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Euro 2012 qualifying preview: Race on in Groups F, B

Croatia play host to Georgia on Friday while Greece are at home to Malta a day later as the race for top spot in Euro 2012 Group F heats up.Heading into the weekend’s qualifiers, Group F shapes as one of the tournament’s most open.

Greece – the 2004 champions – top the table on 11 points, just one ahead of Croatia and Israel, with Georgia in fourth place on nine points.

Greece and Croatia have both played one game fewer than Croatia and Israel, and will be keen to claim full points from their home matches this weekend to put some breathing space between themselves and those chasing.

Croatia will be hoping for more good form from Spurs’ midfielder Niko Kranjcar, who has four goals in the campaign so far.

Israel journey to Latvia on Saturday in the group’s other match.

Group B is also a competitive one, with Slovakia, Russia and the Republic of Ireland deadlocked on 10 points in a three-way tie for top spot.

All six teams in the group are in action on Saturday, with Russia hosting Armenia in St Petersburg, Slovakia at home to Andorra and Ireland doing battle with Macedonia in Skopje.

Robbie Keane needs just one more international goal to reach the 50 mark for Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland, while Slovakia are missing key quartet VladimĂ­r Weiss, Marek Sapara, Miroslav Stoch and goalkeeper Jan Mucha.

Group A takes centre stage on Friday, with Germany holding a five-point lead on top of the table.

The battle for second is on in earnest, with Belgium a point clear of Turkey and three ahead of Austria.

Belgium host Turkey in Brussels as Austria face the visiting Germans in Vienna. Group A’s other match sees Kazakhstan play host to Azerbaijan.

New Real Madrid midfielder Nuri Sahin misses out for Turkey with a knee injury. Genk goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, 19, will be between the posts for Belgium, while captain Thomas Vermaelen is back after a long injury layoff.

In Group C, Italy can build on their five-point buffer at the top of the table when they take on Estonia at home on Friday, with second-placed Slovenia journeying to the Faroe Islands.

Romania face Bosnia and Herzegovina in Group D, as Belarus welcome the group’s leaders France in the other match.

The Netherlands have a nine-point lead in Group F, but second-placed Sweden can bridge the gap when they visit Moldova and San Marino will try to get off the bottom when they welcome Finland.

Keeping striker Mikael Forssell quiet will be key for San Marino, with the Hannover forward boasting five goals to his name in Finland’s qualifying campaign.

In Group I, Lithuania visit bottom-placed Liechtenstein looking to keep their slim hopes of second place alive, in a group dominated by Spain and the Czech Republic.

On Saturday, Group G sees England play Switzerland at Wembley as they look to break their deadlock on top of the table with Montenegro, with both sides possessing 10 points from their four games.

They will have to it without the suspended Wayne Rooney, however, and Montenegro can keep the pressure firmly on England with a win from their home clash with Bulgaria.

Norway can go a long way towards winning Group H when they travel to Lisbon to do battle with Portugal.

The Scandinavian nation tops the group on 10 points, three ahead of Portugal, with both sides level on goal difference.

Crucially, captain Cristiano Ronaldo returns to Portugal’s squad after missing friendlies against Chile and Finland in March.

Denmark are also in the mix on seven points, and they face a difficult trip to Reykjavik where they will do battle with bottom-placed Iceland.

Article title: Euro 2012 qualifying preview: Race on in Groups F, B

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