Euro 2012 Qualifiers Goes Down To The Wire

Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Germany have already qualified for next summer's European Championship in Ukraine and Poland. Six more group winners will join them, plus the runner-up with the best record against the teams finishing first, third and fourth in the standings, with the eight other runners-up playing off for the four remaining slots. Here's a look at key upcoming Euro 2012 qualifiers:

Montenegro vs England

England's draws at home to Montenegro and Switzerland left the door open, but Montenegro drew at home with Bulgaria and then lost to Wales to leave England needing just a point in Podgorica to secure its place in next summer's tournament. Even were Montenegro to win, it would still need a victory in Switzerland next Tuesday to supplant England at the top of the group. England has been wildly inconsistent in qualifying, far more impressive away from home than at Wembley. The linkup of Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young provides cause for encouragement, while Scott Parker and Gareth Barry form an effective barrier in front of the back four, although Fabio Capello has given every indication that he would recall Owen Hargreaves should he prove his fitness. It remains open to debate whether Theo Walcott's pace outweighs his indifferent use of the ball, while it's far from clear who England's preferred center forward should be.

Montenegro, meanwhile, has a new coach - Branko Brnovic having been promoted from assistant following the baffling dismissal of Zlatko Kranjcar after the defeat in Cardiff. Dejan Savicevic, the president of the Montenegrin football federation, claimed that Kranjcar's "commitment" had waned since February, but the question now is whether the players will be as committed for the new man as they were for the old.

Greece vs Croatia

Croatia leapt over Greece into top spot with a home win against Israel last month as Greece was held in Latvia. A win in Greece on Friday would secure top-spot in the group; anything else and it goes on to Tuesday when Croatia host Latvia and Greece go to Georgia.

After a dismal World Cup qualifying campaign, this qualifying series has been about rebuilding for Croatia. Mario Mandzukic has begun to emerge as the ideal link man between a highly creative midfield and the center forward - either Eduardo or Nikica Jelavic - while Luka Modric's increasing comfort in a deep role gives Slaven Bilic greater flexibility in midfield. An away game in Piraeus will be a test of just how secure Croatia is at the back of midfield, the area in which it has struggled since the retirement of Niko Kovac.

Slovakia vs Russia

Group B is spectacularly unpredictable. Russia, without playing particularly well, grinds on and remains top, with the advantage of a home game against Andorra on Tuesday to come. A draw away to Slovakia would probably be enough to secure top spot; it had looked the most difficult fixture to come, but Armenia's 4-0 win in Zilina last month has changed perceptions. Essentially this is still the same Russia side that reached the semifinal of Euro 2008, which perhaps explains the air of staleness about it. The old chemistry between Alexander Kerzhakov and Andrei Arshavin doesn't seem to be there any more, Konstantin Zyryanov is beginning to look his age, the Berezutsky twins are as lumbering as ever, while Yuri Zhirkov was diminished by his long spell as a reserve at Chelsea. And Russia desperately misses the one player who has gone from the squad: Sergei Semak, whose energy and intelligence at the back of midfield has never been replaced.

Armenia represent the opposite extreme; it has a very young squad - the 37-year-old goalkeeper Roman Berezovsky and the 38-year-old centre-back Sargis Hovsepyan excepted - and if it beats FYR Macedonia at home, it will go to Dublin to face the Republic of Ireland on Tuesday needing a win to take second in the group.

Other issues

Serbia will seal second place and a playoff spot in Group B if it beats Italy at home (the game in Italy, of course, was awarded to the Azzurri following serious crowd trouble). Estonia is away to Northern Ireland needing a win (and a Serbia defeat) to keep its qualifying hopes alive. In Group D, Bosnia host Luxembourg and France host Albania; assuming both win, they will faceoff next Tuesday in Paris to determine who takes top spot. A win for Sweden away to Finland would confirm second place in Group E

In Group H, wins for Denmark in Cyprus and Portugal at home to Iceland would set up a head to head for top spot in Copenhagen on Tuesday and, realistically if not mathematically, end Norway's hopes of qualifying. Scotland could move into second in group I with a win in Liechtenstein, if the Czech Republic lose at home to Spain. However, given Scotland plays away to Spain on Tuesday, while the Czechs face Lithuania in Vilnius, that may not be overly significant.

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