Top guns in action at Euro qualifiers

Paris, September 11:

Footballing heavyweights England, France, Spain and Italy are all in Euro 2008 action on Wednesday as qualifying for the finals in Austria and Switzerland. With November 21 the final day of qualifying for the tournament, time is running out for teams to ensure they fill one of the top two spots in the seven qualifying groups.

Scotland, in tough qualifying Group B with both World Cup finalists Italy and France, could also crank up their bid to break through into the 16-team finals following their match in France on Wednesday.

Despite their tough draw, Scotland are second in group B, just one point behind leaders France and one point ahead of world champions Italy. If Scotland qualify, it will be the first time they have competed in an international tournament since the 1998 World Cup in France. Even defeat would not rule out Scotland going on to claim an unlikely place in the European Championship, with games against Ukraine and Georgia to come next month.

Steve McClaren faces the acid test of his belief that England’s qualifying campaign is back on track as Guus Hiddink brings his Russian revolution to Wembley. McClaren’s side bid to reach next year’s finals will be given a stern tests by one of Europe’s pre-eminent coaches.

Russia are a point ahead of England, who still have to travel to Moscow in October, and a win for Hiddink’s unbeaten team in London would further damage McClaren’s credibility and, more importantly, his team’s Euro hopes.

Hiddink has quickly established Russia as one of the most resolute teams in Europe in just over a year in the job, while McClaren, in the same period, has been engaged in a permanent struggle to convince a sceptical public of his worth.

Ukraine approach their Group B qualifier against Italy in a must-win situation to keep their hopes alive. Ukraine are now in fourth slot with 13 points from seven matches, four points behind third-placed Italy. Ukrainian manager Oleg Blokhin said he remained confident that his side still had chances to obtain a pass to the Euro finals. Meanwhile Spain, in third spot in Group F, aim to beef up their challenge for a top-two spot at home to Latvia.