[WORLD CUP 2010 QUALIFYING] There's a lot on the line as the second double fixture week of World Cup 2010 qualifying concludes in Europe. Can Portugal regain its winning form? Will Michael Ballack be fit for Germany's top-of-the-table clash against Wales? What is Steven Gerrard's role in the England team? Will New Jersey-born Giuseppe Rossi get his first start for Italy?
Portugal is only tied for third place, but Coach Carlos Queiroz believes his team will qualify for the 2010 finals despite a shock defeat in their previous home tie.
"Without a doubt, I'm convinced we'll qualify," Queiroz said after a 0-0 tie with Sweden in Stockholm left the Portuguese with four points in three games.
Cristiano Ronaldo and his Manchester United teammate, Nani, will be available against Albania on Wednesday, but Queiroz will again be without Maniche, Deco, Ricardo Carvalho and Simao Sabrosa, who are all injured.
Wednesday October 15 -- Malta vs Hungary (1:30 pm) Portugal vs Albania (3:45 pm).
Standings: Denmark (7 points) Sweden (5), Portugal (4), Hungary (4), Albania (4), Malta (0)
Greece, perfect with three wins in three games, can pull away from Switzerland with a win on Wednesday. Despite the strong start, fans have stayed away.
Only 10,000 fans were on hand Saturday's 3-0 win over Moldova, and only 15,000 tickets have been sold for Wednesday's game at the 33,000-capacity Giorgios Karaiskakis Stadium.
"Dear fans, if you want to help us to qualify for the World Cup you must support us and fill the stadium," begged Greek coach Otto Rehhagel. "Athens has a lot of people but there are also many options for fans. There are many strong teams who play in the Champions League, such as Panathinaikos, who are playing Werder Bremen next week. And there are difficulties of an economic nature at present."
Wednesday October 15 -- Latvia vs Israel (12 pm), Luxemburg vs Moldova (2:15 pm), Greece vs Switzerland (2:30 pm)
Standings: Greece (9 points), Israel (7), Switzerland (4), Latvia (3), Luxemburg (3), Moldova (0).
Saturday's 2-1 loss at Poland was costly. Goalie Petr Cech suffered a thigh muscle injury and is likely to miss Wednesday's qualifier against Slovenia.
The loss left the Czechs with only one point and in fourth place, six points behind the Poles, under new coach Petr Rada.
Wednesday October 15 -- Czech Republic vs Slovenia (11:30 am), Slovakia vs Poland (2:30 pm), Northern Ireland vs San Marino (2:45 pm).
Standings: Poland (7 points), Slovenia (7), Slovakia (6), Czech Republic (1), Northern Ireland (1), San Marino (0).
Germany hosts Wales in a top-of-the-table clash in Moenchengladbach but could be without captain Michael Ballack, who is doubtful for the match due to a calf injury he picked up in the 2-1 win over Russia on Saturday in Dortmund.
Even without Ballack, Germany coach Joachim Loew has plenty of firepower. Bastian Schweinsteiger, in particular, had a very good game against the Russians in Dortmund.
Wednesday October 15 -- Russia vs Finland (11 am), Germany vs Wales (2:45 pm).
Standings: Germany (7 points), Wales (6), Finland (4), Russia (3), Azerbaijan (1), Lichtenstein (1).
With three wins in three games, Spain is in first place heading into its game against Belgium in Brussels.
Coach Vicente del Bosque will put his depth to the test as he is expected start Brazilian-born midfielder Marcos Senna at holding midfielder in place of Xabi Alonso and give Andoni Iriola and Raul Albiol starts on the backline.
Wednesday October 15 -- Bosnia vs Armenia (2:15 pm), Estonia vs Turkey (2:30 pm), Belgium vs Spain (2:45 pm)
Standings: Spain (9 points), Turkey (7), Belgium (7), Bosnia (3), Armenia (0), Estonia (0).
What is Steven Gerrard's role in the England team? That's one of the questions that could be answered when England faces Belarus in Minsk.
There is talk that Gerrard could lose out to Frank Lampard in the role of England attacking midfielder, and the Liverpool player hopes Coach Fabio Capello will keep faith in him.
"[Capello] has spoken to me before each game," said Gerrard, "and told me what he wants me to do. He's said he wants me to emulate my form for Liverpool for England and he is prepared to help me. That's what I want. I don't want a manager to give up on me for club or country. I want them to keep trying to make me better. I've got every confidence in this manager and the set-up he's got behind him to improve my form."
Wednesday October 15 -- Croatia vs Andorra (2:15 pm), Belarus vs England (2:30 pm).
Standings: England (9 points), Ukraine (7), Croatia (4), Belarus (3), Kazakhstan (3), Andorra (0).
Which Austria team will show against Serbia in Vienna? The team that beat France, 3-1, last month or the team that was held to a 1-1 tie by the Faeroe Islands on Saturday.
"We always play better against stronger teams," admitted Austria coach Karel Brueckner. "Serbia is a very different team to the Faroes. For us, [the Faroes game] is the past. We have to keep our thoughts going in a positive direction. It is our duty to show our better side - like against France."
Wednesday October 15 -- Lithuania vs Faroe Islands (12 pm), Austria vs Serbia (2:30 pm).
Standings: Serbia (6 points), Lithuania (6), Austria (4), France (4), Romania (4), Faroe Islands (1).
New Jersey-born Giuseppe Rossi could make his first start for Italy against Montenegro in Lecce.
Rossi, who was outstanding for Italy at the Summer Olympics, made his international debut on Saturday when he came on as a substitute in the 0-0 draw at Bulgaria.
Coach Marcello Lippi could use Rossi in place of Antonio Di Natale on the left of a three-pronged attack.
Wednesday October 15 -- Georgia vs Bulgaria (12:30 pm), Italy vs Montenegro (2:50 pm), Ireland vs Cyprus (2:45 pm).
Standings: Italy (7 points), Ireland (4), Montenegro (2), Bulgaria (2), Cyprus (1), Georgia (1).
Robin van Persie's return comes at just the right time for the Netherlands, which faces Norway in Oslo.
The Oranje's injury list got longer when Nigel de Jong hurt his knee in Saturday's 2-0 friendly win over Switzerland in Rotterdam.
Coach Bert van Marwijk is also without Real Madrid winger Arjen Robben, Celtic striker Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and Atletico Madrid defender John Heitinga.
Wednesday October 15 -- Norway vs Netherlands (1 pm), Iceland vs Macedonia (2 pm).
Standings: Netherlands (6 points), Scotland (4), Macedonia (3), Norway (2), Iceland (1).
Format: Nine group winners qualify directly for South Africa 2010. Eight best runners-up compete in a home-and-away series for the final four spots.