[EURO '08 PREVIEW]
Ten berths in Euro '08 qualifying remain up for grabs with games still to be played Saturday and Wednesday. Eight of the berths could be nailed down as soon as Saturday. Here's look
at the key matches ... SCOTLAND-ITALY.
Italy goalie Gianluigi Buffon
called Saturday's Scotland-Italy
game in Glasgow "the match of a lifetime," and that's only the Italian side of things.
"It is a cup final against the world champions to qualify us for our first
major championship for 10 years," says Scotland's Kenny Miller
, "so it's a huge game."
Scotland will likely need to win to
qualify for Euro '08, while the Italians could get by with a tie. An Italy win would send France and Italy through and eliminate the Scots, whose 2-0 loss at Georgia last month was a huge
Scotland is the underdog, but its 4-1-4-1 formation was troublesome for France in the Scots' 1-0 win in Paris in September, and Coach Alex
must decide whether to stick with that alignment or go with two strikers. If he goes with one, he must decide between Miller and James McFadden
who scored against France. ISRAEL-RUSSIA.
Israel is out of contention after a strong start, but it could derail Russia's hopes of qualifying for
Euro '08 if it defeats Guus Hiddink
's team on Saturday in Tel Aviv.
A Russia win means it's through if it then wins at tiny Andorra
on Wednesday. A tie would mean England can still go through it beats Croatia on Wednesday. A Russia loss would allow England to book its ticket to Euro '08 with a win or tie on Wednesday. (Croatia
can wrap up the first Group E berth with a win or tie at Macedonia on Saturday.)
Despite the portents of doom about England's chances from the English tabloid press, recent history
tells us that Russia will have a hard time winning in Tel Aviv. Israel went seven years without losing at home before its 4-3 loss to Croatia 12 months ago.
The Portuguese, the Euro '04 runners-up, need four points in their last two games -- against Armenia Saturday in Lisbon and Finland Wednesday in Oporto -- to qualify
for the 2008 finals in Austria and Switzerland.
With Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari
serving the third of his three-game suspension, assistant Flavio Murtosa
will be in charge. Portugal has a slew of injuries with Chelsea defenders Ricardo Carvalho
and Paulo Ferreira
, Juventus' Jorge Andrade
and Barcelona playmaker Deco
With Cristiano Ronaldo
in superb form, though, Portugal should not have any problem with Armenia. NORWAY-TURKEY.
Norway can clinch the second berth in Group C with a victory Saturday in Oslo. A tie followed by a win in Malta on Wednesday would also suffice. Norway leads third-place
Turkey by two points. (Greece has already clinched.)
Norway is expected to rely on players from Champions League surprise Rosenborg, including Steffen
, who scored twice for Rosenborg against Valencia recently, and Ghana-born midfielder Alexander Tettey
, who should get his second cap
Turkey coach Fatih Terim
insists his team is better than Norway and could start as many as three uncapped players: defenders Gokhan Gonul
and Hayrettin Yerlikaya
and forward Semih Senturk
Sweden and Spain are 1-2 in Group F going into Saturday's match at Madrid's Bernabeu Stadium, and one or both teams could clinch on Saturday.
winner will clinch for sure. Sweden will also qualify with a tie, while Spain will qualify with a tie if Denmark beats Northern Ireland. Finally, a Denmark-Northern Ireland tie would eliminate the
participants and send Sweden and Spain through.
Liverpool striker Fernando Torres
is out, leaving Raul Tamudo
to likely partner David Villa
in the Spain attack. Sweden's worries are also up front, where injuries leave Coach Lars
struggling to find a partner for Inter Milan star Zlatan Ibrahimovic