Bulgaria lie in wait for Germans

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The Independent Online
Bulgaria, Norway and Spain could all virtually seal their places at next summer's European Championship in England - depending on the outcome of key qualification matches tonight.

The season's last major day of action will end with those three group leaders poised to cross the finishing line if results go their way.

Norway and Spain will move to within a point of an automatic place if they win and their closest rivals lose, while a victory over Germany for Bulgaria, the only team among the 47 competing with a 100 per cent record, will almost certainly guarantee them a place in the finals, leaving the Germans to gain an automatic berth as one of the six best runners-up. Bulgaria are likely to field nine of the team that beat Germany in the World Cup quarter-finals last summer.

Judging by their recent results, they easily look capable of inflicting another defeat on the Germans, likely to field four of the team beaten in Giants Stadium, New Jersey, last July. In another Group Seven Moldova, whose form has slipped since they beat Wales last year, play host to Albania in Chisinau.

Denmark, the reigning European champions, will be looking to improve on recent Group Two performances when they receive a confident Cypriot team that held them to a 1-1 draw in Limassol in March.

Denmark are second in the group, level on points with Belgium who meet Macedonia in Skopje. The former Yugoslav republic drew 1-1 with Belgium in Brussels in November.

Spain, the runaway group leaders, should have no problems at least repeating their 2-0 win in April over Armenia. The Barcelona defenders Albert Ferrer and Sergi have been dropped while one new face, the Real Sociedad midfielder Augustin Aranzabal, comes in. Spain will move to within a point of the finals if they win and Denmark and Belgium lose.

In Group One, Poland play Slovakia in a crunch match while Israel would move back above France into second place should they can beat leaders Romania in Bucharest.

Norway, who lead Group Five by five points, should easily complete the double over Malta in Oslo and could also move to within a point of qualifying if the Dutch and the Czechs were to lose.

The Czechs, who beat the Netherlands 3-1 in April, are unlikely to slip up against Luxembourg, which will increase the pressure on the Dutch to come back from their meeting with Belarus with all three points.

The Dutch include eight of Ajax's European Cup-winning side but Dennis Bergkamp has a groin strain - Arsenal's Glenn Helder replaces him. The Ajax goalkeeper, Edwin van der Sar, will make his debut as Feyenoord's Ed de Goey has only just recovered from a broken hand.