Tue, Sep 06, 2005 - Page 18 News List

European powerhouses struggle to qualify


Italy's Francesco Totti, right, is challenged by Scotland's Jackie McNamara during their World Cup qualifier at the Hampden Park Stadium in Glasgow, Saturday.


Ukraine has made it to the World Cup for the first time, Portugal is almost there and Poland has at least a playoff place.

But powerhouses Italy, England, France, Spain, Netherlands and the Czech Republic still have work to do with only two rounds of qualifiers in October left, after Wednesday's matches, to book places at Germany 2006.

Saturday's matches saw Ukraine capture a 1-1 draw at Georgia to reach the finals and spark celebrations in the former Soviet republic. Portugal and the Netherlands could qualify on Wednesday.

Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, who led Brazil to its fifth World Cup title three years ago, saw his players crush Luxembourg 6-0 Saturday to move five points clear of Slovakia and Russia in Group 3.

If they beat Russia in Moscow on Wednesday and Slovakia loses at fourth-placed Latvia, then Portugal advances for only the fourth time.

Chasing its 12th appearance in a row, Group 5 leader Italy stalled with a 1-1 draw against Scotland in Glasgow but hopes to bounce back by winning at Belarus, which lost 2-0 at Moldova.

"They should be disheartened," coach Marcello Lippi said of the Belarus team. "But we must not be over confident. When they play Italy, all teams always do their best, doubling their efforts."

With Zinedine Zidane brought out of international retirement, France posted a routine 3-0 victory over the Faeroe Islands.

The 1998 champion looked to be in trouble in fourth place in the tightest group, but the result -- and Switzerland's 1-1 draw with Israel -- means four nations are neck-and-neck going into Wednesday's matches.

France goes to Ireland with the two nations tied on 13 points, as is Switzerland. The Swiss should profit from a visit to Cyprus while Israel, one point behind and chasing a first World Cup appearance since 1970, should win at the Faeroe Islands.

"My players have shown their motivation," France coach Raymond Domenech said. "They want to qualify and confirmed it again, but against Ireland we will have to be more solid and aggressive while imposing our game."

England made it six Group 6 victories in a row by posting a 1-0 win over Wales in Cardiff, yet remains two points behind Poland with a game in hand.

But Sven-Goran Eriksson's switch to a 4-5-1 formation with Wayne Rooney operating as the lone striker and David Beckham sitting in a central position in front of the defense didn't impress the critics.

``Sven will he get it right?'' asked the papers, while Eriksson considered whether to recall Michael Owen after suspension and revert to 4-4-2 for Wednesday's game against Northern Ireland in Belfast.

Poland tops Group 6 after beating Austria 3-2 on Saturday to guarantee a top-two finish. But coach Pawel Janas, whose team plays Wales at home Wednesday and which still has to play England, is unhappy with his defense.

"We are losing a lot of goals, but we are also scoring many," Janas said.

"Before the game with Wales we will definitely analyze our defense."

The Dutch moved to the top of Group 1 by edging Armenia 1-0 with its biggest rival, the Czech Republic, losing 2-0 at Romania.

With the Netherlands expected to beat Andorra at home Wednesday, the Czechs have to beat Armenia at home to stop Marco van Basten's team qualifying.

Czech coach Karel Bruckner has several personnel worries with Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech out against Armenia with a shoulder injury and Tomas Rosicky, Marek Jankulovski and Jan Polak all having treatment.

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