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Big guns on brink of Euro 2012 qualification

European giants like Spain, Italy, England, France and the Netherlands are all likely to secure their spots for Euro 2012.

test sharma | Ibnlive.com

Updated:September 6, 2011, 6:15 PM IST
Big guns on brink of Euro 2012 qualification
European giants like Spain, Italy, England, France and the Netherlands are all likely to secure their spots for Euro 2012.

New Delhi: It was a rainy November night three years ago when a 3-2 defeat at the hands of Croatia denied England - one of the traditional giants of the game - a place at Euro 2008.

Four years on, none of the big guns, England included, are likely to face such a shock.

As qualifying for Euro 2012 reaches its final stages, most of the top nations have either secured or are on the verge of booking a spot in the tournament, to be held in Poland and Ukraine next year.

Germany, who will be playing Poland in a friendly match on Tuesday, have already ensured their place, after a 1-0 win over Belgium on Friday. It was their eighth straight win in the qualifiers, leaving coach Joachim Low with plenty of time to prepare his squad for tougher challenges ahead.

Spain and Italy can join the Germans, with wins in their respective home matches against Liechtenstein and Slovenia.

European Championships and World Cup holders Spain have been nearly unbeatable in recent times - The team has won 19 straight European Championship and World Cup qualifying matches and dropped only two out of a possible 72 points dating to its last qualifying defeat to Sweden in October 2006.

With the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas and David Villa carrying forward their club form for Barcelona at the international level as well, the injured defensive pair of Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique is unlikely to be missed.

Meanwhile, Italy, under Cesare Prandelli, have recovered from their disappointing show at the 2010 World Cup, but must shake off any ill-effects of the late start to the Serie A to beat second-placed Slovenia and guarantee top spot in their group on Tuesday.

Finishing first is crucial as only the team at the top of each group will qualify automatically. The second-placed team with the highest points total among all the groups will also earn automatic qualification. But the remaining second-placed teams will have to contest two-legged play-offs, with the winner of each play-off tie qualifying for the finals next year.

Those likely to top their groups include the Netherlands, England and France. The Netherlands visit Finland, France travel to Romania and England host Wales on Tuesday.

Newly-crowned number one in the FIFA rankings, the Dutch, who are six points ahead of Sweden in their group, celebrated by registering their biggest-ever international victory, an 11-0 win against Faeroe Islands on Friday.

England, meanwhile, seemed to have healed the scars of their 2008 debacle. They are unbeaten in their group and impressed in the 3-0 win against Bulgaria on Friday, with Wayne Rooney, Gary Cahill, Scott Parker and Gareth Barry backing manager Fabio Capello’s faith in them. A word of caution though - Lose the next two qualifiers, and England could suddenly find themselves facing a play-off instead!

In contrast, France are still rebuilding after their controversy-marred first-round exit from last year’s World Cup. However, unbeaten in 12 games, France, who are three points clear of Bosnia-Herzegovina, can strengthen their grip on the top spot with a win over Romania.

Those still sweating on qualification include Russia and Portugal, the latter not in action on Tuesday though.

Ireland, who have not conceded a goal in their last six matches, are sure to provide a tough test to group leaders Russia in a top-of-the-table clash. The Irish are just two points adrift along with Slovakia, who are at home to Armenia on the same night.

In another tightly-contested group, Norway can move three points clear at the top ahead of Portugal with a win at third-placed Denmark, who need a win to stay in contention. A win for the Danes will leave all three countries on 13 points, however.

Meanwhile, leaders Greece will look to protect a one-point lead over Croatia when they visit Latvia.

(With inputs from Agencies)

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