Football: Road to World Cup 2002: The obstacles that lie in wait

Phil Shaw assesses the nations blocking the paths of England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland after yesterday`s draw in Tokyo

ENGLAND: GROUP NINE

ALBANIA

Albanian football, never the most stable in Europe, was further disrupted by the Kosovan war. They won only once in their Euro 2000 group, against Georgia, but three of their four defeats by Norway and Slovenia were by a single goal. Their goalkeeper, Foto Strakosha, is rated the best in the Greek league while several colleagues play in Germany.

Record against England: P 2, W 0, D 0, L 2, F 0, A 7

FINLAND

Richard Moller Nielsen, who coached Denmark to an astounding European title in 1992, could not take the Finns to Euro 2000 and gives way to Antti Muurinen, who steered HJK Helsinki into the Champions' League stage. Muurinen inherits a side who recently won 4-3 in Belgium - without the lavishly gifted Jari Litmanen of Barcelona or Liverpool's Sami Hyypia.

Record against England: P 9, W 0, D 1, L 8, F 6, A 34

GREECE

A trouble-torn European Championship qualifying campaign included the resignation of their Romanian coach, Anghel Iordanescu, after just eight months plus a last-minute defeat by a penalty at home to Latvia. Olympiakos' displays in last season's European Cup quarter-finals - they came within five minutes of knocking out Juventus - highlights the quality Vasilios Daniil must strive to harness.

Record against England: P 6, W 0, D 1, L 5, F 1, A 15

GERMANY

The crisis of confidence in German football - deepened by mediocre results for the nation team and concern over the influx of foreigners to the Bundesliga - mirrors that of England. But, after launching his reign with a Euro 2000 defeat in Turkey, and enduring vitriolic criticism following humiliations by the US and Scotland, new coach Erich Ribbeck took his remodelled team to first place in their group.

Record against England (including West Germany): P 22, W 8, D 5, L 9, F 29, A 38

SCOTLAND: GROUP SIX

SAN MARINO

Achieved their usual 100 per cent record in the Euro 2000 qualifying: eight defeats in as many games. Their better players are part-timers in Italy's lower divisions; others drive buses or work in banks. Scotland have drawn them twice before and can expect to encounter a massed defence from a "nation" who regard honourable failure as a triumph.

Record against Scotland: P 4, W 0, D 0, L 4, F 0, A 13

LATVIA

Scotland beat the Baltic republic twice on their way to qualifying for the last World Cup, but Latvia have improved even since then and are now managed by an Englishman, the former Watford coach Gary Johnson. Opened their Euro 2000 campaign by winning sensationally in Norway, 3-1, and also took four points off Greece. Marian Pahars, a lively striker for Southampton, lies in wait for the Scots.

Record against Scotland: P 2, W 0, D 0, L 2, F 0, A 4

CROATIA

Ostensibly in decline since they came third in the World Cup, Croatia finished behind both Yugoslavia and the Republic of Ireland in the Euro 2000 qualifying. Their outstanding players work in England, Spain and Italy (although Zvonomir Boban has just retired from international football), while Croatia Zagreb demonstrated the depth of home-based talent by drawing at Manchester United.

Record against Scotland: No previous meetings.

BELGIUM

Craig Brown may now be regretting not going to watch the Belgians in October's 2-1 defeat by England at Sunderland. Qualifying automatically for Euro 2000 as co-hosts, they are having to play friendlies: in one, away to the Netherlands in September, they drew 5-5. Also held the Dutch in France 98, but currently struggling to replace the generation of Enzo Scifo and Luc Nilis.

Record against Scotland: P 12, W 7, D 1, L 4, F 20, A 17

WALES: GROUP FIVE: ARMENIA

Finished second from bottom in their six-team Euro 2000 group. Their only victories came against Andorra and they scored in just three of the 10 games, although they did hold Ukraine 0-0 in Yerevan. Several of the side play in Russia, including goalkeeper Roman Berezovski at St Petersburg, who is regarded as their only international-class performer.

Record against Wales: No previous meetings.

BELARUS

Failed to win a single game in the qualifying for Euro 2000, even conceding a double to Wales. Against that, however, they drew twice with Italy in the group matches and lost only to a penalty at home to Scotland in 1997. Team almost exclusively drawn from Russian clubs, although wing-back Sergei Gurenko is now with Roma.

Record against Wales: P 2, W 0, D 0, L 2, F 3, A 5

POLAND

Third in the World Cup in 1978, the Poles enjoyed an overdue revival in the Euro 2000 qualifying, but missed out after finishing level on points with England. Lost 3-1 at Wembley and drew 0-0 in Warsaw, yet failed in Sweden when a point would have sufficed. Have strong Bundesliga representation.

