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Euro 2012 qualifying preview: Ireland seek to maintain lead

1 September 2011 22:35

The Republic of Ireland host Slovakia on Friday hoping to retain the lead in Euro 2012 qualifying Group B.

Coached by veteran Italian Giovanni Trapattoni, Ireland have managed four wins, one draw and one defeat from their six matches played to date.

They top the group but are level on points with second-placed Russia and Slovakia in third.

Both of those teams have more recent pedigree in major championships - Russia reached the semi-finals of Euro 2008 before losing to eventual winners Spain.

And Slovakia reached the round of 16 at the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa.

By contrast, Ireland have not qualified for a tournament since the 2002 World Cup in Japan and Korea.

A home win over Slovakia would take them a step closer to achieving that aim, while Russia play host to Macedonia in Moscow.

Also on Friday, Turkey hosts Kazakhstan and Belgium travel to Azerbaijan, with the runner-up spot behind Germany in Group A up for grabs.

Germany are runaway leaders with 21 points, but third-placed Turkey are just one point behind Belgium and have a game in hand over the second-placed side.

The Netherlands, who lead Group E by three points from Sweden, will expect nothing less than a comprehensive win from their match at home to minnows San Marino.

Sweden travel to Hungary, who are six points off the pace in third place.

In Group G, England will be looking for their first win in three matches when they travel to face Bulgaria.

Fabio Capello's England side were forced to settle for a disappointing 2-2 draw at home to Switzerland in their last qualifier on June 4.

Prior to that, they played out a 1-1 draw in a friendly at home to Ghana in March, with their last win a 2-0 qualifying victory away to Wales three days earlier.

England remain top of the group despite the two points dropped against Switzerland.

They are level on 11 points with Montenegro, who take on Wales in Cardiff on Friday.

Portugal, led by Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo, are level on 10 points with Denmark and Norway at the top of Group H.

Portugal are away to Cyprus on Friday, while Norway host Iceland.

Denmark are not in action until their all-important showdown with neighbours Norway on Tuesday.

Finally, Greece top a tight Group F by one point from Croatia and Israel.

Leaders Greece face a potentially decisive visit to Israel, while Croatia will hope to make up ground when they travel to Malta.

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Tuesday 30 September

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