5 automatic spots up for grabs at Euro 2012
Five automatic berths in next year's European Championship are up for grabs Tuesday when the last qualifying games are played, with France and Portugal the biggest names yet to seal their places in the tournament.
England drew with Montenegro on Friday to become the fifth team to qualify for the 2012 finals, along with fellow group winners Spain, Italy, Germany and Netherlands. Poland and Ukraine did not need to qualify as host nations.
It leaves four pools going down to the wire, with two-time champion France and Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal facing winner-takes-all matches against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Denmark respectively to finish top of their groups.
Group B leader Russia needs just a draw against visitors Andorra - which is without a point in nine qualifiers - to secure first place and Greece also requires only a point in Georgia to finish top of Group F at the expense of Croatia.
The other automatic spot goes to the runner-up with the best record against the sides placed first, third, fourth and fifth in their pool, with the remaining eight second-place finishers going into four two-legged playoffs.
Sweden is already assured of a top-two finish in Group E but a victory at home to Netherlands would see the Scandinavians claim the best runners-up automatic spot. The Dutch, however, are one of three teams - with Spain and Germany - with perfect records in qualification.
France is unbeaten in its last 14 matches, including friendlies, but still hasn't been able to shrug off Bosnia-Herzegovina, which is a point behind the 1984 and 2000 winners in second place.
''We are in a commanding position,'' said France forward Loic Remy, a scorer in the 3-0 victory over Albania on Friday. ''It's up to them to come and get a result. And it's up to us to give away nothing.''
Eric Abidal, Franck Ribery, Karim Benzema, Bacary Sagna, Laurent Koscielny, Kevin Gameiro and Blaise Matuidi all missed the Albania match through injury, and left back Patrice Evra (thigh) and central midfielder Yohan Cabaye (ankle) could join the list after getting hurt on Friday.
''Our strategy will be to win the match,'' France coach Laurent Blanc said. ''Then, depending on how the match unfolds, we will do our best if we are in a position to protect the result. But we won't prepare to get a draw. That's the best way to lose the match.''
Portugal and Denmark are level on 16 points heading into their Group H showdown in Copenhagen, but the Portuguese - runner-ups in 2004 and a World Cup semifinalist two years later - can finish top with a draw.
Denmark is assured of a top-two finish but Norway, which is three points off the co-leaders, needs a big home victory over Cyprus and for Portugal to lose heavily to stand a chance of coming second - and depriving next year's tournament of Real Madrid forward Ronaldo, one of the world's best players.
''We're going to Denmark to win,'' said Portugal coach Paulo Bento, who should be able to call on Ronaldo and fellow winger Nani even though the pair missed training after Friday's win against Iceland.
Russia is almost over the line following Friday's 1-0 win in Slovakia that kept the team two points clear of second-place Ireland, but still needs to complete the job against bottom side Andorra in Group B.
''We've made a very important step toward Euro 2012 but the task is yet to be fulfilled,'' said Russia coach Dick Advocaat, who is without suspended pair Alexander Anyukov and Konstantin Zyryanov.
Ireland hosts Armenia, a point further adrift in third, in what is likely to be a straight contest for the runnerup spot.
Greece drew 1-1 at home to Georgia in September last year so will not expect an easy ride in Tbilisi. If the Greeks do slip up, Croatia - which lost 2-0 in Athens on Friday when a win would have guaranteed top spot - will finish first with a victory at home to Latvia.
Scotland will clinch runner-up spot in Group I if it manages to win in Alicante against world and European champion Spain, which has won all seven of its qualifiers.
Czech Republic, which visits Lithuania, is a point behind Scotland in third so will be hoping the Spanish don't rest too many big players for their match.
Serbia must beat Slovenia to leapfrog Estonia and finish second in Group C behind Italy, which will look to maintain its unbeaten pool record when it hosts Northern Ireland.
In Group A, Belgium has a one-point advantage over third-place Turkey in the race for the runner-up spot but finishes its qualifying campaign at Germany, which has a maximum haul of 27 points from nine matches. That makes Turkey the favorite to come second going into its home match against Azerbaijan.