France, Portugal braced for acid test

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LONDON — Star-studded France and Portugal face a nail-biting night today if they’re to fill two of the five remaining automatic qualifying places for Euro 2012.

Germany, Italy, Netherlands, England and world and European champions Spain are already through, leaving four group winners spots to be decided as well as a best runners-up slot from the nine groups
The eight remaining second-placed teams will go into the play-offs, a lottery that 1998 World Cup winners and 2000 European champions France and Portugal, the Euro 2004 runners-up, are desperate to avoid.
France tackle Group D rivals Bosnia-Herzegovina in Paris where a draw will put Laurent Blanc’s side into the finals in Poland and Ukraine next summer.

France are a point ahead of Bosnia and will be buoyed by having won the first match between the two sides in Sarajevo last year thanks to quickfire second-half goals from Karim Benzema and Florent Malouda.
Blanc’s team are already certain of a play-off place having defeated Albania 3-0 last Friday.

With around 12 000 Bosnian fans expected to make the trip to Paris, France centre-back Adil Rami sought to raise the pre-match temperature by labelling Bosnia playmaker Miralem Pjanic “a cry-baby, who does nothing but fall over”.

But Rami was quick to assess the danger of star striker Edin Dzeko, labelling the Manchester City striker “the No One danger” in Safet Susic’s side.

In Group H, Portugal and Denmark have 16 points each ahead of their crunch clash in Copenhagen.
The Danes, having lost 3-1 in Porto in the countries’ first meeting last year, need to win to snatch the automatic qualifying spot while a draw will be enough for Portugal.

Portugal made a disastrous start to their campaign which played a role in the ousting of Carlos Queiroz as coach.

His successor Paolo Bento has galvanised the squad, but their brittle defence was exposed in Friday’s 5-3 win over Iceland.

“I never plan to draw or lose,” said Bento. “Portugal will play with two possible results that would allow us to finish in first place, but the priority is to win.”
In Group B, Russia are virtually certain of qualifying as they have a two-point lead over the Republic of Ireland and welcome hapless Andorra to Moscow, their visitors having lost all nine matches, scoring just one goal. —Reuters