Serbia set to send France into play-offs

MILAN - Confident Serbia will qualify for the 2010 World Cup and consign 2006 runners-up France to a probable play-off berth if they beat Romania on Saturday.

Germany hope to inflict the same fate on Russia when the Group Four heavyweights clash in Moscow in the penultimate round of qualification matches for most European nations.

Three points in the Scandinavian derby will send Denmark to South Africa while victory for Sweden will mean Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo will be watching next June's showpiece at home if they fail to beat Hungary.

Group Eight leaders Italy need a point against second-placed Ireland, coached by former Azzurri boss Giovanni Trapattoni, with Switzerland and Slovakia also able to secure their passage.

Serbia, who top Group Seven with 19 points from eight matches, require one win from their final two qualifiers at home to Romania on Saturday or away to Lithuania four days later.

"Many of our players are in good form for their clubs and that's another reason we are optimistic that we can finish the job in Belgrade against the Romanians," coach Radomir Antic told Reuters this week.

Second-placed France are not even guaranteed a November playoff spot with Austria four points behind but they should be able to seal one with a home victory over the Faroe Islands, even without the injured Franck Ribery.

Germany, without VfB Stuttgart pair Serdar Tasci and Sami Khedira, are a point above Russia and want a win to join already-qualified Spain, England and the Netherlands at Africa's first finals.

Russia have secured a playoff spot and must beat the Germans and Azerbaijan on Wednesday to go through automatically.

"It gives us more freedom. We don't need to play for a draw so we can take more risks in the attack," coach Guus Hiddink told Reuters.


The task is easier for Group Three leaders Slovakia, who need a point at home to second-placed Slovenia to reach their first ever tournament as an independent nation.

Italy coach Marcello Lippi has frustrated the nation's media by ignoring playmaker Antonio Cassano but all will be forgiven if the inconsistent world champions grab a point in Dublin.

The permutations are more complicated in Groups One and Two.

The Danes will make up for not reaching the last World Cup or Euro 2008 if they beat Zlatan Ibrahimovic's Sweden in Copenhagen, a result that would be equally celebrated in Lisbon.

Third-placed Portugal, two points behind the Swedes, cannot afford to lose at home to fellow contenders Hungary and at least should have Ronaldo fit after an ankle injury.

Group Two leaders Switzerland, who travel to Luxembourg with a three-point advantage over Greece and Latvia, are aided by their two rivals playing each other in Athens.

The race for playoff berths remains open with Group Nine runners-up Norway unlikely to seal a place despite having already finished their matches.

Only the best eight second-placed teams make November's home and away fixtures so Egil Olsen's side will be watching the upcoming qualifiers closely with Bosnia and Croatia trying to cling to the runners-up spots in Groups Five and Six.