Losers still in with a chance

Rupert Metcalf analyses a complex set of possibilities on the road to Euro '96
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The Independent Online
It has been a topsy-turvy qualifying campaign for next summer's European Championship in England. It is not often that a team lose to Luxembourg and then emerge as the favourites to win their group and qualify automatically.

That, however, is just what the Czech Republic have done this year. In June they lost 1-0 in Luxembourg, but since that embarrassment they have taken four points off Norway and, with just a home game against Luxembourg to come, are well placed to take Group Five.

This section should produce the most gripping of all the concluding group matches on 15 November: the Netherlands at home to Norway. If the Dutch beat Malta in Valletta tonight and then beat the Norwegians, and the Czechs gain their revenge against Luxembourg, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands will finish first and second while Norway, leaders at present, will be out.

The winners of the eight groups will book their tickets to England but the second-placed finishers will be at the mercy of a complex grading system devised by Uefa (see below). Six of the eight runners-up go through while the other two face a play-off at Anfield in December.

In Group One, Romania need one point at home to France tonight to ensure qualification. Second place will be closely contested by France, Poland and maybe Slovakia - one of these three could well end up at the Anfield play-off.

Spain and Denmark have booked top-two places in Group Two - Belgium and the rest are out. Spain will win the section tonight if they avoid defeat in Copenhagen. Switzerland and Turkey are assured of the top two places in Group Three - the other section which is likely to send a team to Anfield. Sweden, World Cup semifinalists last year, are out.

It will require a series of upsets to prevent Croatia and Italy filling the top two berths in Group Four. Group Six is so close that fifth-placed Northern Ireland could still finish second. Portugal will win the section if they beat Austria tonight. Bulgaria and Germany have secured the top two slots in Group Seven while, again, only a most unlikely sequence of results can prevent Russia and Scotland doing likewise in Group Eight.