Football: End of a two-year odyssey

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The Independent Online
AFTER two years and 492 matches, the 24 teams for next year's World Cup finals should be known by around 2am tomorrow morning. Europe has eight places left to fill, and the very last qualifying tie, the second leg between Argentina and Australia, kicks off in Buenos Aires at a quarter past midnight.

In Group One, Italy will go through if they draw with Portugal in Milan. The Swiss need to beat Estonia by two goals in Zurich, while the in-form Portuguese need a win or, if the Swiss only manage one, a high-scoring draw with Italy.

A Republic of Ireland win in Belfast would put them through from Group Three and leave Spain needing to beat Denmark in Seville. If the Irish draw, then a draw in Spain would suit both teams there.

Romania, in Cardiff, and Belgium, home to RCS (Czechoslovakia), only need draw to qualify from Group Four. Wales need a 2-0 win to be sure, while RCS just need to win.

Group Five was long ago settled in favour of Greece and Russia, but they meet tonight in Athens anyway. And in Group Six, France need only avoid defeat against Bulgaria in Paris to book a seat beside Sweden on the plane to the United States.