Rusty Italians ready for Faroes action

BERNE - Italy go into Euro 2012 qualifying action on Friday with most of their players still to face a competitive game this season due to a strike at home.

The Italians will be grateful for a relatively easy tie away to the Faroe Islands while Europe's other top sides also look set for comfortable wins in a qualifying campaign that for many of them has been too easy.

Netherlands should make it seven wins out of seven as they host San Marino while Germany will become the first team to qualify for the finals in Poland and Ukraine next year if they beat visitors Austria to record an eighth straight win.

Spain, the third side to have won all their games, are not in action but will find themselves within one win of qualification - at home to Liechtenstein on Tuesday - if Czech Republic drop points in Scotland on Saturday.

England and France, who have had a tougher time in their groups, visit Eastern Europe to face Bulgaria and Albania respectively.

The winners of the nine groups qualify along with the best of the runners-up. The remaining eight group runners-up play-off in two-leg ties for four more places.

ITALIAN COBWEBS

Cesare Prandelli's Italy have been in excellent form in Group C, where they have 16 points from six games with a five-point lead and game in hand over second-placed Slovenia.

They should continue that run in the Faroe Islands, although they will have to brush off the cobwebs first with a players' strike having delayed the start of Serie A.

"Everyone thinks that a win is in the bag, but in reality it depends on how we face the match. The lack of matches worries me," Prandelli said.

"I'd be even more worried if we had to face a big team such as France. September is traditionally a difficult time for Italian football and even one round of [Serie A] matches would have been a help."

A win on Friday followed by another at home to Slovenia the following Tuesday would guarantee Italy top spot and be a welcome distraction from the domestic chaos, where the League and Players' Union are at loggerheads over a new collective agreement.

Group A leaders Germany should clinch their place at the finals when they play in Gelsenkirchen on Friday against opponents who used to provide them with a fierce, competitive rivalry but are now little more than sparring partners.

The Germans have won their last six meetings with their neighbours, several by large margins.

The Dutch may have to wait longer to qualify as second-placed Sweden, who visit Hungary, have also been in good form in Group E and are only three points behind.

Portugal, level on 10 points with Denmark and Norway at the top of Group H, visit Cyprus who sensationally held them to a 4-4 draw in Lisbon earlier in the group.

A similar slip-up on Friday would almost certainly allow Norway to go clear at the top as they face bottom side Iceland.

England, who share the Group G leadership with Montenegro, travel to Bulgaria and must win to keep up the pressure on their rivals who visit Wales.

Laurent Blanc's France will defend an 11-game unbeaten run in Albania and go into the match one point clear of Belarus, who host Bosnia, at the top of Group D.

Ireland and Slovakia, level on 13 points at the top of Group B, meet in Dublin while Russia, who also have 13 points, are at home to Macedonia.

Greece, Group F leaders with 14 points, visit Israel who are one point behind them while Croatia, who have 13 points, travel to Malta.


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