European qualifying hotting up

2011-03-24 19:50

London - Germany's serene progress in European Championship qualifying is unlikely to be halted by Kazakhstan on Saturday, while an injury to one of Europe's emerging stars has boosted England's hopes of maintaining its unbeaten start.

With four straight victories, Germany is already the runaway leader in Group A and a home match against the pool's bottom side, which is yet to earn a point or score a goal in qualifying, shouldn't pose any problems.

"We want to remain as much in command as we have been so far, and qualify as quickly as possible for Euro 2012," team manager Oliver Bierhoff said.

England will go top of Group G with a win in Cardiff over Wales, who were dealt a major blow on Thursday when winger Gareth Bale was ruled out with a hamstring injury.

Russia, Norway and Croatia are other group leaders in action on Saturday as Euro 2012 qualifiers resume after a winter break.

On Friday, world and European champion Spain and the Netherlands bid to stay perfect in qualifying while France and Italy look to continue their rebuilding after embarrassing World Cup campaigns last year.

Germany, a perennial danger in major tournaments, has a young, dynamic team that reached the semi-finals of the World Cup in South Africa before losing 1-0 to Spain - a repeat of the scoreline between the two sides in the Euro 2008 final.

Miroslav Klose, who this week celebrated the 10th anniversary of his international debut, was on target in the 3-0 win in Kazakhstan in October and the Bayern Munich striker believes the margin of victory will be bigger in Kaiserslautern this weekend if Germany grabs an early goal.

"We have an excellent team ... we just have to play the football that we can, and I am convinced that we will win this game," Klose said. "I think it's a big advantage that we have already played our opponent."

Germany coach Joachim Loew dropped six World Cup players from his squad for the Kazakhstan match and a friendly against Australia on Tuesday, and also is without goalkeeper Rene Adler because of a muscle injury.

Midfielder Sven Bender, who plays for Bundesliga leader Borussia Dortmund, is the one newcomer to the group.

Bale, who has come to the attention of Europe's leading clubs with his stellar displays for Tottenham in the Champions League this season, will miss the match against England at Millennium Stadium after getting hurt in a Premier League match last weekend.

The winger is Wales' most dangerous player, with England manager Fabio Capello last week labeling him the "No. 1 player in the world" at present.

Considering Bale's absence and the 110 places separating the British rivals in the world rankings, the English are heavy favourites to register their fourth win in five qualifiers, which would lift them above Montenegro on goal difference.

"We have all gone out into hostile environments. We have all played in big games and this is a big game," England midfielder James Milner said. "The mentality we should have is to go there and win. We know it will be tough."

Chelsea defender John Terry is back as England's permanent captain, while Capello will be without former skipper Rio Ferdinand and Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard as both are injured.

Russia is two points ahead of Armenia ahead of their Group B match in Yerevan.

Russia coach Dick Advocaat welcomes back left-sided Chelsea player Yuri Zhirkov to the squad for the Euro qualifier and also the friendly against Qatar on Tuesday.

Ireland and Slovakia, who are level on seven points with Armenia after four matches, play Macedonia at home and bottom-place Andorra away respectively.

Group H leader Norway, one of four teams to open up with 100 percent starts to their qualification campaigns, hosts Denmark in a Nordic derby and Croatia is also unbeaten in Group F going into its match at third-place Georgia.

Spain is at home to Czech Republic in a top-of-the-table match in Group I and the Netherlands, beaten by the Spanish in last year's World Cup final, travel to second-place Hungary in Group E.

Group D leader France looks to beat underdog Luxembourg to claim a fourth successive qualifying win but Italy has a tougher game as it bids to stay top of Group C.

Cesare Prandelli's team visits second-place Slovenia with Roma midfielder Daniele de Rossi and Manchester City forward Mario Balotelli missing for disciplinary reasons.