The play-off picture for the 2011 UEFA European Under-21 Championship will become a lot clearer this week when qualifying resumes after the summer break, with some key fixtures in prospect.
The Netherlands and the Czech Republic are the only countries still boasting perfect records and the Jong Oranje could seal top spot in Group 4 on Wednesday if they maintain their 100% record away to Liechtenstein. Spain, in second, trail the Netherlands by six points and must win in Finland to keep alive their hopes of catching the 2006 and 2007 champions.
The Czech Republic will expect to strengthen their grip on Group 5 when they host San Marino, and could even wrap up the section should Germany avoid defeat against second-placed Iceland. After being held to a 2-2 home draw by Iceland in their last match on 2 March, holders Germany can only realistically reach the play-offs as one of the four best runners-up, something their coach, Rainer Adrion, knows only too well.
"It's our goal to win the last three matches − only then will we still have a chance of qualifying for the play-offs." he said. "I'm confident we'll win because our players have the potential to do so; this is an enormously important game."
Russia and Romania share first place in Group 1 and cannot afford to drop points against Latvia and Moldova, respectively, ahead of their potential decider in Botosani next month. Elsewhere, there is potential for an upset in Group 3, where Wales lead Italy by three points with Hungary and Bosnia-Herzegovina still in contention and with games in hand. The latter pair meet in Zenica with Bosnia-Herzegovina looking for a third straight win; Hungary will move above Italy into second with victory.
In Group 10, Austria – who head the section along with Scotland – can steal a march on their rivals by defeating Belarus at home. Scotland's next match is against Belarus on 3 September, four days before they host Austria in a potential winner-takes-all encounter in Aberdeen. Croatia could be confirmed as Group 7 winners if they overcome Norway, and Slovakia, two points behind, fail to beat Serbia. In Group 8, France can draw level with pacesetters Ukraine by taking all three points against Belgium ahead of their visit to Kyiv on 3 September.
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