Qualification for the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals is drawing towards its conclusion and the overall picture will become much clearer with 46 games scheduled for Saturday and Wednesday.
The Netherlands are the only team to have booked their ticket to South Africa having wrapped up Group 9, but a number of nations can take a significant step towards next summer's tournament with positive results over the coming week. The nine group winners progress to the finals with the eight best runners-up contesting play-off matches to determine Europe's other four representatives.
England hold a seven-point cushion in Group 6 and, should Croatia and Ukraine both lose on Saturday they will progress without playing. With home fixtures against Belarus and Andorra, respectively, that seems unlikely, though Fabio Capello's men may not have to wait long as victory over Croatia at Wembley on Wednesday would seal top spot. Russia can close within a point of the Group 4 summit if they win their game in hand against Liechtenstein, before travelling to Wales on Wednesday when leaders Germany host Azerbaijan.
Trailing Serbia by five points with a game in hand, France face a pivotal week in Group 7. Romania visit the Stade de France on Saturday and should Les Bleus secure victory they can overhaul the leaders by beating them in Belgrade four days later. World champions Italy are more at ease in Group 8, with a one-point advantage over the Republic of Ireland having played a game less. The Azzurri travel to Georgia, then host Bulgaria on Wednesday, while their nearest challengers visit Cyprus on Saturday – a fixture the home side won 5-2 in UEFA EURO 2008™ qualifying.
Five sides in Group 3 could still claim top billing with Slovakia, two points ahead of Northern Ireland with a game in hand, hoping to bolster their position at home to fifth-placed Czech Republic on Saturday before Wednesday's trip to Belfast. Greece and Switzerland both have 13 points in Group 2 and their meeting in Basel on Saturday could go a long way to deciding their destiny. Denmark are three points clear of Hungary in Group 1, with UEFA EURO 2008™ qualifiers Portugal and Sweden four further back, and both play on Saturday – Denmark at home to the Iberian outfit with Hungary hosting the Scandinavians. Finally, in Group 5 the top three take on the bottom three on Saturday, as appetisers for Wednesday's showdown between leaders Spain and nearest rivals Bosnia-Herzegovina.
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