Nervy night awaits Spain, England

LONDON – Having waltzed through the qualifying process for their last two major tournaments Spain find themselves in an undignified tangle at the halfway point on the road to the World Cup in Brazil.
France's Franck Ribery and Spain's Alonso battle in a previous meeting between the two teams. Net photo.
France's Franck Ribery and Spain's Alonso battle in a previous meeting between the two teams. Net photo.

Tuesday
Group One
Serbia     vs      Scotland     21:30
Belgium     vs      Macedonia
Wales     vs      Croatia    21:30 SS5
Group Two
Armenia     vs      Czech Rep    18:00     Denmark     vs      Bulgaria     21:15
Malta     vs      Italy     21:45
Group Three
Germany      vs      Kazakhstan 21:45     Ireland      vs      Austria    
Group Four
Estonia      vs      Andorra     19:00    Turkey      vs      Hungary     20:30    Netherlands vs  Romania     21:30 SS4
Group Six
Azerbaijan vs      Portugal     19:00 SS3
N. Ireland      vs      Israel     21:45    Group Eight
Montenegro vs  England  21:00 SS3    Ukraine      vs      Moldova    
Poland      vs      San Marino 21:45     Group Nine   
France      vs      Spain    22:00   

LONDON – Having waltzed through the qualifying process for their last two major tournaments Spain find themselves in an undignified tangle at the halfway point on the road to the World Cup in Brazil.

While most of the fancied nations appear well-placed to qualify for next year’s finals automatically, world champions Spain head to Paris to play Group I leaders France on Tuesday knowing defeat would leave them five points adrift.

They are not alone in feeling a little vulnerable. England, despite an 8-0 victory in San Marino on Friday, go to Montenegro trailing the tiny Adriatic nation by two points and with two of Serie A’s leading strikers to contend with.

Portugal too, have plenty of work ahead of them to reach the country they discovered.

They make the long trip to Azerbaijan sitting third in Group F, without suspended captain and talisman Cristiano Ronaldo, and with the pressure growing on coach Paulo Bento.

Spain’s surprise home draw with Finland on Friday followed October’s 1-1 home draw with France and handed the initiative to Les Bleus who beat Georgia 3-1 on Friday.

Anything less than victory in the Stade de France would leave Spain contemplating a back door entry to Brazil via the playoffs. “We were always going to Paris to win and nothing has changed,” striker David Villa said in Spanish newspaper Marca.

“The result against Finland has given us even more reason to go there and get three points.”

Spain have won three of their last four matches against the French, including at last year’s Euro 2012 finals in Ukraine, and the last time they tasted defeat was in the last 16 of the 2006 World Cup.

MIXING IT

Montenegro versus England does not have the same tradition as a meeting of France and Spain but nevertheless the Balkan nation have quickly proved they are capable of mixing it with the big boys of world football.

England failed to beat them in Euro 2012 qualifying, drawing home and away, and another failure to do so would make it an uncomfortable time before they face Moldova in September.

A total of 17 matches take place across Europe on Tuesday, after which the qualifying picture may be a little clearer. Italy can consolidate top spot in Group B when they travel to Malta with second-placed Bulgaria facing Denmark.

Germany can move eight points clear in Group C with victory at home to Kazakhstan while in Group D the Netherlands will look to make it six wins out of six when they host Romania.

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