Football: Germany, Spain on brink of Euro 2012
European powerhouses Germany and Spain are on the brink of reaching Euro 2012 ahead of the latest round of qualifying matches on Friday and Saturday.
World Cup semi-finalists Germany, who have won all seven of their Group A matches to date, will be assured of a place in Poland and Ukraine if they defeat Austria in Gelsenkirchen on Friday evening.
"We just need to take the final step," said Germany coach Joachim Loew.
"We have earned 21 points in seven qualifying games and we have almost qualified for the European Championship. That wasn't expected straight after the World Cup success."
Germany are in buoyant mood after edging Brazil 3-2 in a friendly in Stuttgart last month, but they will be without Real Madrid midfielder Sami Khedira (groin) and Bayern Munich striker Mario Gomez (thigh).
World and European champions Spain will be just three points from the finals if the Czech Republic drop points against Scotland in Glasgow in the only match taking place on Saturday.
Should Craig Levein's side secure a positive result against the Czechs, Spain will be able to rubber-stamp their place in the finals by winning at home to Group I's bottom side Liechtenstein three days later.
Although most of the nine groups are topped by recognised continental heavyweights, not all of Spain and Germany's rivals for next summer's title are sitting quite as pretty.
The Netherlands, who replaced Spain as the number one side in the FIFA ranking last week, top Group E but are only three points clear of Sweden ahead of Friday's visit of San Marino.
France visit Albania seeking to protect a one-point lead over Belarus -- albeit with a game in hand -- in Group D, while England, who visit Bulgaria, are only above Montenegro on goal difference in Group H.
England's preparations for the trip to Sofia have been given a shot in the arm by the form of the squad's Manchester United contingent, who hit form with a scarcely credible 8-2 annihilation of Arsenal on Sunday.
"It is really interesting," Capello said. "(Danny) Welbeck, Smalling, Jones, Cleverley. All these players are playing really good.
"After the game they played against Manchester City at Wembley (a 3-2 win in the Community Shield), they are improving."
Danny Welbeck missed the cut after injuring his hamstring shortly after scoring against Arsenal, while fellow United player Rio Ferdinand was also overlooked as he recovers from a hamstring complaint of his own.
England go to Bulgaria as strong favourites but they cannot afford a slip-up, with Montenegro visiting a Wales team demoralised by their recent slump to 117th in the world ranking.
France coach Laurent Blanc has recalled wingers Franck Ribery and Mathieu Valbuena for their double-header with Albania and Romania.
Les Bleus are bidding to build on an 11-game unbeaten run stretching back to the shock 1-0 defeat at home to Belarus exactly a year ago, in what was Blanc's first competitive game in charge.
"We've been on a journey," said Blanc. "But have we improved a lot, have we gone far enough? I don't know.
"The important thing is that we qualify for the European Championship. We have everything to win."
Italy, who beat Spain 2-1 in a friendly on August 10, will bid to stretch their five-point lead in Group C when they visit the Faroe Islands.
The biggest obstacle for the azzurri may be a lack of match fitness in their squad, with the 2011-12 Serie A campaign yet to begin due to a player strike.
With the finishing line creeping into sight, Groups B and H are the most finely poised.
Group B features a three-way tie between Ireland, Russia and Slovakia at the summit with four games to go, while Portugal, Norway and Denmark are locked on 10 points at the top of five-team Group H with three matches remaining.
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