Big guns on SWC brink
Alberto Gilardino (AFP Photo)
Berlin - Italy could qualify for next year's World Cup by beating the Czech Republic on Tuesday, while Germany and the Netherlands are also hoping to seal their tickets to Brazil.
The picture in European qualifying will come clearer Tuesday when 23 matches are being played before the last two group matches next month.
But Italy know a win over the Czechs in Turin will be enough in Group B, where Bulgaria are at Malta, and Armenia play Denmark in battles for a potential play-off place.
Injury-hit Italy suffered in a 1-0 win Friday over Bulgaria, with keeper Gianluigi Buffon rescuing the victory, and coach Cesare Prandelli has warned that it could be another hard night against the Czechs.
"Our fitness levels are not optimal and that makes it all much more difficult. We'll try to get as many players as possible back to fitness," Prandelli added.
"The Czechs are also gambling their last chips, so I warn you it is not going to be a walk in the park, but we'll give it our all too. We're fired up."
Germany can also make concrete plans for Brazil with a win at the Faroe Islands, providing Sweden also fail to win at Kazakhstan in Group C, while Austria and Ireland are locked in battle in Vienna in the scrap for second place.
The Netherlands dropped their first points in a 2-2 draw at Estonia Friday but are six points clear in Group D ahead of a trip to Andorra, with their superior goal difference expected to be enhanced.
They will definitely be through if Romania fail to beat Turkey, while Hungary host Estonia in the race for a possibly play-off place.
France's route to Brazil now appears to be through the play-offs after Spain - not in World Cup qualifying action Tuesday - pulled three points clear in Group I.
Les Bleus visit Belarus hoping to end a five-game series without a win or a goal.
Coach Didier Deschamps said: "I'm not worried but if we're there (setting a new record) it's because we've got problems.
"I'm assessing it and doing everything to improve it. Our problem for five matches is that we haven't scored. From that point of view it's impossible to win matches. We have to find a way to improve that."
Group H remains tight, with Ukraine hoping to go two points clear at the top by beating injury-hit England, while Poland should pick up three points at San Marino.
A draw might suit England, who are level at the top on 15 points with Montenegro, but manager Roy Hodgson said his side would not play for a point.
"We try very hard, as naive and simplistic as it sounds, to make certain our defending is spot on against whatever team we play, whether it is Brazil or San Marino," he said.
"But when we get the ball we try to attack. We don't hold our full-backs back if it is Ukraine when we would be pushing them forward against San Marino."
Switzerland's lead in Group E slipped to four points after a 4-4 draw at home to Iceland, making the visit to Norway a key game for Ottmar Hitzfeld's side.
Iceland and Albania are both still in the running in another crucial game in the group, while Slovenia could keep their hopes alive with a win in Cyprus.
Russia could go back on top of Group F ahead of non-playing Portugal with a victory in St Petersburg over Israel, who need a win to stay in touch.
Slovakia meet Bosnia-Herzegovina in the key game in Group G, knowing a win could keep them in the running, pulling them to within a point of Bosnia. Meanwhile Greece, level on 16 points with Bosnia, have the easier task with a home game against Latvia.
Neither Group A leaders Belgium nor Croatia, who are five points adrift, are in action. The two group games, Wales v Serbia, and Macedonia v Scotland, have no bearing on World Cup qualification.
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