Spain vs France tops the bill
After assembling handsome victories in Friday’s matches, Europe’s leading nations are likely to have their work cut out when the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign continues tonight.
The Group I clash between Spain and France in Madrid is the headline clash, while the matches between Italy and Denmark, Germany and Sweden, and England and Poland could all have surprises in store.
The meeting in the Spanish capital is a repeat of the Euro 2012 quarter-final in Ukraine, which saw Spain progress 2-0 en route to victory in the final over Italy.
The two sides go into the match level on six points but their preparations have been contrasting; while Spain were ambling to a 4-0 victory in Belarus on Friday, France were losing 1-0 to Japan in a friendly match at Stade de France.
Les Bleus largely bossed proceedings against the Japanese before falling to a late goal, and Didier Deschamps has called for more sang-froid in front of goal against the reigning world and European champions.
“When you don’t score, there’s always a possibility for your opponents,” said the France coach.
“We let ourselves get punished (against Japan). But there will be a totally different balance of power against Spain.”
Spain, for whom Pedro Rodriguez scored a hat-trick in Belarus, have won their last 24 matches in qualifying for the World Cup and European Championship, but they have not faced an adversary as dangerous as France in that period.
England crushed San Marino 5-0 on Friday and will look to tighten their stranglehold on Group H by defeating Poland in Warsaw.
The one-sided win at Wembley took England three points clear of Montenegro and Poland, and although the sides immediately below them all have a game in hand, striker Danny Welbeck says it is important they hammer home their advantage.
“We’re all really looking forward to the Poland game,” said the Manchester United forward, who scored twice against San Marino.
“We are top of the group now. That’s where we want to be, that’s the main aim, and that’s where we want to finish as well.”
England will be without Theo Walcott and the Chelsea pair of Frank Lampard and Ryan Bertrand due to injury, but captain Steven Gerrard returns after serving a suspension.
Like England, Germany enjoyed a routine success in their last outing as they routed Ireland 6-1 in Dublin to inflict the heaviest ever home defeat on Giovanni Trapattoni’s beleaguered side.
Their opponents Sweden had to come from behind to win 2-1 against the Faroe Islands, but Germany captain Phillip Lahm knows that the encounter in Berlin will be one of his side’s most taxing assignments of the qualification process.
“All that counts now is Sweden, and we are very focused,” said the Bayern Munich full-back, who missed the Ireland game through suspension.
“We are facing a dangerous team, perhaps the strongest opponent in the group, and we want to bring in the next three points.”
Portugal will look to bounce back from their 1-0 loss to Russia when they host Northern Ireland in Group F, with captain Cristiano Ronaldo poised to win his 100th international cap.
Only two players have previously passed the 100-cap mark for Portugal, and both are former team-mates of Ronaldo’s – Fernando Couto (110 caps) and Luis Figo (127).
Croatia vs Wales 20.00
Macedonia vs Serbia 20.30
Belgium v Scotland 20.45
Czech Republic vs Bulgaria 20.00
Italy vs Denmark 20.45
Faroe Islands vs Ireland 20.00
Austria vs Kazakhstan 20.35
Germany vs Sweden 20.45
Andorra vs Estonia 19.00
Hungary vs Turkey 18.30
Romania vs Netherlands 20.00
Iceland vs Switzerland 20.30
Cyprus vs Norway 20.00
Albania vs Slovenia 20.45
Russia vs Azerbaijan 17.00
Israel vs Luxembourg 18.00
Portugal vs N. Ireland 21.45
Latvia vs Liechtenstein 19.00
Bosnia vs Lithuania 20.00
Slovakia vs Greece 20.30
San Marino vs Moldova 20.30
Poland vs England 21.00
Ukraine vs Montenegro 20.00
Belarus vs Georgia 18.00
Spain vs France 21.00
March 22: Spain vs Finland; France vs Georgia.