Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : March 24th 2017 Contents A52 sports
guardian.co.tt Friday, March 24, 2017
Europe state of play in groups
LONDON---As World Cup qual-
ifying reaches the midway point in
Europe, The Associated Press looks
at the state of the groups. The win-
ners qualify automatically while the
second-place teams go into playoffs.
France coach Didier Deschamps will be
without the world's most expensive play-
er against Luxembourg. Even without the
suspended Paul Pogba, there is little reason
for the leaders to be worried.
Deschamps can count on the new crop
of French players --- a gifted generation
that includes teenager Kilyan Mbappe.
The 18-year-old Monaco striker, who
has scored a league goal every 82 minutes
this season, is among the five newcomers
included in Deschamps' squad, alongside
Monaco defender Benjamin Mendy (22),
Marseille winger Florian Thauvin (24),
Lyon midfielder Corentin Tolisso (22)
and Monaco midfielder Tiemoue Bakay-
France has a three-point lead over the
Netherlands, who travel to Bulgaria. Level
on points with the Dutch, Sweden hosts
Losing to Hungary could seriouslyjeop-
ardize the chances of Cristiano Ronaldo
and Portugal making it to the World Cup.
It would be some fall for the first-time Eu-
"Every team wants to beat the European
champion and that only motivates us to
keep doing better," Portugal midfielder
Joao Mario said ahead of Saturday's home
Portugal is only two points ahead of
Hungary in second place and already facing
the possibility of having to contest a playoff
to make the final tournament in Russia.
Switzerland leads the group, holding
a three-point advantage over Portugal
heading into Saturday's game against
next-to-last Latvia. Andorra, yet to earn
a point, hosts the Faeroe Islands.
With a perfect record and 16 goals scored
without reply in its last four games, Ger-
many is wrapping up qualification quickly.
However, the world champions need to
blood younger players to replace stalwarts
like the recently retired Bastian Schwein-
steiger and Lukas Podolski, who ended his
international career by scoring in Wednes-
day's 1-0 friendly win over England.
Joachim Loew is still hoping more
experienced players such as Mario
Gomez, Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira
overcome knocks to face Azerbaijan in
WORLD CUP QUALIFYING
Germany's Lukas Podolski, left, celebrates after scoring the opening goal
during the friendly soccer match between Germany and England in
Dortmund, Germany, on Wednesday. AP PHOTO
Baku on Sunday.
Germany holds a five-point lead
over Northern Ireland, which hosts
Norway and is only ahead of Azer-
baijan on goal difference. The Czech
Republic, which is two points further
back, plays last-place San Marino.
After its incredible run to the
semifinals at the European Cham-
pionship, Wales is out of the play-off
spots on the path to Russia, sitting
third in the group behind Serbia and
Ireland. But it's a good time on Fri-
day to be facing Ireland, which is four
points ahead in first.
Ireland coach Martin O'Neill has
seen several key squad members
ruled out of his plans through injury
and suspension, including the ver-
satile Robbie Brady, who has played
in both midfield and at left back for
Gareth Bale has already scored four
times in the group to move within
two of equalling Rush's 28-goal re-
cord for Wales and he's back from
ankle surgery to face Ireland.
"I'd like to see him break the record
in Dublin because it would mean he's
got a hat trick," Rush said.
Second-place Serbia is at Geor-
gia and Austria hosts last-place
Robert Lewandowski and group
leader Poland are keeping their plans
flexible ahead of Sunday's visit to
A win could send the Poles five
points clear and help Lewandowski
pull ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo as
the top scorer in qualifying. The
Bayern Munich and Real Madrid
forwards have seven goals apiece.
Third-place Romania is hosting
fourth-place Denmark in Cluj af-
ter previous crowd trouble meant
the Romanians were banned from
using their national stadium in Bu-
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