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Scotland and Italy set for 'match of a lifetime'
by Paul Kennedy, November 16th, 2007 7AM



[EURO '08 PREVIEW] Ten berths in Euro '08 qualifying remain up for grabs with games still to be played Saturday and Wednesday. Eight of the berths could be nailed down as soon as Saturday. Here's look at the key matches ...

SCOTLAND-ITALY. Italy goalie Gianluigi Buffon called Saturday's Scotland-Italy game in Glasgow "the match of a lifetime," and that's only the Italian side of things.

"It is a cup final against the world champions to qualify us for our first major championship for 10 years," says Scotland's Kenny Miller, "so it's a huge game."

Scotland will likely need to win to qualify for Euro '08, while the Italians could get by with a tie. An Italy win would send France and Italy through and eliminate the Scots, whose 2-0 loss at Georgia last month was a huge setback.

Scotland is the underdog, but its 4-1-4-1 formation was troublesome for France in the Scots' 1-0 win in Paris in September, and Coach Alex McLeish must decide whether to stick with that alignment or go with two strikers. If he goes with one, he must decide between Miller and James McFadden, who scored against France.

ISRAEL-RUSSIA. Israel is out of contention after a strong start, but it could derail Russia's hopes of qualifying for Euro '08 if it defeats Guus Hiddink's team on Saturday in Tel Aviv.

A Russia win means it's through if it then wins at tiny Andorra on Wednesday. A tie would mean England can still go through it beats Croatia on Wednesday. A Russia loss would allow England to book its ticket to Euro '08 with a win or tie on Wednesday. (Croatia can wrap up the first Group E berth with a win or tie at Macedonia on Saturday.)

Despite the portents of doom about England's chances from the English tabloid press, recent history tells us that Russia will have a hard time winning in Tel Aviv. Israel went seven years without losing at home before its 4-3 loss to Croatia 12 months ago.

PORTUGAL-ARMENIA. The Portuguese, the Euro '04 runners-up, need four points in their last two games -- against Armenia Saturday in Lisbon and Finland Wednesday in Oporto -- to qualify for the 2008 finals in Austria and Switzerland.

With Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari serving the third of his three-game suspension, assistant Flavio Murtosa will be in charge. Portugal has a slew of injuries with Chelsea defenders Ricardo Carvalho and Paulo Ferreira, Juventus' Jorge Andrade and Barcelona playmaker Deco among the missing.

With Cristiano Ronaldo in superb form, though, Portugal should not have any problem with Armenia.

NORWAY-TURKEY. Norway can clinch the second berth in Group C with a victory Saturday in Oslo. A tie followed by a win in Malta on Wednesday would also suffice. Norway leads third-place Turkey by two points. (Greece has already clinched.)

Norway is expected to rely on players from Champions League surprise Rosenborg, including Steffen Iversen, who scored twice for Rosenborg against Valencia recently, and Ghana-born midfielder Alexander Tettey, who should get his second cap

Turkey coach Fatih Terim insists his team is better than Norway and could start as many as three uncapped players: defenders Gokhan Gonul and Hayrettin Yerlikaya and forward Semih Senturk.

SPAIN-SWEDEN. Sweden and Spain are 1-2 in Group F going into Saturday's match at Madrid's Bernabeu Stadium, and one or both teams could clinch on Saturday.

The winner will clinch for sure. Sweden will also qualify with a tie, while Spain will qualify with a tie if Denmark beats Northern Ireland. Finally, a Denmark-Northern Ireland tie would eliminate the participants and send Sweden and Spain through.

Liverpool striker Fernando Torres is out, leaving Raul Tamudo to likely partner David Villa in the Spain attack. Sweden's worries are also up front, where injuries leave Coach Lars Lagerback struggling to find a partner for Inter Milan star Zlatan Ibrahimovic.


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