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.

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
Sport
footballLive! Chelsea vs West Ham kicked off 10 Boxing Day matches, with Arsenal vs QPR closing the action
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Sport
football
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all