Spain face France in crucial tie

England, Portugal have plenty to work on ahead of Brazil 2014
Last Updated 25 March 2013, 16:25 IST

Having waltzed through the qualifying process for their last two major tournaments Spain find themselves in an undignified tangle at the halfway point on the road to the World Cup in Brazil.

While most of the fancied nations appear well-placed to qualify for next year’s finals automatically, World Champions Spain head to Paris to play Group I leaders France on Tuesday knowing defeat would leave them five points adrift.

They are not alone in feeling a little vulnerable. England, despite an 8-0 victory in San Marino on Friday, go to Montenegro trailing the tiny Adriatic nation by two points and with two of Serie A’s leading strikers to contend with.

Portugal too, have plenty of work ahead of them to reach the country they discovered.
They make the long trip to Azerbaijan sitting third in Group F, without suspended captain and talisman Cristiano Ronaldo, and with the pressure growing on coach Paulo Bento.
Spain’s surprise home draw with Finland on Friday followed October’s 1-1 home draw with France handed the initiative to Les Bleus who beat Georgia 3-1 on Friday.

Anything less than victory in the Stade de France would leave Spain contemplating a back door entry to Brazil via the playoffs. Arsenal defender Nacho Monreal said that although the clash with France could not be considered a “final” whoever wins it would take a huge step towards Brazil.

Montenegro versus England does not have the same tradition as a meeting of France and Spain but nevertheless the Balkan nation have quickly proved they are capable of mixing it with the big boys of world football. A total of 17 matches take place across Europe on Tuesday, after which the qualifying picture may be a little clearer.  Italy can consolidate top spot in Group B when they travel to Malta with second-placed Bulgaria facing Denmark.

Germany can move eight points clear in Group C with victory at home to Kazakhstan while in Group D the Netherlands will look to make it six wins out of six when they host Romania. 

Argentina face Bolivia

High-flying Argentina, humiliated 6-1 the last time they played Bolivia in La Paz, have the confidence to avoid crashing badly again in the thin air for Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier.  Argentina lead the nine-nation group with 23 points from 10 matches, followed by Colombia on 19 and Ecuador 17, though both have a game in hand. Colombia visit Venezuela in what should be a fascinating match.

(Published 25 March 2013, 16:25 IST)

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