Spain gears up for WC play-off

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> Spain, the Czech Republic and Switzerland are in good shape heading into Wednesday's second-leg playoffs for World Cup berths.

Updated: February 25, 2007 10:53 IST
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Spain, the Czech Republic and Switzerland are in good shape heading into Wednesday's second-leg playoffs for World Cup berths. Spain goes to Bratislava with a 5-1 lead over Slovakia. The Czechs are up 1-0 going to Norway, and Switzerland leads 2-0 going to Turkey. However, two other playoff games are up for grabs. Australia is back in Sydney trailing Uruguay 1-0, and Bahrain is in the Middle East after a 1-1 draw in Trinidad and Tobago. The survivors on Wednesday will fill the final five places in the 32-team tournament next summer in Germany. Australia hasn't been in the World Cup since 1974, and this may be the Socceroos' best chance in a decade. Both teams arrived in Sydney on Monday. Uruguay arrived without injured striker Diego Forlan, who is expected to miss the game with a leg injury. "I think it worked perfectly, the whole trip went unbelievably smoothly,'' said John O'Neill, Chief Executive Officer, Football Federation Australia . "The players were well rested and they'll be very prepared for Wednesday night. The charter flight could really be the difference between Australia getting there and not getting there," he said. Successful coach The Australians also have a successful coach on their side. Dutchman Guus Hiddink steered the Netherlands and South Korea to the last two World Cup semifinals. With a population of 3.4 million - compared to 20 million for Australia - Uruguay has won the World Cup twice and has qualified 10 times for the World Cup finals. "We're a big country with a big past and we've got a right to play,'' said striker Alvaro Recoba. "Uruguay has a divine right to play. Uruguay is Uruguay,'' he added. Uruguay striker Dario Silva said his team wouldn't hold back on Wednesday. "We're not just out to defend,'' he said. Spain has almost reached its eighth straight World Cup finals, nursing the 5-1 edge over Slovakia. The Spaniards arrived in Bratislava, greeted by wet, cold weather. "We'll have the problem of the cold and the state of the field, but I'm convinced we can win,'' said Spainish coach Luis Aragones. "Slovakia is a good team. But when Spain does things right it's a powerful team,'' he said. Spain will play without suspended midfielder David Albelda, with Xabi Alonso a possible replacement. On Saturday, Alonso made way for Liverpool teammate Luis Garcia, who scored a hat trick. Slovakia coach Dusan Galis will have to watch the game from the stands after receiving a red card in Madrid. Defender Marian Had, who was also sent off on Saturday, and midfielder Miroslav Karhan are suspended. Traditional powerhouse Although Spain is one of soccer's traditional powerhouses, the team has a poor record in international championships. The Spanish won the 1964 European Championship but have not been past the quarterfinals of the World Cup since 1950. The Czech Republic, semifinalists in the 2004 European Championship, take a 1-0 advantage home from Norway. Pavel Nedved, who helped set up the winning header by Vladimir Smicer, counted Saturday's victory as one of his biggest with the national team. "I think for me it was the most important match with the national team,'' he said. "I have never played such an important game on such a bad field. It was like playing beach volleyball and it was difficult to change direction,'' he added The 27 teams already qualified for the World Cup are: Croatia, France, England, Germany (host), Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Serbia-Montenegro, Sweden, Ukraine from Europe; Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay from South America; Angola, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Togo, Tunisia from Africa; Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea from Asia; and Costa Rica, Mexico, and the United States from CONCACAF. (AP)

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