Euro battles taking shape

Updated: 2013-09-06 07:19

By Reuters in London (China Daily)

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Euro battles taking shape
Mesut Ozil of the German national team takes part in a training session in Munich ahead of Friday's World Cup qualifier against Austria. Michaela Rehle / Reuters

Former world champions Italy and Germany are among seven countries that could confirm their places in next year's World Cup soccer finals in Brazil when the qualifying tournament swings back into action after a three-month break.

But there could be some surprises.

The Netherlands, a three-time finalist, could also qualify from Europe with wins on Friday and Tuesday while Switzerland and Bosnia could go through if they win and other results go their way.

The United States would seal the first qualifying place from the CONCACAF region with victories in Costa Rica and at home to Mexico.

On Friday, the seven nations who will join already-qualified Cote d'Ivoire, Egypt and Algeria in the final African qualifying round will be known.

The 10 teams will be paired up and play each other home and away to decide Africa's five qualifiers for Brazil.

In Asia, Jordan and Uzbekistan, neither of whom have reached the finals before, will meet over two legs on Friday and Tuesday to decide who qualifies for a playoff against the eventual fifth-placed South American team for a World Cup place.

Italy, the European Group B leader, faces second-place Bulgaria in Sicily knowing that victory, and a win against the Czech Republic on Tuesday, will give it a spot in the finals.

The Italian players know what to expect in Brazil after their experience in the Confederations Cup in June when they reached the semifinals before losing to Spain on penalties.

Italy will be missing five first-string players against Bulgaria, including the suspended Mario Balotelli, Riccardo Montolivo and Pablo Osvaldo, but the trio will return for the game against the unimpressive Czechs.

Germany is likely to secure its place sooner rather than later, with Group C matches against Austria on Friday and the Faroe Islands on Tuesday.

It would be the Germans' 16th successive appearance in the finals - the last one they missed was when the World Cup was held in Brazil in 1950 following World War II.

The Dutch are likely to seal their place in the finals following a trip to Estonia on Friday and a visit to tiny Andorra on Tuesday.

Anything other than two wins would be a major surprise.

World champion Spain should keep its grip on Group I, which it leads by one point from France.

Coach Vicente del Bosque is without several key players for Friday's tie against Finland.

Finnish coach Mixu Paatelainen has described the game as "a David and Goliath situation", although Finland did hold Spain to a 1-1 draw in Gijon in March.

(China Daily 09/06/2013 page23)