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27.03.2009 Football News

Feast of World Cup qualifiers on SuperSport

By Ameyaw Debrah -
Feast of World Cup qualifiers on SuperSport

There is a feast of top-class international football coming your way on your World of Champions as the race to win a place at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa resumes across the globe.

There will be 25 different qualifiers within a space of six days, including Spain, England, Italy, Brazil, Argentina, Holland, Germany, Portugal and France.

In European qualifying, Portugal need to put a bad start to the preliminaries behind them as they host Sweden in Porto on Saturday. Carlos Quieroz's side have won just one of their opening four games, a run that includes a shock 3-2 home defeat to group leaders Denmark.

In what is looking like an increasingly tight pool, home form will be crucial and last time out the Portuguese were held 0-0 at home by Albania, this despite the attacking prowess of the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Deco.

European champions Spain have had no such worries. They have won four from four in qualifying, living up to their tag as arguably the best side in the world at the moment.

They host Turkey in Madrid in what will be a stern test of their credentials, with the return fixture just four days later in Istanbul. But in Fernando Torres, David Villa, Xavi Hernandez and David Silva, they have the kind of irresistible attacking flair that can rip any defence apart.

Italy host the Republic of Ireland in Bari on April 1 in what will be a battle between the two front-runners in Group 8. The pair have three wins and a draw apiece, but there is another very special reason why this is a tasty tie.

Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni will be plotting the downfall of the country of his birth, as well as the team he managed without success between 2000 and 2004.

Italy have, however, shown a marked improvement since the return of World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi after the dark days of Roberto Donadoni.

Argentina and Brazil have been well short of their best in South American qualifying to date, but both have the chance to put that right when they face less-fancied sides in upcoming fixtures.

Diego Maradona's Argentina host Venezuela in Buenos Aires on Saturday having won just one of their last seven qualifiers.

It is difficult to fathom why they have been so poor, with the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio 'Kun' Aguero, Carlos Tevez, Maxi Rodriguez and Javier Zanetti in their squad, but the recall of former Manchester United and Chelsea midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron at the age of 34 adds spice to the selection.

Brazil's problem of late have, quite remarkably, been scoring goals. They have failed to find the back of the net in four of their last six games, including 0-0 home draws with Bolivia, Colombia and Argentina.

They tackle Ecuador next in Quito on Sunday, hoping for a repeat of the 5-0 thrashing they dished out to the Ecuadorians at the start of the qualifying on October 2007.

Coach Dunga, a defensive midfielder in his day who lifted the World Cup trophy for the Samba Stars at the 1994 World Cup in the United States, has been heavily criticised for his negative tactics, but having selected five strikers in Ronaldinho (AC Milan), Alexandre Pato (AC Milan), Luis Fabiano (Sevilla), Adriano (Inter Milan) and Robinho (Manchester City), he looks certain to select an attacking side for this one.

Meanwhile, England prepare for their qualifier on April 1 against Ukraine with a friendly international against Slovakia at the New Wembley Stadium on Saturday.

Fabio Capello's side have been imperious in the qualifiers to date, but will want to put behind them a 2-0 defeat to Spain the last time they played in February.

Slovakia also top their qualifying group, with Liverpool defender Martin Skrel and Marek Cech of West Brom the most recognisable names for the Slovaks.