Europe′s Top Sides Look to Take Control of World Cup Destinies | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 15.10.2008
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Europe's Top Sides Look to Take Control of World Cup Destinies

Europe's top soccer nations play in World Cup qualifiers Wednesday, Oct. 15, looking to take control of their respective groups and take another step towards the finals in South Africa in 2010.

England's Steven Gerrard battles with Croatia 's Luka Modric

England built on the 4-1 win over Croatia with a 5-1 victory over Kazakhstan in Group 6

Only the top country from each of the nine groups qualifies automatically, leaving the second-placed teams to battle it out in playoffs.

England are sitting pretty at the top of Group 6, with three wins out of three after Saturday's 5-1 win over Kazakhstan at Wembley and another win away to Belarus would put Fabio Capello's side firmly in the driving seat.

"They are not conservative," Capello said. "They play very well. Their style is like Arsenal. They touch the ball a lot. It is not going to be an easy game. I have seen Belarus three times. They are a dangerous side."

Capello will wait on the fitness of his captain, John Terry, and should the Chelsea star not make it, West Ham's Matthew Upson is likely to continue to deputize alongside stand-in captain Rio Ferdinand at the center of defense.

Belarus will be without their best player as former Arsenal forward Alexander Hleb misses out because of an ankle injury. Croatia play Andorra in the other group match.

Euro champs continue unbeaten run

European champions Spain also have a perfect qualifying record going into the Group 5 encounter in Belgium.

Spain's David Villa, right, celebrates with teammate Fernando Torres after Villa scored the opening goal during the group D match between Spain and Russia in Innsbruck, Austria, Tuesday, June 10, 2008, at the Euro 2008 European Soccer Championships

Torres and Villa keep Spain ticking over in qualifying

Spain are unbeaten in 26 matches following Saturday's 3-0 win away to Estonia but new coach Vincente Del Bosque admitted that the Belgium match "will be more difficult."

Marcos Senna is likely to return as midfield anchorman, after sitting out the Estonia game. Xabi Alonso might be the man replaced, though the Barcelona pair of Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez are also looking weary.

Estonia take on Turkey and Bosnia-Herzegovina face Armenia in the other group matches.

World champions Italy could only manage a draw away to Bulgaria on the weekend but still comfortably top Group 8 with seven points ahead of Wednesday's home clash with Montenegro.

Closest rivals Ireland sit three points adrift ahead of their tie at home to Cyprus while Bulgaria visit Georgia needing a win after opening with two draws.

Germany march on -- without Kuranyi

One player certain to be absent for Germany's Group 4 clash against Wales is striker Kevin Kuranyi.

Former German national soccer forward Kevin Kuranyi at a press conference

Kuranyi was apologetic but said he wouldn't change

The Schalke 04 striker disappeared during his side's 2-1 defeat of Russia in Dortmund Saturday because of his frustration at not being one of the substitutes.

"I can't accept this and as a result won't select him for the national team in future," said coach Joachim Loew.

Germany top the group with seven points but can open up a four- point gap at the top with victory against the Welsh.

"The victory against Russia was very important for us but we have to build on that now and simply pick up three points," said Loew.

Flying Dutchmen face tough Norwegian test

The Netherlands top Group 9 after winning their opening two matches against Macedonia and Iceland, with Norway their next opponent.

Dutch national soccer team player Wesley Sneijder

Sneijder has been out injured

Coach Bert van Marwijk could welcome back striker Robin van Persie for the game in Oslo as the Arsenal player has recovered from a hamstring problem that kept him out of the 2-0 win over Iceland.

Wesley Sneijder could also return from a knee injury although his involvement is less likely.

"Sneijder has not played a match for two months, and I will take that into consideration," Van Marwijk said.

In Group 1, Portugal will be looking to build on the weekend draw against Sweden by securing three points against Albania while Greece can make it four wins out of four in Group 2 with victory against Ottmar Hitzfeld's Switzerland.

Poland and Slovenia both top Group 3 ahead of respective trips to Slovakia and the Czech Republic while Austria will be looking to forget the shock draw to the Faroe Islands when they face Serbia in Group 7.

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