Expect pressure in Paris, drama in Dublin

 

There will be ghosts stalking the dug-outs of Europe tonight, notably those of David Ginola and Thierry Henry, as the group stage of Euro 2012 qualifying draws to a dramatic close with key matches in Paris, Dublin and Copenhagen.



Group D: France v Bosnia (TV: ESPN 8pm, live)

It's 1993, Gérard Houllier's France, needing only a point at home to an unfashionable east European team to reach the World Cup, are playing out time at 2-2. Then Ginola over-hits a cross, Bulgaria break away to score. Ancient history? Not exactly. Only last summer Ginola was threatening to sue Houllier for continuing to blame him for France's failure. This time Bosnia & Herzegovina play the part of Bulgaria with Manchester City's Edin Dzeko in the Hristo Stoichkov role. Bosnia, who also have Stoke's Asmir Begovic, Roma's Miralem Pjanic and Rangers' Sasa Papac, are yet to reach a major finals.

The pressure is on France, who are without Franck Ribéry, Karim Benzema and Bacary Sagna and have Eric Abidal and Patrice Evra doubtful. "We have nothing to lose,'' said Pjanic, "We've reached our minimum goal."

If France lose they will be pitched into the play-offs, evoking memories of Henry's handball against the Irish in the 2010 World Cup play-off. Just desserts, an Irishman might say, except there are complicating factors.

Group B: Rep of Ireland v Armenia (TV: Sky Sports 1, 6.45pm, live)

Andorra have played 35 competitive internationals away from home. They have lost 34 and drawn one, in Macedonia in 2005. It can be assumed they will not defeat Russia in Moscow tonight which means Ireland and Armenia are playing for a play-off place (if Ireland win and Russia draw, Russia qualify on head-to-head results).

Armenia, who have never qualified for a finals, are in form with three straight wins in which they have scored 11 goals. Ireland have scored only 13 in nine qualifiers, five of those against Andorra, and will be without Robbie Keane. A point will do, so Richard Dunne's return after suspension is probably more relevant than the identity of Keane's replacement – West Bromwich's Simon Cox. Aras Ozbiliz, a Turkish-born, Dutch-raised Ajax striker of Armenian descent who was only granted Armenian citizenship last week, could make his debut.

Should Ireland finish in the play-offs they will probably be seeded, unless Serbia win ... and France lose. Cue "Allez les Bleus" at the Aviva, perhaps.

Group H: Denmark v Portugal (TV: ESPN 10pm, delayed coverage)

A draw sends both through (Denmark as best runner-up) unless Sweden beat the Dutch in Stockholm. If that happens Denmark need a victory which, if combined with an unfeasibly large win for Norway at home to Cyprus, would knock in-form Portugal out altogether.

Final push: who needs to do what

Group A

Germany have won the group. Turkey and Belgium vie for second: Belgium are a point ahead, but visit Germany, while Turkey host Azerbaijan.



Group B

Russia need only a point at home to tiny Andorra to ensure first place. Republic of Ireland and Armenia are vying for second and play in Dublin: Ireland need only a point for second.



Group C

Italy have won the group, and Serbia will be second if they win in Slovenia. If they do not, Estonia make it.

Group D

France and Bosnia-Herzegovina will be the top two, and they meet in Paris to decide first place. France need only a draw to finish top.



Group E

Netherlands have won the group and Sweden will be second. They meet in Stockholm and if Sweden win they qualify as best runners-up.



Group F

Greece need to draw in Georgia to win the group. If they do not, Croatia can pip them to automatic qualification by beating Latvia.

Group G

England have won the group and Montenegro have sealed second place: only third is left to play for.



Group H

Denmark host Portugal to decide first place: a draw is good enough for the visitors, and could also make the Danes best runners-up, depending on how Sweden fare.



Group I

Spain have won but Scotland, who play there, must match the Czechs' result in Lithuania for second place.

Rik Sharma

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