Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland can all book places at the 2014 FIFA World Cup on Tuesday as the race for tickets to Brazil continues with a set of enthralling fixtures.
The quartet of sides will be hoping to wrap up their progress with two games to spare on an evening that promises several mouth-watering encounters, including England's trip to face Group H rivals Ukraine in Kyiv and Russia's attempt to move top of Group F against Israel. UEFA.com now previews all the action across the continent.
Leading duo Belgium and Croatia cannot be caught and neither will be in action on Tuesday. Instead, third-placed Serbia will travel to Wales looking to pick themselves up after Friday's 1-1 with Croatia ended their hopes of going through. As for Scotland, they have still yet to win following their 2-0 home loss to Belgium and lie bottom of the section, leaving them desperate for victory in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. "It's a big game but it’s winnable," commented manager Gordon Strachan.
Italy host the Czech Republic knowing three points will take them through to Brazil 2014 with two games to spare. Coach Cesare Prandelli has lost defensive duo Ignazio Abate and Luca Antonelli to injury, but he will be buoyed by the returns of Mario Balotelli, Pablo Osvaldo and Riccardo Montolivo from suspension. The Czechs, meanwhile, lie third and find themselves in a race with Bulgaria, Denmark and Armenia for what is likely to be a play-off berth. Second-placed Bulgaria – seven points behind Italy – visit Malta, while Armenia host Denmark with both on nine points along with the Czechs.
Boasting six wins from their seven previous outings, Germany will be keen for another success away against the Faroe Islands – and that would be enough to seal their qualification if Sweden drop points in Kazakhstan. "We are confident we can take the next step towards the World Cup," said Germany defender Per Mertesacker. A misstep by Sweden would also play into the hands of Austria and the Republic of Ireland, who both stand three points shy of the Blågult ahead of their meeting in Vienna.
The Netherlands can stamp their ticket to Brazil 2014 if they prevail in Andorra and Romania fail to do likewise at home to Fatih Terim's reinvigorated Turkey. Dutch coach Louis van Gaal praised his players for "wanting to go through fire for me" after Friday's 2-2 draw with Estonia, and the Oranje would be all but through with a win even if Romania triumph, given their vastly superior goal difference at this stage. Trailing Romania by two points, Hungary can still grab a play-off berth and will be anxious to down visitors Estonia.
Frontrunners Switzerland make the journey to Norway knowing that a win against the second-placed team will carry them through providing the match between Iceland and Albania – both a point behind Norway – ends in a draw. All four sides can still finish top, which ought to make for a pair of tense contests, while fifth-placed Slovenia can also advance and will be targeting victory in Cyprus.
With leaders Portugal not in action, Russia will be looking to take over at the summit at home against Israel, whose own chances of finishing in the top two were hit by Saturday's 1-1 draw with Azerbaijan. Victory would lift Fabio Capello's men a point clear of the Portuguese ahead of their two remaining qualifiers against Luxembourg and Azerbaijan. Elsewhere in the section, fourth-placed Northern Ireland visit bottom side Luxembourg.
The tension has returned in Group G after Bosnia and Herzegovina's surprise 1-0 home loss to third-placed Slovakia on Friday, a result which means Safet Sušić's troops will be desperate for revenge in Zilina on Tuesday. The Bosnians lead Greece by goal difference alone, with their closest rivals now facing a trio of home encounters – starting with Latvia. Also in the pool, bottom pair Lithuania and Liechtenstein face off in Marijampole.
Roy Hodgson's England lead the way on goal difference ahead of Montenegro as they take their depleted squad to face third-placed Ukraine, who lie a point back. The visitors will be without strike trio Danny Welbeck, Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge, but will draw on the experience of Frank Lampard – due to win his 100th cap – and Steven Gerrard in Kyiv. "We've got to go out on Tuesday and get a result," said Lampard. "We want it to be in our hands with two home games to come and that's all we can ask for." Five points off the pace, meanwhile, Poland head to San Marino.
Three points behind pacesetters Spain – not scheduled for another qualifier until next month – France can make sure of a play-off place at least with a triumph in Belarus. Didier Deschamps's men have not scored in their last five games, however, and are desperate to end their drought. "I'm not worried," said Deschamps. "We have another game now and the aim remains to take points." As for Finland, their hopes of pipping Les Bleus to second depend on them winning their last two fixtures, starting away against Georgia.
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