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Switzerland and Ukraine advance

Switzerland and Ukraine confirmed their places in the play-offs as group winners but Sweden and the Czech Republic missed chances to do likewise as the group stage goes down to the wire.

Switzerland celebrate their victory
Switzerland celebrate their victory ©Keystone

Switzerland beat the Republic of Ireland to clinch top spot in Group 2 and Ukraine won Group 8 to join the Netherlands in the play-offs as section winners, but the other seven groups are still open as the 2011 UEFA European Under-21 Championship qualifying group stage now stands on the verge of an exciting climax.

Fabian Frei scored the winner in Lugano as Switzerland returned to the play-offs for the second time in succession, while in Group 8 Ukraine confirmed top position despite losing a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with France.

Belgium could have moved ahead with victory in their last fixture against Slovenia but they too saw a two-goal lead disappear in a 2-2 draw and they are behind Ukraine on head-to-head. France are three points behind the pair but even if they beat Malta on Tuesday and Ukraine lose to Slovenia, the current leaders would remain top in a three-way tie-breaker.

England kept Group 9 alive with a 1-0 win in Portugal and are within two points of Greece. However, Greece will win the group with a point in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on Saturday.

Sweden's hopes of taking the Group 6 spoils are back in the balance after a surprise 2-1 defeat at home against Israel. A point would have sent the Scandinavian side through as section winners, but they must now avoid defeat in Bulgaria on Tuesday to secure their place.

Israel began the game six points off the summit with only two games to play but will now qualify if they beat Montenegro in their final match and Sweden lose. "Maybe the players were a bit nervous as, for many of them, it was their first chance to qualify for a major tournament," Sweden coach Jörgen Lennartsson said.

Holders Germany may be out of the running, but they were still able to prevent the Czech Republic from sealing pole position in Group 5 via a 1-1 draw. It was only the first time the Czech Republic had dropped points, however, and they can still finish top by steering clear of defeat on Tuesday, when they tackle an Iceland side three points adrift in second.

Romania are within touching distance of winning Group 1 after they overcame Russia 3-0. The two sides started the day locked on 21 points at the top of the section, but Romania ended it in command thanks to goals from Eric Bicfalvi, Sabrin Sburlea and Ioan Hora. The pair meet again in St Petersburg on Tuesday with Romania poised to advance.

There is a three-way tie at the Group 10 summit between Belarus, Austria and Scotland after the latter came from behind to draw 1-1 in Belarus. All will be decided in the final set of fixtures on Tuesday when Belarus host Azerbaijan and Austria travel to Scotland.

Italy, meanwhile, got their campaign back on track with a 1-0 triumph away to Bosnia and Herzegovina in Group 3 that lifted them level with frontrunners Wales. The Azzurrini have nonetheless contested one game more than Wales and third-placed Hungary, who meet on Saturday. Italy will host Wales in the final encounter for both teams on Tuesday.

Lastly, in Group 7, leaders Croatia were not in action today but can wrap up top spot on Saturday by recording a draw away against Serbia.