Germany set to move closer to Euro 2008 spot

Three-time champion Germany should move closer to qualifying for the 2008 European Championship by beating Cyprus on Wednesday.

updated: February 25, 2007 11:37 IST
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Three-time champion Germany should move closer to qualifying for the 2008 European Championship by beating Cyprus on Wednesday, while ailing Portugal hopes to get back in contention with a victory over Kazakhstan. Five other qualifying games will be played before the long winter break, while most of the other big teams are involved in friendlies, including Netherlands-England, France-Greece and World Cup champion Italy at home against Turkey. The Germans should go back to the top of Group D by winning at Cyprus to make it four victories in four games. Joachim Loew's team trails the Czech Republic by a point, but the Czechs have a friendly at home to Denmark. Germany is going for its sixth straight victory overall since the World Cup despite the absence of seven regular starters due to injury or illness, including striker Lukas Podolski, defender Christoph Metzelder and goalkeeper Jens Lehmann. The Cypriots rarely challenge for places at the big championships but stunned Ireland 5-2 in their last qualifying game. "This is the strongest rival in the group so far," Loew said. "At the moment they are better than Slovakia or Ireland." Next-to-last Ireland hopes to rebound with a home victory over last place San Marino in another Group D game. Portugal struggling Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari could be in trouble with Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson if he fields Red Devils winger Cristiano Ronaldo in a Group A game. "It's against Kazakhstan so you would have thought Portugal could handle that without Ronaldo but if he's got one of these injuries which is 50-50 I hope he doesn't play," Ferguson said on United's Web site. But Portugal is struggling, lying fifth and six points behind group leader Serbia, and Ronaldo has said he is fit to face Kazakhstan despite picking up an ankle injury in Sunday's 1-0 victory at Blackburn. Second-place Finland should be confident of beating next-to-last Armenia at home. Belgium and Poland, just behind the top two, face each other in Brussels. The other two Euro 2008 games - Israel-Croatia and Macedonia-Russia - are both in Group E and could leave England in a lot of trouble. Facing the Netherlands in Amsterdam in a friendly, England could slip to fourth if Israel and Croatia tie. England, Croatia, Israel and Macedonia each have seven points and Russia five. Real Madrid teammates Ruud van Nistelrooy and David Beckham won't be involved in the England-Netherlands game. Van Nistelrooy, who scored four times as Madrid won 4-1 at Osasuna on Sunday, says he won't play for Netherlands coach Marco van Basten. Beckham is no longer part of England's plans under coach Steve McClaren. France call up Squillaci Meanwhile, France coach Raymond Domenech has called up Lyon defender Sebastien Squillaci for injured AS Roma defender Philippe Mexes. Defenders Michalis Kapsis and Traianos Dellas are fit again and back on the Greek lineup. It's the first match between the two teams since Greece won 1-0 in the Euro 2004 quarterfinals before going on to take the title in Lisbon. Italy coach Roberto Donadoni has recalled striker Alberto Gilardino for the friendly against Turkey, leaving out Filippo Inzaghi and Antonio Cassano. Either rested or injured are strikers Luca Toni and Alessandro Del Piero, midfielder Andrea Pirlo, Gennaro Gattuso and Simone Perrotta and defenders Alessandro Nesta and Fabio Grosso. The game is being played in Bergamo to honor former Italy captain Giacinto Facchetti, who died in September and was from the city. Brazil's lineup against Switzerland should include in-form forwards Ronaldinho and Kaka. Ronaldinho scored twice for Barcelona on Sunday while Kaka has five goals in the Champions League this season for AC Milan. (AP)