenegro will be hoping the Welsh can spring another upset when they make the short journey to England, which is now in the driving seat to go through as group winner.

While England were impressive in a 3-0 win at Bulgaria on Friday, France looked shaky in its 2-1 victory at Albania but still stretched its unbeaten run to 12 games.

Ahead of the trip to fourth-place Romania, which is still in the hunt for a top-two finish, the French are three points clear of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which plays Belarus.

"We have increased our chances of qualifying by winning in Tirana," France midfielder Alou Diarra said. "We have our destiny in our own hands."

Three other qualifying pools are expected to go down to the wire.

Group B leader Russia host Ireland in a top-of-the table match, with the Irish two points adrift along with Slovakia, which is at home to Armenia on the same night.

With Group H leaders Portugal not playing, Norway can move three points clear at the top with a win at third-place Denmark. A win for the Danes will leave all three countries on 13 points, however.

In Group F, Greece protect a one-point lead over Croatia when it visits Latvia. The Croats host third-place Israel, which has to win in Zagreb to stay in contention for a top-two place.

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