Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Mon 15 October 2007

Euro 2008 - The 'Need to Know'...

Another weekend of international action passes us by and with it we get another step closer to finding out who will join the co-hosts Austria and Switzerland at Euro 2008. As you'll no doubt be aware, we're in the middle of another of those double-headers - the second half of which takes place on Wednesday - so let's assess what happened on Saturday and what might happen in two days time.

Poland extended their lead at the top of Group A to four points thanks to a 3-1 home win against Kazakhstan while Portugal returned to second spot with a 2-0 win in Azerbaijan. Finland dropped to third after their 0-0 draw in Belgium, so that means Poland now need a couple of draws in their last two games to virtually seal their place in the finals. If Finland lose either of their remaining pair of games, Poland will qualify by default. Serbia lost ground on the top three following their 3-2 away defeat to Belgium.

Wednesday night sees Portugal travel to Kazakhstan and Serbia travel to Azerbaijan. A win for Scolari's men will narrow Poland's lead to a single point going into the last round of games while Serbia can take third spot ahead of Finland if they win. Portugal need to win all of their last three games to ensure Finland miss out on qualification, but somewhat intriguingly the last round of matches see the two teams play each other in Portugal.

What can you say about the Scots that hasn't already been said? Another impressive victory at home to Ukraine means that Scotland now need just four points from the remaining six to take their place in Austria and Switzerland. Italy and France both kept up the pressure with wins of their own at the weekend, the former winning 2-0 at home to Georgia while the latter ended a tubulent trip by beating the Faroe Islands 6-0.

Next up for Scotland is a visit to Georgia this week while France play host to Lithuania. Both teams have already won the first meeting with their opponents, so if history repeats itself, we should see France leapfrog Italy into second spot while the Scots extend their lead to two points. If Alex McLeish's men only draw in Georgia (unlikely if you ask us), it'll mean they face Italy on November 17th needing to win to make sure of qualification. Don't even think about it...

Defending champions Greece opened up a four-point gap at the top of Group C after beating Bosnia-Herzegovina 3-2 at the weekend. Second-placed Turkey lost ground following their surprising 1-1 draw with Moldova while Norway sat out the weekend's games.

This week, Turkey can cut that lead to one point again by beating visitors Greece while Norway will be hoping to revenge their 2-1 home defeat to Bosnia-Herzegovina back in March in the reverse fixture.

The big news from Group D is that we have our first qualifier of the competition. Germany's 0-0 draw in Ireland on Saturday means the Germans can now book their hotel over the border for next summer and probably get their towels ready by the pool too.

The Czech Republic didn't play but they'll travel to Germany on Wednesday knowing that anything other than a victory for the Irish at home to Cyprus at the same time will see them through as well. Frankly it's all a bit of a formality as the Czechs face Slovakia in their last game at home so if they don't qualify this week it'll almost certainly happen next month.

Anyone wanting to put a bet on England winning five successive qualifiers 3-0 back in March would have (a) been rushed off to the nearest mental institution and (b) earned a pretty penny at the weekend when Estonia became the latest team to be beaten by that scoreline against Steve McLaren's men. It means England retain second spot in the table while Croatia do likewise at the top following a narrow 1-0 win over Israel.

The crunch match, of course, will be this week's game between England and Russia in Moscow. A win for the hosts will mean England have to beat Croatia at home on November 21st while Russia may need maximum points from their trips to Israel and Andorra. As for Croatia, they can practically wrap up qualification if they beat Macedonia away on Wednesday.

Spain seem to have remembered what their intentions were - at last - with a second successive win, this time 3-1 away to Denmark. That means Northern Ireland must repeat their earlier victory over the Spaniards in November AND beat Sweden and Denmark before they get there to deny Spain a place in the Finals. And it all looked so good for the Irish...

Sweden are temporarily level on points with Spain at the top of the group, so a win against Northern Ireland on Wednesday will keep their necks in front again while the Spanish take a back seat on the night.

Finally in Group G it was all change at the top as Romania pulled off a surprise win to overtake opponents the Netherlands 1-0 at the weekend. Dorin Goian's goal means the Dutch now have Bulgaria breathing down their necks and only two points behind them in third.

This group looks set to go right down to the wire so keep an eye on those remaining fixtures. If Romania beat Luxembourg this week and beat Bulgaria at home November 17th, they'll be in the Finals. The Netherlands, however, have an easier run-in with Slovenia, Luxembourg and Belarus standing in their way. With that in mind, Bulgaria will hoping not to drop any points at all in their remaining games (two of them coming against Albania and Slovenia) which will of course require a win against group leaders Romania.

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