Euro 2012 Lineup Close to Completion with Playoffs


The lineup for the European Championship could become clearer Friday when the playoffs for the final four places at next year’s tournament get under way.

While already qualified Germany, France and the Netherlands are in friendly action, the Czech Republic hosts Montenegro as it tries to maintain a record of reaching every European Championship since the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993.

Portugal is at Bosnia-Herzegovina targeting a fifth straight tournament, while Croatia travels to Turkey and Ireland is at Estonia in the other playoffs, which conclude with the return legs on Tuesday.

But the Czechs have big injury problems, with goalkeeper Petr Cech in doubt because of a broken nose and striker Milan Baros carrying a muscle problem.

“We need them both, there’s no doubt about that,” Czech Republic captain Tomas Rosicky said.

Cech was hurt last weekend playing for Chelsea in a Premier League win over Blackburn and had his trip to join up with the national team delayed.

“If everything’s fine, I should be training with the team on Thursday,” Cech said.

Cech already wears head gear after fracturing his skull in a 2006 club game and, if he plays, may wear a protective mask over his nose.

“It’s not a pleasant thing to have the nose broken but I still believe he will be available,” Czech Republic coach Michal Bilek said.

The Czechs are favored to reach the tournament in Poland and Ukraine but Montenegro showed it has the talent to create a shock, finishing above Switzerland, Wales and Bulgaria in qualifying and drawing 0-0 at Wembley Stadium against group winner England.

Portugal has been to every World Cup and European Championship since 2000 and, with Cristiano Ronaldo having scored four hat tricks in 11 league games for Real Madrid this season, is an overwhelming favorite to overcome Bosnia.

Ireland has had miserable luck in playoffs, losing four of its previous five playoffs for major tournaments to the Netherlands, Turkey, Belgium and France. Ireland’s single playoff success was a two-legged win over Iran for a spot at the 2002 World Cup.

Ireland defender Paul McShane said the last of those losses—when Thierry Henry’s infamous hand ball set up an ultimately crucial goal—has made his teammates even more determined to get past Estonia.

“The lads were very upset about it at the time and it still mentally scars you,” McShane said. “When you think back, it hurt a lot to be knocked out in that manner.

“Hopefully that bit of luck is on our side this time.”

Estonia got a lift last weekend when Joel Lindpere agreed to return to the national team after a two-year hiatus. Estonia coach Tarmo Ruutli said his team is confident after studying Ireland ahead of Friday’s match.

“We know our opponent throughout—its players and its philosophy,” Ruutli said. “Ireland has a style of its very own.”

There are also 11 friendlies in Europe on Friday, with Germany taking on Ukraine without striker Miroslav Klose and midfielder Marco Reus. Klose has an inflamed knee tendon and Reus is down with the stomach flu.

The German Football Federation said Klose will return for next week’s friendly against the Netherlands. Reus’ return will depend on his condition.

It is the fifth time Reus has sat out a Germany match because of health problems.

France will be without midfielder Samir Nasri against the United States— and Belgium next week—because of a knee problem.

Nasri played in Manchester City’s 2-1 win over Villarreal in the Champions League last Wednesday, but manager Roberto Mancini left him on the bench to rest him when the team beat Queens Park Rangers 3-2 last weekend in the Premier League.

“It’s an old issue which is resurfacing,” Nasri said. “It’s a knee tendinitis which is coming back.”

World Cup runner-up Netherlands hosts Switzerland, Italy is at Poland, while world and European champion Spain is at England on Saturday.

Spain has won its last three meetings with the English without conceding a goal but England’s attempt to improve upon that dismal record has been overshadowed domestically by a row over whether players can wear a symbol to honor war dead on their shirts.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said it was “outrageous” that FIFA has refused to allow England players to wear embroidered red poppies, but world football’s ruling body maintained its stance that it could not allow any symbol that might be construed as political.

FIFA has approved plans for both England and Wales, which plays Norway in Cardiff on Saturday, to observe a minute’s silence before their matches.