Five hours to fulfil five sets of dreams and shatter five others - that is the formula for tonight's UEFA EURO 2004™ play-off second leg matches.
From the start of Croatia's game in Slovenia at 17.30CET, to the finish of the last two ties at around 22.30CET, the 438-day long qualifying process is headed for a thrilling climax. And after some shock results in Saturday's first legs, there could be surprise guests at the finals in Portugal next summer.
Slovenia welcome Croatia
Croatia were held 1-1 by Slovenia in Zagreb at the weekend and will need Dado Pršo on goalscoring form at Ljubljana's Central stadium, especially with Ivica Olic suspensed. A ban will also deny the home side the services of striker Ermin Šiljak.
Two hours later, the action will begin in Istanbul and Oslo. Turkey fell to a 1-0 defeat in Latvia four days ago, and the former Soviet republic are now within sight of their first major tournament since independence. The home team will also be depleted at the Inönü stadium, with goalkeeper Rüstü Recber and defenders Emre Asik and Fatih Aykel all suspended.
At the same time, Spain travel to Norway defending a slender 2-1 lead, given to them by Henning Berg's own goal in Valencia. Berg also picked up a suspension to mar what was otherwise a peerless performance by his defence and goalkeeper Espen Johnsen. Spain, who won the tournament in 1964, are without centre-back Carlos Marchena.
An hour later at 20.30CET, the final two matches will kick off with two British sides on the verge of surprise conquests. Wales have never before reached a European Championship, but having held Russia 0-0 in Moscow, they have a real chance of progress in front of a sell-out crowd at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium. Russian playmaker Aleksandr Mostovoi and goalkeeper Sergei Ovchinnikov are suspended, while Wales are still missing the injured Simon Davies and Craig Bellamy.
Scotland, meanwhile, upset the Netherlands, European champions in 1988, with a 1-0 win in Glasgow but face a severe test at the Amsterdam ArenA. Dutch defender Jaap Stam is banned for the game, as is Scotland's Christian Dailly.
Away and silver goals
Slovenia and Norway have the added bonus of knowing their away goals from Saturday could come into play. As in club competitions, if aggregate scores are level after 90 minutes, the team with the most away goals goes through. Otherwise, extra time will be played, with both the silver and away goal rules applying, and a possible penalty competition if there is no scoring in the additional half-hour.
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