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Early Tests for Euro Favorites

Europe's leagues take a break this weekend for European Championship qualifying, which, while still in its early stage, already features a few "must-wins" for several big names. There is none bigger, of course, than world champion Italy, which has managed just a point from its first two games against Lithuania and France. By far, the hardest of the qualifying groups, Group B features the World Cup winner, its runner-up, and quarterfinalist Ukraine, in addition to a resurgent young Scottish side and Lithuania. On Saturday, Italy hosts a rematch of its World Cup quarterfinal against the Ukrainians, while group leader France heads to Hampden Park to play the Scots, who also have a perfect record. It really is a must-win for Italy coach Roberto Donadoni, who is winless after four games in charge. Group C is another tight looking group, featuring several teams of a similar standard: Norway, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Turkey, and defending European Champion Greece. The latter faces two crucial qualifiers at home to Norway, which is top of the table with six points, and then away to Bosnia-Herzegovina. In Group D, The Republic of Ireland needs to amass some points after falling to the Germans in its only qualifier. The Irish are away to Cyprus on Saturday and then at home to the Czech Republic on Wednesday. Perennially underachieving Spain has put itself in a tricky position after a shock loss to Northern Ireland in Group F. The Spaniards face a tough-looking away fixture to Sweden.

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