Final chance arrives for Europe's South African wannabes

The groups have largely taken shape but there's plenty still to be decided in Europe


Surely Ukraine will capitalise on their victory over England?

It would be criminal and pretty distressing for Ukraine, quarter-finalists at the last World Cup, should they fail to book their place in the play-offs now that they have grabbed second place from Croatia with their 1-0 victory over England on Saturday – especially as they only need to beat bottom side Andorra to make it happen.

Croatia are left to pray for the unimaginable, while ensuring they win in Kazakhstan, second from the foot of Group Six. "Andorra are not the weakest opponents," coach Oleksiy Mykhaylychenko said, with a straight face, after Saturday's win. "The Croats had problems playing in Andorra and England only managed to crack their defence in the second half. It will not be easier than the game against England," he added clearly remembering that Rio Ferdinand won't be in the Andorra back four.

After a lacklustre goalless draw against Belarus last month, Ukraine's chances of qualifying seemed on the wane. However, the victory over England has got the headline writers in upbeat mode once more. "Believe In Wonders" and "Long Live Ukraine" were offerings in the media on Sunday.

Ukraine are without striker Andrei Voronin, although some Liverpool fans may not see that as a negative, and the suspended midfielder Anatoly Tymoschuk tonight. Mykhaylychenko said Voronin was less than 100 per cent fit, while local media have reported a row between the pair.

Can Portugal make the play-offs without Cristiano Ronaldo?

Portugal can calm the frayed nerves of their long-suffering fans by beating lowly Malta tonight in Group One to book a place in the play-offs and ensure we can all still cling to the dream of seeing Ronaldo at the World Cup.

The world's most expensive player won't be in action tonight – he's nursing a sore ankle – but many regular Portugal-watchers believe they are a better team without him. What? Ronaldo, not a team player? Never. But the stats may just back it up as the Madrid man has failed to score in qualifying and has contributed to the frustration surrounding the national side who were favourites to win their group. The pressure has slowly grown on coach Carlos Queiroz, who was booed when his name was announced before the Hungary match on Saturday.

"We are not there yet," Queiroz said. But if they don't get there the former Manchester United man will be heading for the job queue.

Anyway, victory at home over Malta can surely be achieved with or without Ronaldo, especially as some doubt his worth. Although surely they will want to reassess that when they see who takes his place – Nani is expected to step up.

Should Portugal slip up the Swedes will need to beat Albania, while Hungary could still sneak in if both were to somehow fail.

Can France rediscover their World Cup-winning touch?

Former World Cup-winning manager Aime Jacquet is confident France will qualify for the finals in South Africa next year, although he must be the sole Frenchman with such certainty.

France are assured of a play-off place after their 5-0 demolition of the Faroe Islands on Saturday lifted them four points clear of Austria with one game to play. Les Bleus host Austria tonight and they will be hoping to maintain their improved form in Group Seven as they wait for next month's draw for the play-offs.

Coach Raymond Domenech – dogged by reports of a bust-up with his players during the double header against Romania and Serbia – is somehow struggling on in the job but Jacquet has no doubts: "What is interesting about football is that everyone has his own way of doing things. That is better – it is not in a mould. The thing is not to be destabilised. If your players follow you it does not matter what else happens." Problem is the players don't seem to be.

Except perhaps for David Trezeguet, who scored 34 goals in 71 games for France, and has has sniffed one more World Cup and revealed his desire to return to the national team after being out in the cold for 18 months. The 31-year-old said: "I will always be available in this difficult period. To qualify the coach should put all the weapons in his side. If Domenech thinks I can be useful, I am ready to play in the play-offs."

Who will shade Group Two?

This has been one of the tightest groups in the qualifying campaign, and the automatic spot will be a toss-up between Switzerland and Greece. Switzerland are in the box seats only needing one point to qualify. Greece can still gain automatic qualification on goal difference by beating Luxembourg if the Swiss lose. Latvia and Israel retain slim hopes of a play-off place. Frankly, it's hard to care.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence