By Jay Mwamba
There are 47 Euro 2000 qualifiers between today and next Wednesday, and when the dust settles, a clearer picture of the participants in next year’s finals should emerge.
Beware the North
They may be out of contention, but Northern Ireland (1-2-2, 5 points) could still have a say in who wins Group 3 after the coming week’s fixtures.
Laurie McMenemy’s side plays both joint leaders Turkey and Germany (12) within a space of four days. The Turks visit Belfast on Saturday before Northern Ireland travel to Germany next Wednesday.
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Defender Stuart Pearce, dubbed "Psycho" by his fans, has been recalled by coach Kevin Keegan for England’s two must-win Group 5 qualifiers with Luxembourg and second-placed Poland (12 points) on Saturday and Wednesday, respectively.
"We need men to do men’s jobs," Keegan said in defense of the 37-year-old Pearce, who was last capped in 1996.
Third-placed England (2-3-1, 9) need a full haul of points from both games to stay in the playoff picture. Leaders Sweden (13) could move a step closer to the finals with a win over Bulgaria (5) at home on Saturday.
Other key matches feature Group 1 pace-setters Italy (14) vs. Denmark (8) next Wednesday; Norway (16) vs. Greece (9) in Group 2 on Saturday; Group 4 front runners Ukraine (15) vs. World Cup champions France (14) in Kiev on Saturday, and the Bosnia-Scotland battle for the Group 9 playoff berth on Saturday. Both sides are level with 8 points.
The rest of the matches are as follows: Friday — Azerbaijan-Portugal (Group 7). Saturday: Belarus-Wales, Denmark-Switzerland (Group 1); Albania-Latvia, Slovenia-Georgia (Group 2); Finland-Germany (Group 3); Iceland-Andorra, Russia-Armenia (Group 4); Austria-Spain and, on Sunday, Cyprus-Isr’l (Group 6).
Also playing on Saturday are Liechtenstein-Hungary, Slovenia-Georgia (Group 7); Faroe Islands-Estonia and Lithuania-Czech Republic (Group 9).
Next Wednesday’s schedule is: Switzerland-Belarus (Group 1); Georgia-Latvia, Greece-Albania, Norway-Slovenia (Group 2); Moldova-Turkey (Group 3);Andorra-Russia, Armenia-France, Iceland-Ukraine (Group 4); Luxembourg-Sweden (Group 5); Isr’l-San Marino, Spain-Cyprus (Group 6);
Hungary-Azerbaijan, Romania-Portugal, and Slovakia-Liechtenstein (Group 7).
Rounding off the action will be the Group 9 qualifiers featuring the Czech Republic-Bosnia, Estonia-Scotland and Faroe Islands-Lithuania.