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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia, Germany Look To Book Spot in Finals

LONDON — Barring a series of massive upsets, a victory over Yugoslavia will see Russia win Group 1 and book its place in the 2002 soccer World Cup finals, as European qualifying for South Korea and Japan resumes with matches Saturday and Wednesday.

Last April's corresponding away fixture saw the Russians leave Yugoslavia with a 1-0 victory.

Russia, now with home advantage and 13 points, already has a commanding five-point lead over second-placed Switzerland, with the prospect of claiming three easy points in Luxembourg next week.

Beating the Yugoslavs, who are fourth behind Slovenia and the Swiss but with a game hand, would see off the threat of the team Russia would have most feared when the draw was made.

Germany, which has a maximum 12 points from four games in Group 9, travels to Finland and Albania over the next week knowing that two wins would leave it needing — at most — two points from its last two games in September and October.

Along with Russia, which is in an even better position, Germany could take a major step toward becoming the first nation to claim a place at the finals apart from the co-hosts and France, which qualifies as reigning champion.

Rudi V?ller's team finds itself in such a strong position because of the poor start that its main rival in the group, England, made to its campaign under Kevin Keegan.

The Germans — three times world champions as West Germany — beat England 1-0 in the last competitive international at Wembley last October, and it was that result that prompted Keegan to resign as coach.

Swede Sven Goran Eriksson was brought in to rejuvenate England and he has done an excellent job. England plays Greece in Athens on Wednesday and it should pip the Finns to the runner-up slot in the group and qualify for a playoff place.

While Russia and Germany look set to run away with their groups, and the automatic qualification place, other groups are much closer-fought.

Nowhere will the competition be tougher than in group two, where Euro 2000 semifinalists Netherlands and Portugal, both currently on 11 points, were expected to qualify when the draw was announced.

Their problem is that the Republic of Ireland are top with 14 points.

Ireland has already played both their rivals away, securing two creditable draws, and will be looking to at least avoid defeat when it hosts the Portuguese this weekend.

Portugal poses a bigger qualifying threat to Mick McCarthy's side, not only because it has a game in hand, but also because the Portuguese have one of the most gifted midfield formations in the game led by Real Madrid's Luis Figo.

The Dutch will meanwhile be looking for points in Estonia, which will be Ireland's destination next week.

Group four is tighter still, with only goal difference separating Slovakia, Turkey and Sweden, which has recovered well from a disappointing start to its campaign.

Sweden, which finished third at the 1994 finals in the United States but missed out on France '98, faces a telling match Saturday at home to the Slovaks.

Group six could well be changing shape, as group leaders Scotland do not play. Second-placed Belgium, with one game in hand, and third-placed Croatia, with two, are both out to make up lost ground.

However, for Europe's heavyweights, the next week should only bring good news in their bid to reach the finals in Japan and South Korea.

Italy, losing Euro 2000 finalists but runaway leaders in a soft group eight, face a trip to Georgia.

More significant will be the outcome of Saturday's game in Bucharest between Romania and Hungary, currently vying for the runner-up slot.

Two quick wins, over Bosnia and Israel, would lift a talented Spanish side from second place to a comfortable five-point lead over Austria in group seven.

Poland, top of group five and clearly on the way back as one of Europe's better national sides, will be looking to build on a three-point lead over Belarus.

The Poles, who are away to Wales and Armenia over the next week, should put their qualification beyond little doubt.

Denmark, currently third, can get their campaign back on track by beating group three leaders Czech Republic at home Saturday, while Bulgaria tries their luck in Belfast against Northern Ireland