Record against Wales: P 3, W 1, D 1, L 1, F 3, A 2

UKRAINE

Pipped by France for an automatic place in the Low Countries next summer, Ukraine were then surprisingly defeated over two legs in their play-off against Slovenia. Still to qualify for a major tournament though a team featuring Milan's Andriy Shevchenko and virtually all his former Dynamo Kiev colleagues will fancy their chances of making sure this time.

Record against Wales: No previous meetings.

NORWAY

Norwegian football is on a high. The national team, playing a "British" long-ball style and heavily laced with Premiership players like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Tore Andre Flo, Oyvind Leonhardsen and Henning Berg, followed up their feat in reaching the second phase of France 98 by winning eight and losing only one of 10 Euro 2000 qualifiers.

Record against Wales: P 6, W 3, D 2, L 1, F 9, A 5

NORTHERN IRELAND: GROUP THREE MALTA

The Maltese have lost their last 22 competitive fixtures and fared little better in friendly internationals. Highlighting a failure to develop players is the fact that Carmel Busuttil, 35, and ex-Brentford defender John Buttigieg, 36, figured prominently in the Euro 2000 series.

Record against N Ireland: P 2, W 0, D 0, L 2, F 0, A 5

ICELAND

In the Euro 2000 campaign, Iceland held France and Ukraine and beat Russia. Since then, the coach who built a highly competitive side from a population of fewer than 300,000, Gudjon Thordarson, has become manager of Stoke City. But with a squad steeped in Scandinavian and British football, they can no longer be regarded as makeweights.

Record against N Ireland: P 2, W 1, D 0, L 1, F 1, A 2

BULGARIA

Bulgarian clung too long to the players who did them proud at USA 94 and came a poor fourth in England's Euro 2000 group. They beat only Luxembourg, after which the great Hristo Stoichkov was appointed assistant to coach Dimitar Dimitrov. They have pledged to bring in new blood so things may deteriorate before they improve.

Record against N Ireland: P 4, W 1, D 1, L 2, F 3, A 4

DENMARK

Endured some bizarre results during the Euro 2000 qualifying, losing at home to Wales but clinching second place by coming from 2-0 down to win in Italy. That banished the gloom which followed the Laudrup brothers' international exit. Peter Schmeichel remains, while Newcastle fans may be amazed to learn that Jon Dahl Tomasson is scoring consistently.

Record against N Ireland: P 7, W 4, D 2, L 1, F 11, A 5

CZECH REPUBLIC

Surprise Euro 96 runners-up, the Czechs were the only team to win all 10 Euro 2000 games. Craig Brown, whose Scotland side led them 2-0 away before losing, calls them "Europe's best". Sparta Prague's exploits testify to the quality of those pushing Patrik Berger, Vladimir Smicer and Pavel Nedved for a place.

Record against N Ireland (including Czechoslovakia): P 2, W 0, D 0, L 2, F 1, A 3

REPUBLIC IF IRELAND: GROUP TWO ANDORRA

The tiny principality, better known for skiing and stamps, lost all their European Championship qualifiers. Their football is entirely amateur (champions CE Principat are staffed by waiters and ski instructors). However, they embarrassed France, holding the world champions to 0-0 before succumbing to a contentious 87-minute penalty.

Record against Rep of Ireland: No previous meetings.

ESTONIA

Frequent opponents for Scotland, with whom they have twice shared 0-0 draws. Under an Icelandic coach, Teitur Thordarson, the former Soviet republic have made solid progress since independence. Not prolific scorers but tight defensively and with a decent goalkeeper, Derby's Mart Poom.

Record against Rep of Ire: No previous meetings.

CYPRUS

After decades of propping up qualifying sections, the Cypriots would have reached Euro 2000 had they won in Austria in October. Mick McCarthy will have noted that they beat Spain - ranked No 1 in Europe in yesterday's draw - in Limassol last year. Could pinch the odd point off the favoured sides.

Record against Rep of Ire: P 2, W 0, D 0, L 2, F 2, A 9

PORTUGAL

Going to Euro 2000 as best runners-up, they can still call on most of the players who impressed at Euro 96. These include goalkeeper Vitor Baia and centre-back Fernando Couto. Yet it is the midfield of Figo, Paulo Sousa, Rui Costa and Sergio Conceicao, all proven performers in Italy or Spain, to whom Portugal are looking to scale the heights of the Eusebio era.

Record against Rep of Ire: P 9, W 6, D 0, L 3, F 13, A 6

THE NETHERLANDS

Have slipped slightly since beating Jack Charlton's Irish side in a Euro 96 play-off. Typically for the Dutch, who seem unable to function without conflict, the appointment of the untested Frank Rijkaard as coach caused unrest. The former Milan player has a gifted squad, half the Barcelona team and Marc Overmars and Dennis Bergkamp among them, but history suggests that pulling together may still be a problem.

Record against Rep of Ire: P 15, W 8, D 2, L 5, F 28, A 22

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