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Coaches under pressure in European playoffs
by Paul Kennedy, November 13th, 2009 7AM



[WORLD CUP 2010 COUNTDOWN] Four berths at the World Cup remain up for grabs in Europe, where the first leg of the playoffs will be held on Saturday. The pressure is entirely on veteran coaches Raymond Domenech (France), Carlos Queiroz (Portugal), Guus Hiddink (Russia) and Otto Rehhagel (Greece) to get their teams to South Africa.

IRELAND-FRANCE: Raymond Domenech has survived several setbacks since leading France to second place at the 2006 World Cup, but he won't be able to keep his job if the Bleus don't get past Ireland. "I somehow believe in fate," he says, "and we are going to do all we can to qualify and make things last as long as possible." Domenech is intensely unpopular in France and hasn't helped matters with comments that seemed to belittle the Irish squad.

"Every time a tournament comes round, they have all these world-class players and then a man [Domenech] who seems intent on messing them up," said Ireland defender Richard Dunne. "Even watching Sky Sports, you can see the reaction of the people at the [Paris Masters tennis tournament] when they put his face on the big screen and the whole place just booed him and his own players laughed at him."

Probable lineups:
Ireland -- Shay Given; Sean St Ledger, Kevin Kilbane, John O'Shea, Richard Dunne; Glenn Whelan, Aidan McGeady, Keith Andrews; Damien Duff; Kevin Doyle, Robbie Keane.
France -- Hugo Lloris; Bacary Sagna, William Gallas, Eric Abidal, Patrice Evra; Lassana Diarra, Jeremy Toulalan; Nicolas Anelka, Yoann Gourcuff, Thierry Henry; Andre-Pierre Gignac.

PORTUGAL-BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA (TV: Setanta Sports USA, 3:25 pm ET): "In theory, we have an obligation to win," Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz said. "We are a serious candidate to be at the World Cup." But the Portuguese will have to beat Bosnia-Herzegovina without Cristiano Ronaldo, who remains sidelined with an ankle injury.

If Portugal qualifies, it will be its defense that gets it to South Africa. Bosnia has one of Europe's best young teams, led strikers Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic, the former Saint Louis University star, as well as  Zvejzdan Misimovic and teenager Miralem Pjanic in midfield.

Probable lineups:
Portugal -- Eduardo; Miguel, Ricardo Carvalho, Bruno Alves, Duda; Pepe, Deco, Raul Meireles; Nani, Simao Sabrosa, Liedson.
Bosnia -- Kenan Hasagic; Emir Spahic, Sanel Jahic, Boris Pandza, Safet Nadarevic; Elvir Rahimic, Zvjezdan Misimovic, Sejad Salihovic, Miralem Pjanic; Edin Dzeko, Vedad Ibisevic.

RUSSIA-SLOVENIA (TV: Setanta Sports USA, 10:55 am ET):  Dutch coach Guus Hiddink puts his record of never having failed to guide a team to a major tournament when Russia faces Slovenia.

Two years ago, Russia reached the semifinals of Euro '08 and will again be led by captain Andrei Arshavin. The Arsenal stars was happy to draw Slovenia, but Hiddink is wary of the Slovenians. "Slovenia has one of the best defenses as they conceded only four goals in 10 World Cup qualifiers," he said. "We must not underestimate our opponents."

Probable lineups:
Russia -- Igor Akinfeyev; Alexander Anyukov, Sergei Ignashevich, Vasily Berezutsky, Renat Yanbayev; Igor Denisov, Igor Semshov, Vladimir Bystrov, Konstantin Zyryanov; Alexander Kerzhakov, Andrei Arshavin.
Slovenia -- Samir Handanovic; Miso Brecko, Bostjan Cesar, Marko Suler, Bojan Jokic; Aleksander Radosavljevic, Robert Koren, Andraz Kirm; Valter Birsa, Milivoje Novakovic, Zlatko Dedic.

GREECE-UKRAINE (TV: Setanta Sports USA, 1 pm ET): Greece won the 2004 European Championship and qualified for the 2008 finals, but it hasn't reached the World Cup since its lone appearance at USA '94. Ukraine made the World Cup for the first time in 2006 when it reached the quarterfinals.

The pressure in on the Greeks. "We have reached the end of the road," says their 71-year-old German coach, Otto Rehhagel. "It is in these matches where you have to prove that you deserve your prize." Liverpool forward Andriy Voronin has been dropped from the Ukraine team, but Andriy Shevchenko has been in fine form for Dynamo Kiev this fall.

Probable lineups:
Greece -- Kostas Chalkias, Loukas Vintra, Sotiris Kyrgiakos, Evangelos Moras, Nikos Spiropoulos; Giorgos Karagounis, Kostas Katsouranis, Alexandros Tziolis; Giorgos Samaras, Theofanis Gekas, Angelos Charisteas
Ukraine -- Andriy Pyatov, Vasyl Kobin, Yaroslav Rakytsky, Oleksander Kucher, Olexiy Gay, Sergiy Nazarenko, Ruslan Rotan, Anatoliy Tymoschuk, Evgeniy Hacherydy, Artem Milevskiy, Andriy Shevchenko


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