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Euro '08 qualifying moves into home stretch
by Paul Kennedy, October 12th, 2007 7AM

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TAGS:  england, european championship, france, germany, italy

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The first of the two remaining double fixture weekends in Euro '08 qualifying begins on Saturday. Here's a look at seven key matches ...

ITALY-GEORGIA. With Group 1 leader Scotland (21 points) showing no signs of letting up, World Cup '06 finalists Italy (20) and France (19) both face must-win games

Italy coach Roberto Donadoni has dropped strikers Alessandro Del Piero, Filippo Inzaghi and Alberto Gilardino, leaving it up to Bayern Munich's Luca Toni, Udinese's Antonio Di Natale and Vincenzo Iaquinta of Juventus to man the Azzurri's three-man attack against Georgia.

FAEROE ISLANDS-FRANCE. France's 1-0 loss at home to Scotland in its last qualifier puts it in a position of needing to win its three remaining games to be guaranteed qualification

"We took one point out of a possible six," Coach Raymond Domenech said, referring to the Italy-France (0-0) and France-Scotland games. "If we don't get six against Faeroe [Islands] and Lithuania [on Wednesday], we're dead."

Thierry Henry (suspended for last month's Scotland game in Paris) and Nicolas Anelka will lead the French attack. Louis Saha is out with a knee injury, sparking a new controversy when Domenech called up 20-year-old Lyon forward Hatem Ben Arfa over the veteran David Trezeguet.

AZERBAIJAN-PORTUGAL. The Portuguese, third behind Poland and Finland but with a game in hand, also faces must-win situations with games at Azerbaijan on Saturday and then Kazakhstan next Wednesday.

Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari will be watching Saturday's match from the stands after UEFA banned him three games for throwing a punch at a Serbia defender in Portugal's last game.

IRELAND-GERMANY. Germany will clinch a berth in the finals with a tie on Saturday. Coach Joachim Lowe will be without injured captain Michael Ballack and striker Miroslav Klose, among others, but he has a deep squad.

In goal will be veteran Jens Lehmann, even though he is not starting at Arsenal.

"We have no reason to question him," said Lowe, "and will take these steps to Euro 2008 with him as long as the performances are right. This is always the case in training and Jens is convinced that he will soon be playing again for Arsenal."

ENGLAND-ESTONIA. Only last month there were doubts that England would qualify for Euro '08. Now it will clinch a berth in the finals with wins over Estonia and at Russia on Wednesday.

Michael Owen, hero of last month's double victories, has returned to action after a rapid recovery following surgery on a hernia problem.

All news wasn't good on the medical front. Captain John Terry has been ruled out of the Estonia game with a knee injury and may also miss the Russia game.

ROMANIA-NETHERLANDS. Romania and the Netherlands are tied for the Group 7 lead with 20 points going into Saturday's match.

The Romanians, who have failed to reach the finals of a major tournament since 2000, have six players struggling with injuries, including captain Cristian Chivu, who is willing to risk aggravating a shoulder injury to play against the Dutch.

The Oranje will be missing the suspended Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder. Ajax's Maarten Stekelenburg will take the place of the injured Edwin van der Sar in goal.

DENMARK-SPAIN. There's still hope for the Danes, who seemed out of the running when UEFA awarded Sweden a 3-0 win over in a June qualifier in Copenhagen that was abandoned in the 89th minute after a fan attacked the referee.

Denmark is fourth in Group F on 14 points, five behind leaders Sweden and Spain, and two behind Northern Ireland, but with a game in hand on the latter two teams it still has a chance if it beats Spain on Saturday.

Christian Poulsen is back after serving a three-game suspension for punching Sweden's Markus Rosenberg in the incident that touched off the trouble in Copenhagen.


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