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2. EURO 2008: Weekend previews (Part 2)
March 21st, 2007 11:14PM



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 4 and 5:

GROUP 4. Germany travels to Prague for its showdown with the Czech Republic for first place without a full squad. Striker Miroslav Klose and defender Clemens Fritz are suspended, several players, notably rising Stuttgart star Mario Gomez, are out with injuries, and others, including central defenders Christoph Metzelder and Per Mertesacker, have missed practice this week with an assortment of ailments.

On the other hand, Karel Brueckner's Czech squad should be at or near full strength. Captain Tomas Rosicky is fit and will lead the Czechs in midfield. Goalkeeper Peter Cech will play after UEFA gave him permission to wear the protective head gear he has used with Chelsea since suffering a head injury against Reading earlier this season.

Germany, Czech Republic 10 points;
Ireland 7;
Slovakia 6;
Cyprus 4;
Wales 3;
San Marino 0.

Saturday, March 24
Czech Republic-Germany (TV: Setanta Sports USA, live, 3:40 pm)
Ireland-Wales (TV: PPV-Setanta, live, 10:55 am ET)
Wednesday, March 28
Wales-San Marino
Ireland-Slovakia (TV: Setanta Sports USA, live, 2:25 pm)
Czech Republic-Cyprus (TV: Fox Soccer Channel, delay, 3 pm ET)

GROUP 5. This could have been David Beckham's big comeback with England, but a knee injury suffered last month put him out of England's Euro '08 qualifiers at Israel on Saturday and at Andorra next Wednesday.

Tied for third place with Macedonia and Israel three points behind leader Croatia and one point behind second-place Russia, England can't afford a loss to Israel but enters the game with loads of injuries.

Of particular worry is situation with the outside backs. First-choice right back Gary Neville is out with damaged ankle ligaments, and understudy Micah Richards is doubtful with a calf injury. Charlton's Luke Young has been brought in as a last-minute addition at right back.

At left back, Ashley Cole and Wayne Bridge will miss out through suspension and injury, respectively, on Saturday. England coach Steve McClaren has two utility defenders available in Jamie Carragher and Phil Neville and he called in left-sided midfielder/defender Gareth Barry on Monday.

England hopes, though, are buoyed by the return of Owen Hargreaves in midfield. England stumbled after Hargreaves suffered a broken leg playing for Bayern Munich in September.

Israel coach Dror Kashtan has a lot of decisions to make in midfield and attack. About the only certainty is that captain Yossi Benayoun will start at attacking midfielder.

Croatia 10 points;
Russia 8;
England, Macedonia, Israel 7;
Estonia, Andorra 0.
Saturday, March 24
Israel-England (TV: PPV-Setanta, live, 2:25 pm ET)
Estonia-Russia (TV: Fox Soccer Channel, live, 2:30 pm ET)
Croatia-Macedonia (TV: PPV-Setanta, live, 3:10 pm ET)
Wednesday, March 28
Andorra-England (TV: Setanta Sports USA, live, 2:55 pm)
Israel-Estonia (TV: Fox Soccer Channel, delay, 1 pm ET)

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