Football: On the road to the US

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The Independent Online
Europe Group One

Top two teams from each group qualify for the finals in the United States next year

----------------------------------------------------------------- P W D L F A Pts ----------------------------------------------------------------- Italy 9 6 2 1 21 7 14 Portugal 9 6 2 1 18 4 14 Switzerland 9 5 3 1 19 6 13 Scotland 9 3 3 3 12 13 9 Malta 9 1 1 7 3 21 3 Estonia 9 0 1 8 1 23 1 -----------------------------------------------------------------

Wednesday: Italy v Portugal, Switzerland v Estonia, Malta v Scotland.

MART POOM, an unsung goalkeeper from Estonia, may prove to be the man who denied Portugal a place in the finals. Last week his bravery and agility restricted the Portuguese to a 3-0 winning margin in Lisbon - one more goal and the home side would have displaced Italy at the top of the group. Now (assuming Switzerland overcome Estonia by a two-goal margin) Portugal must win in Milan to qualify: a tall order. The Swiss need a 2-0 win to ensure qualification whatever happens in Italy, but if they win 1-0 they would only miss out if the Milan game ends as any score-draw other than 1-1.

----------------------------------------------------------------- Group Two ----------------------------------------------------------------- P W D L F A Pts Norway (Q) 10 7 2 1 25 5 16 Netherlands 9 5 3 1 26 8 13 England 9 4 3 2 19 8 11 Poland 9 3 2 4 9 12 8 Turkey 10 3 1 6 11 19 7 San Marino 9 0 1 8 1 39 1 -----------------------------------------------------------------

Wednesday: San Marino v England; Poland v Netherlands.

FOR England to qualify, they have to win by seven clear goals in Bologna and pray that the Poles overturn the Netherlands. Graham Taylor earning a knighthood is more likely than Poland winning, though. With team spirit at an all-time low in the opposition camp - some of Poland's foreign-based players are not bothering to travel to Poznan - Bergkamp, Overmars and company could run riot. Even without the suspended Rijkaard, the point the Dutch need to accompany Norway to the finals should be a formality.

Group Three

----------------------------------------------------------------- P W D L F A Pts ----------------------------------------------------------------- Denmark 11 7 4 0 15 1 18 Spain 11 7 3 1 26 4 17 Rep of Ireland 11 7 3 1 18 5 17 N Ireland 11 5 2 4 13 12 12 Lithuania 12 2 3 7 8 21 7 Latvia 12 0 5 7 4 21 5 Albania 12 1 2 9 6 26 4 -----------------------------------------------------------------

Wednesday: Northern Ireland v Republic of Ireland, Spain v Denmark.

TO achieve their American dream, the Republic of Ireland need to win in Belfast - although a draw will do if Denmark prevail in Seville, or if Spain enjoy a low-scoring win. Last month, the Spaniards took advantage of the Republic's glaring defensive vulnerability, but Billy Bingham, in his last game as national manager, cannot call upon forwards of comparable quality to Salinas and Bakero. The Republic should secure both points, but they need to find some younger defenders and forwards before next summer.

Group Four

----------------------------------------------------------------- P W D L F A Pts ----------------------------------------------------------------- Belgium 9 7 0 2 16 5 14 Romania 9 6 1 2 27 11 13 RCS 9 4 4 1 21 9 12 Wales 9 5 2 2 18 10 12 Cyprus 10 2 1 7 8 18 5 Faroe Islands 10 0 0 10 1 38 0 -----------------------------------------------------------------

Wednesday: Wales v Romania, Belgium v RCS.

THE only group with four teams still in contention. Wales need a 2-0 win - 1-0 would be insufficient if Belgium suffer a single-goal defeat at home to the RCS. A point will do for the Belgians, who have dominated the group, likewise Romania will qualify if they gain a draw in Cardiff. A win by any margin would suffice for the RCS.

Group Five

----------------------------------------------------------------- P W D L F A Pts ----------------------------------------------------------------- Russia (Q) 7 5 2 0 15 3 12 Greece (Q) 7 5 2 0 9 2 12 Iceland 8 3 2 3 7 6 8 Hungary 8 2 1 5 6 11 5 Luxembourg 8 0 1 7 2 17 1 -----------------------------------------------------------------

Wednesday: 17 Nov: Greece v Russia.

THE group of tedium - the top two qualified long ago. Yugoslavia's enforced absence (they are banned by Fifa) meant that there was no serious competition for Russia and Greece - Hungary are so bad that Iceland did the double over them. Greece need a victory in Athens to win the group, but, with the attacking talents of Kiryakov, Yuran and Kolyvanov to call upon, the Russians have the greater potential for success next summer.

Group Six

----------------------------------------------------------------- P W D L F A Pts ----------------------------------------------------------------- Sweden (Q) 10 6 3 1 19 8 15 France 9 6 1 2 16 8 13 Bulgaria 9 5 2 2 17 9 12 Austria 10 3 2 5 15 16 8 Finland 10 2 1 7 9 18 5 Israel 10 1 3 6 10 27 5 -----------------------------------------------------------------

Wednesday: France v Bulgaria.

FRANCE need a draw to join Sweden in the States next summer: an unlikely scenario caused by Israel's astonishing success in Paris last month. The task should not be beyond the French - but if Ronny Rosenthal and his mates can upset their defence so much, what might Stoichkov, Kostadinov and Balakov achieve?

The rest of the world

Already qualified: Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico, Nigeria, Morocco, Cameroon, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, United States (hosts); Germany (holders).

Wednesday: South America /Oceania qualifying play-off second leg: Argentina (1) v Australia (1). Winners qualify for finals.

WITH Maradona restored to fitness and form, Argentina should win - but questions must asked about a defence which let in five at home to Colombia. Even without the injured Bosnich in goal, the Aussies may be able to frustrate the home side, but they might not have the firepower to score on the break.

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