Soccer

Germany can secure WCup berth by beating Ireland

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FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) - FRANKFURT, Ger

Germany can secure World Cup qualification with a win against Ireland in Cologne on Friday. Even a draw would probably suffice for Germany to finish top of Group C because of its vastly superior goal difference over second-place Sweden.

Sweden will make sure of finishing at least in second place by beating Austria at home on Friday. Germany plays Sweden in Stockholm four days later in the final round of qualifiers.

Friday's match between the Faeroe Islands and Kazakhstan has no bearing on World Cup qualifying.

Here are 5 things to know about Group C ahead of Friday's matches:

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NO STRIKERS, ''FALSE NINE?''

Germany's top strikers, Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez, are injured and coach Joachim Loew has refused to call up Stefan Kiessling. With Marco Reus also injured and Mario Goetze lacking match practice, Loew is likely to go with a ''false nine'' solution with either Thomas Mueller or Max Kruse nominally leading his attack. Both could be in the starting lineup as well, with Mueller likely to attack from the right wing. Loew said he would play Philipp Lahm as right back and not as in the defensive midfield position that he's been playing in Bayern Munich under Pep Guardiola.

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GERMANY'S STRENGTH AT HOME

Germany has lost only twice at home in 81 World Cup qualifying matches since 1934: in 1985 against Portugal (1-0) and in 2001 in Munich against England (5-1). It has won 62 and drawn 18. Germany is unbeaten in its last 30 qualifying matches for either the European Championship or World Cup. The last loss was In October 2007 against the Czech Republic in Euro 2008 qualifying. Cologne is considered a good venue for Germany - it had to win its last qualifying game there and it beat Wales 2-1 before going on to capture its last World Cup title in 1990.

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LOEW: DON'T EXPECT A ROUT

The last time Germany played Ireland it won 6-1 in Dublin one year ago. But Loew says the Irish did not show their real face then. Loew says the Irish are ''artists in defense, especially away,'' who are ''very physical.'' According to Loew, it doesn't matter who is the coach or who plays, the Irish can ''defend outstandingly, they use maximum body contact and high pace and seek the shortest way to get the ball forward.'' Ireland has an interim coach in Noel King after the firing of Giovanni Trapattoni and will want an honorable result in its 500th international. King is likely to use some players who fell out of favor under Trapattoni but center backs Richard Dunne and John O'Shea are suspended. King is likely to play the 4-5-1 formation.

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AUSTRIA AIMS TO DEFY STATISTICS

Against Sweden in Stockholm on Friday, Austria is aiming for something it has done only twice in its last 23 matches abroad - winning. Since September 2005, Austria has earned victories only at Liechtenstein in a 2006 friendly and at Azerbaijan in a Euro 2012 qualifier. ''Negative records are there to be broken. We don't care about statistics,'' Austria captain Christian Fuchs said. ''Our last victory might be two years ago but we've had some decent performances since.''

Austria beat Sweden 2-1 in Vienna four months ago and coach Marcel Koller, whose 23-man squad is free of injuries, admitted his team prefers home games. ''If the opponent is coming to us, we feel better,'' Koller said. ''But this Sweden game is like a final for us and it shouldn't matter where you play.''

The last time Austria reached a major tournament was the 1998 World Cup after beating Sweden twice in qualification. In their battle for second place in Group C, Austria trails the Scandinavians by three points before the last two rounds of group matches. On Tuesday, Austria travels to Faeroe Islands while Sweden hosts Germany.

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ZLATAN AND THE SWEDES

Loew, whose team plays its last qualifying game in Stockholm, says ''the Swedes have outstanding individual players, not just Zlatan Ibrahimovic. But their strength lies in the unity of their team. They showed that in (our) home game,'' when Ibrahimovic engineered an unlikely comeback as Sweden overcame a 4-0 deficit to earn a 4-4 draw.

Sweden coach Erik Hamren says ''Zlatan is hugely important for us.'' The Paris Saint-Germain striker is important not only as ''an excellent player but also as captain. ''He is fantastic with young players and takes responsibility.'' Austria coach Marcel Koller says Ibrahimovic is a ''fantastic player'' who makes Sweden a strong team.

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