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Acid test for Euro big guns

sports Updated: Sep 05, 2009 01:03 IST
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Cristiano Ronaldo, the world's most expensive footballer, faces a tense World Cup survival battle this weekend as Portugal, semi-finalists in 2006, desperately seek to prevent their 2010 campaign from suffering a humiliating derailment.

Ronaldo is one of a host of superstars who have seen their national teams splutter through qualifying while 1998 champions France are also about to face a testing back-to-back examination.

Portugal are third in Group One on nine points, trailing leaders Denmark by seven points and Hungary by four with four games left.

On Saturday, coach Carlos Queiroz, a former assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, takes his team to Copenhagen to tackle the Danes and then to Budapest next Wednesday.

Only Europe's nine group winners are assured of places in the finals; the eight best runners-up have to play-off.

Denmark coach Morten Olsen admits he is surprised by his team's progress which has yielded five wins and a draw.

"I think most people would have expected Portugal to be on top at this stage, especially as they've started with more home games," said Olsen, in charge for almost a decade.

France, who welcome Romania to Paris, are second in Group Seven, five points behind Serbia but with a game in hand ahead of a testing trip to Belgrade on Wednesday.

Despite boasting the likes of Thierry Henry, Karim Benzema and Nicolas Anelka, France have managed just four goals in seven matches since last November.

Croatia, third-place finishers at the 1998 World Cup, are seven points behind runaway Group Six leaders England, who have a perfect record of seven wins in seven outings. They face Belarus before travelling to Wembley on Wednesday to take on Fabio Capello’s England.

In Group Five, Spain also have a perfect record of six wins in six games and are six points clear of second-placed Bosnia Herzegovina with four games to go. A win over Belgium on Saturday coupled with a Bosnia loss at bottom side Armenia would see Spain go nine clear.

Turkey are third in the group, 10 points behind Spain and four off second-placed Bosnia.

Holland are the only team in Europe who have already qualified with a perfect 21 points from seven matches leaving Macedonia and Scotland, who are second and third respectively. They meet in Glasgow on Saturday with the Scots still smarting from their recent 4-0 defeat in Norway.