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Under-21s set for thrilling September showdown

The qualifying round of the 2013 UEFA European U21 Championship reaches an exciting climax in September with eight of the ten groups to be decided and 12 play-off places available.

Slovenia are one of several sides hoping to steal automatic qualification in September
Slovenia are one of several sides hoping to steal automatic qualification in September ©Domenic Aquilina

The play-off lineup for the 2013 UEFA European Under-21 Championship will be confirmed once the qualifying round reaches an exciting climax in September, with eight of the ten groups still to be settled.

Germany and France are the only teams to have secured places in the play-off draw by winning their pools, with the other 12 vacancies unfilled going into the last three matchdays. The ten group winners will qualify for the play-offs alongside the four best runners-up.

Following their recent 2-0 defeat in Ukraine, Slovenia trail Group 2 leaders Sweden, who also have a game in hand, by two points going into their final fixture – at home to the Swedes. Should Slovenia lose then Ukraine, three points back in third and also with a game in hand, would be well-placed to steal the much-coveted runners-up berth. Beating Sweden would give Slovenia a good chance of qualification, however, as Hakan Ericson's charges would then need to overcome Ukraine – who have already defeated the Swedes 6-0.

Group 3 is considerably less tangled, involving a straight race between the Czech Republic and second-placed Armenia for the automatic qualification slot. Likewise Group 5, where leaders Spain and Switzerland will lock horns in Sion on 6 September in both teams' penultimate fixture as the Swiss attempt to cut a five-point deficit.

The Netherlands in Group 10 and Italy in Group 7 are each a point away from booking their play-off tickets, while only Norway can catch Group 8 leaders England. This pair will face off in their final fixture, though before that the Three Lions visit an Azerbaijan side they beat 6-0 on the opening day while Norway have a tricky trip to Belgium.

August's 1-1 draw in the Faroe Islands has left Denmark two points behind Group 4 leaders Serbia; these frontrunners meet in Aalborg in their next match on 7 September. Portugal and Russia hold the positions of power in Group 6, yet both still have to play Poland and Stefan Majewski's third-placed side remain in contention to qualify.

There is much at stake elsewhere too, as teams seek to enhance their prospects of finishing as one of the four runners-up with the best records against those sides finishing first, third, fourth and fifth in their groups. After the closing matchdays on 6, 7 and 10 September, the play-offs for next summer's tournament in Israel will take place between 12 and 16 October.

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