Saturday is a key day for powers Italy, Spain and Portugal, who are all fighting to stay in contention in Euro 2008 qualifying, while France and Ukraine meet in a clash of giants. Unfortunately,
they find themselves depleted of firepower at the end of a long season.
Italy is fourth in Group B with 10 points, two points behind leaders Ukraine, Scotland and France, and it will be
missing many key strikers for its trip to the Faeroe Islands on Saturday and Lithuania on Wednesday.
AC Milan striker Alberto Gilardino
had a knee
operation, while Bayern Munich-bound Luca Toni
had foot surgery and Udinese striker Vicenzo Iaquinta
has an injured
toe. Francesco Totti
, Serie A's top scorer this season with 26 goals for Roma, remains on international sabbatical.
Fortunately, Filippo Inzaghi
, hero of AC Milan's recent UEFA Champions League triumph, will be available and should start up front with veteran Alessandro Del Piero
of Serie B champion Juventus.
Spain is third in Group F, four points behind leaders Northern Ireland and three behind Sweden, and also has problems up
front. With Atletico Madrid's Fernando Torres
injured, uncapped Osasuna striker Roberto Soldado
may start up front
with David Villa
against Latvia on Saturday.
Spain coach Luis Aragones
has gambled and recalled Valencia's
, who will probably start on the right wing to give his team more attacking options.
Portugal is second in Group A, five points behind
Poland, going into its game at Belgium on Saturday, but Manchester United star Cristiano Ronaldo
is suspended and Benfica attackers Simao Sabrosa
and Nuno Gomes
The biggest clash takes place at the Stade de France, where 2006 World Cup runner-up France
hosts quarterfinalist Ukraine. Both teams will be without their scoring aces. Nicolas Anelka
should fill in for Thierry
, out with a groin injury, in the Bleus' attack. Andriy Voronin
will be the main Ukraine threat in the absence of Andriy Shevchenko
, who underwent hernia surgery last month. EURO 2008 SCHEDULE: GROUP A
Azerbaijan-Poland (Setanta-PPV, live, 11:55 am ET)
Belgium-Portugal (Setanta-PPV, live, 2:40 pm ET) Standings:
Poland 16 points; Portugal, Serbia, Finland 11; Belgium 7; Kazakhstan 5; Azerbaijan 4; Armenia 1.
Faeroe Islands -Italy (RAI International, live, 2:30 pm ET)
(Setanta Sports USA, live, 2:55 pm ET) Standings:
Ukraine, Scotland, France 12 points; Italy 10; Georgia 6;
Ukraine 4; Faeroe Islands 0. GROUP C
Greece-Hungary (Setanta-PPV, live, 2:25 pm ET)
Bosnia-Herzegovina - Turkey (Setanta Sports USA, delay, 8:30 pm ET) Standings:
Turkey 13 points; Greece 12;
Norway, Bosnia-Herzegovina 7; Hungary 6; Malta 4; Moldova 2. GROUP D
Germany-San Marino (Fox Soccer
Channel, live, 4 pm ET)
Wales-Czech Republic Standings:
Germany, Czech Rep., Ireland 13; Slovakia 9; Wales 6;
Cyprus 4; San Marino 0. GROUP E
Estonia-Croatia (Setanta-PPV, live, 2:25 pm ET)
Croatia 13 points; Israel, Russia, England 11; Macedonia 7; Estonia, Andorra 0.
Denmark-Sweden (Setanta Sports USA, delay, 6:45 pm ET)
Latvia-Spain (Fox Soccer Channel, live, 2
Northern Ireland 13 points; Sweden 12; Spain 9; Denmark 7; Latvia,
Lichtenstein, Iceland 3. GROUP G
Netherlands 14 points; Romania 11; Bulgaria 9; Belarus 7; Slovenia 4; Albania 1; Luxembourg 0.