World Cup

European powers closing in on World Cup berths

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Italy, Germany and the Netherlands can seal spots for the 2014 World Cup on Tuesday while England can boost its hopes of by avoiding defeat in Ukraine.

All of Europe's soccer powers have risen to the top of their qualifying groups. They are now in position to avert a tense finish by wrapping up their passage to Brazil with games to spare.

Italy will secure first place in Group B with a home win over the Czech Republic. The Germans and the Dutch, however, need victories against the Faoroe Islands and Andorra, respectively, as well as favorable results elsewhere to qualify.

''I hope it can be a celebration in Turin for the squad,'' said Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who is set to equal Fabio Cannavaro's record of 136 international appearances for the Azzurri. ''As for personal matters and records, it can be satisfying, but only if we book our ticket for the World Cup in Brazil.''

Italy has missed only one World Cup since 1934, but has never qualified with two matches to spare.

Germany is tied for the lead in goals during qualifying and can expect some more against the Faoroes. But it will be assured first place in Group C and a 16th straight World Cup appearance only if second-place Sweden fails to defeat Kazakhstan on the road.

Similarly, the Netherlands should thrash an Andorran team that is without a point or a goal so far in Group D, but it needs for second-place Romania to drop points at home to Turkey.

Things are more complex for the English, who top Group H but could be looking to secure their passage via the playoffs if they fail to return from Kiev with at least a point in Tuesday's standout qualifier.

Ukraine is a point behind in third, and would topple England if it can avenge a loss to the same opponents in a European Championship group match in Donetsk last year.

''They need to win,'' England coach Roy Hodgson said. ''There is no guarantee a draw will be that suitable for them because that might take it out of their hands. We have two home games left and if we win them, it is out of their hands.''

Meanwhile, Montenegro is tied on points with England but has played a game more.

For the French, though, the playoffs - for the eight best second-place finishers from the nine groups - are increasingly likely to be their best hope.

Without a goal in five matches since March, France has slipped three points behind Spain in Group I with two matches left and must win in Belarus to keep alive its fading hopes. Spain does not have a qualifying game but will play Chile in Geneva in an exhibition game.

Elsewhere, Russia will overtake Portugal by a point atop Group F by beating Israel in their game in hand, and Switzerland would see its lead in Group E reduced to one point by Norway by losing in Oslo.

Bosnia-Herzegovina and Greece are tied with 16 points for first in Group G and play Slovakia and Latvia, respectively.

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