BERNE - Italy go into Euro 2012 qualifying
action on Friday with most of their players still to face a
competitive game this season due to a strike at home.
The Italians will be grateful for a relatively easy tie away
to the Faroe Islands while Europe's other top sides also look
set for comfortable wins in a qualifying campaign that for many
of them has been too easy.
Netherlands should make it seven wins out of seven as they
host San Marino while Germany will become the first team to
qualify for the finals in Poland and Ukraine next year if they
beat visitors Austria to record an eighth straight win.
Spain, the third side to have won all their games, are not
in action but will find themselves within one win of
qualification - at home to Liechtenstein on Tuesday - if Czech
Republic drop points in Scotland on Saturday.
England and France, who have had a tougher time in their
groups, visit Eastern Europe to face Bulgaria and Albania
The winners of the nine groups qualify along with the best
of the runners-up. The remaining eight group runners-up play-off
in two-leg ties for four more places.
Cesare Prandelli's Italy have been in excellent form in
Group C, where they have 16 points from six games with a
five-point lead and game in hand over second-placed Slovenia.
They should continue that run in the Faroe Islands, although
they will have to brush off the cobwebs first with a players'
strike having delayed the start of Serie A.
"Everyone thinks that a win is in the bag, but in reality it
depends on how we face the match. The lack of matches worries
me," Prandelli said.
"I'd be even more worried if we had to face a big team such
as France. September is traditionally a difficult time for
Italian football and even one round of [Serie A] matches would
have been a help."
A win on Friday followed by another at home to Slovenia the
following Tuesday would guarantee Italy top spot and be a
welcome distraction from the domestic chaos, where the League
and Players' Union are at loggerheads over a new collective
Group A leaders Germany should clinch their place at the
finals when they play in Gelsenkirchen on Friday against
opponents who used to provide them with a fierce, competitive
rivalry but are now little more than sparring partners.
The Germans have won their last six meetings with their
neighbours, several by large margins.
The Dutch may have to wait longer to qualify as
second-placed Sweden, who visit Hungary, have also been in good
form in Group E and are only three points behind.
Portugal, level on 10 points with Denmark and Norway at the
top of Group H, visit Cyprus who sensationally held them to a
4-4 draw in Lisbon earlier in the group.
A similar slip-up on Friday would almost certainly allow
Norway to go clear at the top as they face bottom side Iceland.
England, who share the Group G leadership with Montenegro,
travel to Bulgaria and must win to keep up the pressure on their
rivals who visit Wales.
Laurent Blanc's France will defend an 11-game unbeaten run
in Albania and go into the match one point clear of Belarus, who
host Bosnia, at the top of Group D.
Ireland and Slovakia, level on 13 points at the top of Group
B, meet in Dublin while Russia, who also have 13 points, are at
home to Macedonia.
Greece, Group F leaders with 14 points, visit Israel who are
one point behind them while Croatia, who have 13 points, travel
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