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Surprises in store in European Cup qualifiers
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 16 - 10 - 2012

PARIS – After assembling handsome victories in Friday's matches, Europe's leading nations are likely to have their work cut out when the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign continues Tuesday.
The Group I clash between Spain and France in Madrid is the headline clash, while the matches between Italy and Denmark, Germany and Sweden, and England and Poland could all have surprises in store.
The meeting in the Spanish capital is a repeat of the Euro 2012 quarterfinal in Ukraine, which saw Spain progress 2-0 en route to victory in the final over Italy.
The two sides go into the match level on six points but their preparations have been contrasting; while Spain recorded a 4-0 victory in Belarus Friday, France lost 1-0 to Japan in a friendly match at Stade de France.
Les Bleus largely bossed proceedings against the Japanese before falling to a late goal, and Didier Deschamps has called for more sang-froid in front of goal against the reigning world and European champion.
England crushed San Marino 5-0 Friday and will look to tighten its stranglehold on Group H by defeating Poland in Warsaw.
The one-sided win at Wembley took England three points clear of Montenegro and Poland.
England will be without Theo Walcott and the Chelsea pair of Frank Lampard and Ryan Bertrand due to injury, but captain Steven Gerrard returns after serving a suspension.
Like England, Germany enjoyed a routine success in their last outing as they routed Ireland 6-1 in Dublin to inflict the heaviest ever home defeat on Giovanni Trapattoni's beleaguered side.
Tuesday's opponents Sweden had to come from behind to win 2-1 against the Faroe Islands.
Italy did not have things all its own way against Armenia Friday, with victory not secured until second-half goals by Daniele De Rossi and Pablo Osvaldo, but on Tuesday it hosts a Denmark team which has drawn both of its matches to date.
Mario Balotelli could make his first appearance for Italy since the Euro 2012 final, after missing the game in Armenia due to flu-like symptoms.
Portugal will look to bounce back from their 1-0 loss to Russia when they host Northern Ireland in Group F, with captain Cristiano Ronaldo poised to win his 100th international cap.
Only two players have previously passed the 100-cap mark for Portugal, and both are former team-mates of Ronaldo's -- Fernando Couto (110 caps) and Luis Figo (127).
The Netherlands, meanwhile, made it three wins from three by crushing Andorra 3-0 in the latest round of games, but their next opponents, Romania, also have a 100 percent record in Group D. — AP


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