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3. EURO 2008: Weekend previews (Part 1)
March 21st, 2007 1:17AM



Qualifying for the 2008 European Championship in Austria and Switzerland continues with games Saturday and next Wednesday, the first of five double dates in 2007.

Here's a look at Groups 1-3.

GROUP 1. Portugal, currently tied for fourth place in Group 1, faces two critical Euro 2008 qualifiers in the next week. The Euro 2004 runners-up host Belgium on Saturday and travel to Serbia next Wednesday.

The Portuguese will be without Brazilian-born playmaker Deco, who underwent surgery to deal with an injury to one of the fingers on his right hand. Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, who is also without the suspended Simao Sabrosa for the Belgium game, called up 21-year-old Sporting Lisbon midfielder Nani.

"Two victories in the next two matches put the Portuguese team in a comfortable position and not in need of the help of third parties in the fight for the top places," Scolari told reprters.

Finland 11 points;
Serbia, Poland 10;
Portugal, Belgium 7;
Kazakhstan 2;
Armenia, Azerbaijan 1.

Saturday, March 24

Poland-Azerbaijan (TV: PPV-Setanta, live, 12:55 pm ET)
Portugal-Belgium (TV: Setanta Sports USA, delay, 6 pm ET)
Wednesday, March 28
Poland-Armenia (TV: PPV-Setanta, live, 2:25 pm ET)
Serbia-Portugal (TV: Setanta Sports USA, live, 3:10 pm ET)

GROUP 2. French coach Raymond Domenech continues to be a lightning rod for controversy.

Arsenal's French manager, Arsene Wenger, engaged in a dispute with Domenech, claiming the French national team overused Arsenal star Thierry Henry, leading to his season-ending injuries.

Now Didier Deschamps, the French coach of Italian giant Juventus, blasted Domenech for failing to call up Henry's long-time friend, David Trezeguet, for the Bleus' Euro 2008 qualifier at Lithuania on Saturday. Domenech claimed that playing in Serie B, the second level of Italian soccer, isn't good enough for a player seeking to be selected to a national team.

"He can't say he is not choosing a player because he plays in Serie B and that he hasn't adapted to the level the national team play at," Deschamps was quoted as saying by La Gazzetta dello Sport on Monday. "It is an offense to Juventus and the player. Trezeguet is at the same level today as he was when he was in Serie A. Serie B is a hard league, and of a very high standard."

Without Henry and Trezeguet, who started in France's most recent game, a 1-0 loss to Argentina in February, Domenech has called up seven strikers: Djibril Cisse (Marseille), Nicolas Anelka (Bolton), Karim Benzema (Lyon), Sidney Govou (Lyon), Florent Malouda (Lyon), Frederic Piquionne (Monaco) and Sylvain Wiltord (Lyon).

Piquionne was one of four uncapped players called up along with midfielders Abou Diaby (Arsenal), Lassana Diarra (Chelsea) and Samir Nasri (Lyon).

Scotland, France 9 points;
Italy 7;
Ukraine 6;
Lithuania 4;
Georgia 3;
Faeroe Islands 0.

Saturday, March 24

Faeroe Islands-Ukraine
Lithuania-France (TV: PPV-Setanta, live, 12:55 pm ET)
Wednesday, March 28
Georgia-Faeroe Islands
Italy-Scotland (TV: RAI International, live, 2:25 pm ET)

GROUP 3. Turkey and Greece, the defending European champion, play for the Group 3 lead when they meet Saturday in Athens, but Turkish coach Fatih Terim has tried to play down down the encounter between the bitter rivals.

"We altogether are trying to detach this match from getting perceived as a national cause, diminishing the pressure on our players," Fatih said. "This is not a national cause but a national match."

Just as important for Turkey could be the match four days later at home against third-place Norway.

Turkey, Greece 9 points;
Norway 6;
Bosnia-Herzegovina 4;
Malta, Hungary 3;
Moldova 1.

Saturday, March 24
Greece-Turkey (TV: PPV-Setanta, live, 3:25 pm ET)
Norway-Bosnia-Herzegovina (TV: Fox Soccer Channel, delay, 4:30 pm ET)
Wednesday, March 28
Turkey-Norway (TV: Setanta Sports USA, live, 2 pm ET)
Malta-Greece (TV: PPV-Setanta, live, 1:25 pm ET)

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