Loss of key defenders handicaps Portugal's qualifying struggle

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The Independent Online

England are not the only marquee name scrambling to qualify for Euro 2008. Portugal, the runners-up in 2004, and the Netherlands, are also in jeopardy.

Portugal, third in Group A, seek to cut a four-point deficit on section leaders Poland in Lisbon tonight. In the same group Finland (2nd, 17pts) travel to Serbia (4th, 14 pts).

Portugal want to redeem last month's draw in Armenia. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari is without centre-halves Ricardo Carvalho and newly naturalised former Brazilian Pepe – Real Madrid's summer signing. He does have Cristiano Ronaldo, rested after his English suspension, and Deco to call on.

Finland's English manager Roy Hodgson must cover for the loss of the injured Jari Litmanen, who has been their key influence for a decade. Serbia are without Manchester United's suspended Nemanja Vidic. They hope to draw inspiration from the example of 57-year-old Spanish coach Javier Clemente who has travelled to Belgrade despite breaking four ribs and a collarbone, as well as suffering lung damage, when falling off his bicycle in a freak accident at home in Bilbao last week. "He is selfless and courageous," said goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic. "We owe him a win."

The Dutch, third in Group G, need to win at home to Bulgaria (2nd, a point ahead) who have Dimitar Penev, 62, back at the helm. Penev led them to the World Cup quarter-final in 1994. "We have no fear," said Spurs' Dimitar Berbatov of the tie. Group leaders Romania are in Belarus.

Many domestic managers will be following results from African Nations' Cup qualifying which largely concludes this weekend. Successful players could miss five Premier League matches early next year.

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