The first of three double fixture weekends to conclude Euro 2008 qualifying takes place on Saturday. It's highlighted by a Group A match between Italy and France, the 2006 World Cup finalists, in
Milan. Also on tab are England-Israel, Portugal-Poland and the Netherlands-Bulgaria -- all matches critical to the campaigns of the home teams. ITALY-FRANCE.
The 2006 World Cup finalists meet in Milan with much stake for Italy.
The World Cup champs need to win to overtake France, the leader in Group A,
France, who host Scotland on Wednesday, are ready to avenge their World Cup final defeat despite UEFA banning their coach Raymond Domenech
"It is not easy not having the coach there," said French star Franck Ribery
. "But we are professionals with a lot of experience and we
must do it alone."
Injuries will deprive Italy of defender Marco Materazzi
and perhaps striker Luca Toni
France midfield stalwart Patrick Vieira
is also doubtful with a hamstring injury. PROBABLES: Italy --
Gianluigi Buffon, Massimo Oddo, Fabio Cannavaro, Andrea Barzagli, Gianluca Zambrotta, Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi, Gennaro Gattuso, Fabio Quagliarella,
Filippo Inzaghi, Alessandro Del Piero. France --
Mickael Landreau, Francois Clerc, Lilian Thuram, Eric Abidal, Patrice Evra Jeremy Toulalan, Claude
Makelele, Franck Ribery, Florent Malouda, Sidney Govou, Thierry Henry. ENGLAND-ISRAEL.
England are without the injured David Beckham
, Frank Lampard
, Wayne Rooney
and almost certainly Owen
. Giant striker Peter Crouch
is suspended. Steven Gerrard
may need an injection in his broken toe to
That's not exactly the situation England coach Steve McClaren
hoped to be in before the key Group E qualifier against Israel at Wembley.
The Israelis, who share first place with Croatia two points ahead of third-place Russia and three ahead of fourth-place England, know they have a chance for a historic result.
we get a victory," said Israel captain Yossi Benayoun
, "it will be talked about for 100 years ... they're under pressure and we can do it."
Israel's only doubtful is Argentinian-born striker Roberto Colautti
, Israel's top scorer with six goals in the campaign. PROBABLES:
Paul Robinson; Micah Richards, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry; Ashley Cole, Gareth Barry, Steven Gerrard,
Michael Carrick, Joe Cole; Michael Owen, Emile Heskey. Israel --
Dudu Aouate; Yuval Shpungin, Shimon Gershon, Tal Ben Haim, Yoav Ziv; Arik Benado, Walid
Badir, Idan Tal, Yossi Benayoun; Barak Yitzhaki, Yaniv Katan. PORTUGAL-POLAND.
Portugal's 1-1 tie at Armenia last month certainly didn't help
its cause in Group A, where it trails leader Poland by four points and surprise Finland by two.
Home wins over Poland Saturday and Serbia next Wednesday are critical to the Portuguese's
chances of returning to the Euro finals, where they were runners-up at home in 2004.
Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari
's big worry is his backline, where
Chelsea's Ricardo Carvalho
and his replacement, Real Madrid signing, the Brazilian-born Pepe
, are injured.
Poland won the first meeting, 2-1, in Chorzow last October on a pair of goals by Euzebiusz Smolarek
-- its first win over Portugal in 20 years.
BULGARIA-NETHERLANDS. The Dutch can
tie Bulgaria -- and win their crucial tiebreaker with Bulgaria -- with a win at home. Bulgaria leads Group F by two points over Romania and three over the Netherlands, which has a game in hand.
Recent Real Madrid signing Arjen Robben is out, but his Merengue teammate Ruud van Nistelrooy returns after an
absence of a year.
Coach Marco van Basten has moved Robin van Persie (four goals in qualifying) to the wing to make room for van Nistelrooy.
"In the talks I had with van Persie," said van Basten, "he made clear that he
felt more comfortable on the wings."