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WC qualifier Preview: Russian test delays holiday for Portugal

Last updated on: June 5, 2013 08:21 IST

WC qualifier Preview: Russian test delays holiday for Portugal


Cristiano Ronaldo and his Portugal team mates must avoid going into holiday mode too soon as they round off a long season with a tricky World Cup qualifier against European Group F leaders Russia on Friday.Sitting third in the group, level on 11 points with second-placed Israel and a point behind this week's visitors who have played two games fewer, Portugal cannot afford another below-par performance like last year's 1-0 defeat in Moscow.With Ronaldo having been rested in his club Real Madrid's final two La Liga games, it would be easy for him to be putting his feet up but Portuguese Football Federation vice-president Humberto Coelho is confident the forward is focused on business."He always gives it all for the national team. Physically, it's not the best time of the year to play but other players had long seasons too," Coelho said."Russia are comfortably on top, with two games in hand an one point ahead, but we do not intend to drop the goal of reaching the precious second place, which gives us access to the playoff."Group winners qualify for next year's World Cup finals in Brazil, while the eight best runners-up will play off over two legs for the remaining four places.While the Portugal players are being urged to wait a few more days before enjoying some relaxation, some of Russia's were shown by Russian media last week to be smoking and drinking together on a night out.Portugal coach Paulo Bento said that as well as end-of-season fatigue, another issue making preparations difficult was the fact his players were scattered around Europe with their clubs while most of the Russians play in their domestic league.Bento's side are especially keen to qualify for the World Cup as it is being held in fellow Portuguese-speaking Brazil and know that since they are behind Israel on goal difference with both having played six games, they must avoid any more slip-ups.

Image: Cristiano Ronaldo (left) with teammate Pepe
Photographs: Gonzalo Arroyo/Getty Images


Czechs seek good news against Italy after floods

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The Czech Republic hope a rousing performance against leaders Italy on Friday can cheer up a nation hit by serious floods and re-energise their faltering push for World Cup qualification.

Michal Bilek's side complicated their World Cup hopes after drawing against Bulgaria and losing to Denmark in their last two home games with a 3-0 win in Armenia in March at least keeping them third in Group B.

Friday's match in Prague is expected to go ahead despite floods that have left swathes of the country submerged and threatened parts of the capital's historic centre.

"We will try to raise the spirit of the people by beating Italy," goalkeeper Petr Cech told a Czech newspaper.

Euro 2012 runners-up Italy lead the group with 13 points from five games, ahead of Bulgaria on 10 from six and the Czech Republic with eight points from five matches with five more to play.

The top side qualify directly for Brazil 2014 with the runners-up facing a playoff.

Image: Head coach Michal Bilek of Czech Republic issues instructions during a Czech Republic training session
Photographs: Christof Koepsel/Getty Images

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Belgium out to prove they are a top European side

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Belgium will seek to prove visiting Serbian coach Sinisa Mihajlovic right on Friday with his view that the hosts are among the three strongest soccer nations in Europe.

Much-fancied Belgium have not qualified for a major tournament in more than a decade, but lead European World Cup qualifying group A, albeit only on goal difference from Croatia.

The Belgian camp is not short of confidence after an impressive 4-2 friendly victory over the United States last week and the squad were kept busy taking questions about possible club transfers and Mihajlovic's comment.

"Individually, only Germany and Spain are better than us," was the view of defender Jan Vertonghen.

Coach Marc Wilmots sought to downplay comparisons, saying Croatia, fourth in FIFA's rankings, could say the same thing, with Belgium only 15th.

With four matches remaining, a victory would guarantee Belgium at least second place in the group and a likely spot in the European playoffs for the World Cup finals in Brazil.

Image: Belgium's coach Marc Wilmots (left) looks on next to Thorgan Hazard during a training session
Photographs: Laurent Dubrule/Reuters

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