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Sports News of Thursday, 14 November 2019

Source: StarTimes Ghana

European Qualifiers on StarTimes: No plain sailing for some big guns

With direct qualifying for the 2020 Euro finals drawing to a close, quite a few of the continents’ so-called big teams are still not guaranteed of a place at the showpiece event of European football.

Whereas many of the continent’s big guns – like Spain, Italy and Belgium – have escaped the group stages, others, like Netherlands, Germany or Portugal still have some work ahead of them.

Portugal should, quite comfortably, pick up enough points over the next few days to go through. Victory at home to Lithuania on Thursday and away to Luxembourg on Sunday would see the defending champions through.

For both Germany and Netherlands, the route remains much more tricky. Both head Group C with 15 points from their six matches, with Northern Ireland waiting in the wings, so to say.

Germany are at home to Belarus on Saturday and then face Northern Ireland on Tuesday, while the Netherlands travel to Belfast for their game against Northern Ireland on Saturday, before ending their campaign at home against Estonia on Tuesday.

Northern Irish coach Michael O'Neill, who has only just been appointed as Stoke coach and won his first game (4-2 against Barnsley) in charge of the Championship side, is aware of the importance of the two forthcoming matches.

He only agreed to terms with Stoke if he was allowed to coach the national team in their last two games, as well as March’s play-offs, if the side made it.

"In terms of the opposition, no disrespect to Barnsley, but I have to play Holland and Germany next week. It was important for me to finish this campaign with Northern Ireland. Players have given me everything for seven or eight years and I couldn’t just walk out before these two games.”

In Group D the Republic of Ireland, Denmark and Switzerland are involved in a teutonic battle for the two direct qualifying berths, while Georgia are already guaranteed of a place in the play-offs, but could still go through directly.

Ireland head the group on 12 points from seven matches, while Denmark and Switzerland both have 11 points, but have a game in hand.

Switzerland face Georgia at home on Friday, the same day Denmark will expect to pick up three points against minnows Gibraltar.

If both Denmark and Switzerland win those matches, they will move ahead of Ireland, but Mick McCarthy’s team will have an opportunity to secure direct qualification in their final match at home in Dublin against the Danes on Monday.

Finland are on the verge of making history in Group J, where they are in second place behind the already-qualified Italy. The Finns need to beat Liechtenstein at home on Friday to secure their first-ever participation at the finals.

Africa’s leading digital TV operator, StarTimes, has secured the exclusive rights to the Euro qualifiers and will show the top matches live and exclusive on the StarTime football channels.