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Euro big guns fire but Portugal and France will go down to wire

THE largely predictable Euro 2012 qualifying tournament could throw up real late drama tomorrow with France and Portugal involved in make-or-break matches.

France host Bosnia in a game which will send one of the teams to Poland and Ukraine and condemn the other to trying their luck in a two-legged playoff next month.

Denmark and Portugal will be playing for a direct spot at next year’s tournament when they meet in Copenhagen, with the visitors at risk of missing out altogether if they lose.

There have been precious few such matches in the marathon nine-group qualifying competition, which has consisted largely of embarrassingly easy wins for the top teams. Germany, Italy, England, Spain and Netherlands have all qualified, joining co-hosts Poland and Ukraine, without losing a match between them.

Tomorrow, 27 of the 44 teams in action have nothing to play for apart from pride and nine of the 22 matches are effectively dead rubbers. The Moldova v San Marino, Switzerland v Montenegro, Hungary v Finland, Kazakhstan v Austria and Macedonia v Slovakia games, all featuring teams whose fate is sealed one way or the other, are hardly likely to set pulses racing.

Five more teams, the final four group winners and the best runners-up, will ensure their places on Tuesday while the other eight second-placed sides will go into the playoffs to decide the last four qualifiers.

The most attractive fixture pits Denmark and Portugal, level on 16 points at the top of Group H.

One point would be enough for Portugal, who have won their last five games in the group, thanks to their better head-to-head record.

However, while Denmark are assured of a top-two finish, defeat for Portugal could lead to them being overtaken by Norway, who face Cyprus and are three points behind, and missing out on the playoffs as well.

“I don’t plan draws or wins,” said coach Paulo Bento after Friday’s |5-3 win over Iceland.

“One or three points will give |us top spot and we’re going to Denmark to win.”

France, one point ahead of Bosnia at the top of Group D, need a draw in Paris to qualify but can take nothing for granted against a team who earlier this year were on the point of being kicked out of the competition due to a political dispute in the federation.

Since losing 3-0 in Romania in June, Bosnia have bounced back with four wins in a row and no goals conceded.

The team who miss out will have the consolation of finishing second and a play-off spot.

Group F leaders Greece also require a draw in Georgia to qualify, otherwise Croatia could pip them by beating Latvia at home. Greece and Croatia are already sure of at least a play-off place.

Belgium are one point clear of Turkey in Group A but need to win in Germany to have any realistic chance of finishing above Guus Hiddink’s team.

The Turks have the bonus of hosting an Azerbaijan side who have conceded 15 goals in losing their four away games.