Football: Portugal poised to top runners-up table

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The Independent Online
APART FROM the nine group winners and the hosts, Belgium and the Netherlands, the only team to qualify directly for Euro 2000 will be the best second-placed team from the nine groups. The other eight runners- up will be paired by a draw, on 11 October, for home-and-away play-offs in November to decide the final four qualifiers for next year's finals.

Sorting out the runners-up rankings is complicated by the different sized groups, hence the intricate qualification procedure which is explained in our panel of results and tables (right). The current runners-up rankings (far right) show Italy leading the way, after their 3-2 home defeat to Denmark on Wednesday cost them top place in Group One.

The result of Italy's final qualifier, away to Belarus, will not affect their points tally in the runners-up table, because the Belarussians are not in the top four in Group One. If Italy avoid defeat in Minsk, which seems likely considering Wales won there, they will win the section and push the Danes down to second place.

Denmark, who have completed their fixtures, would have 10 points in the runners-up rankings and would have to settle for the play-offs. Turkey have the highest possible tally of points in the same table, but they are likely to lose their last qualifier in Germany. If they do, then Portugal, if they win their relatively easy final fixture at home to Hungary, will secure the qualifying place for the best second-placed team.

England and Scotland have no chance of topping the runners-up table, while the Republic of Ireland would need a series of unlikely results.