Saturday 24 February 2018

Advocaat urges Russians to up ante as French face test of nerve

Group B Russia v Slovakia

(Moscow, 4.0)

Dick Advocaat said his side "will need to play better" to overcome Slovakia in his first competitive home fixture as Russia coach following their 2-0 win in Andorra on Friday, in which Pavel Pogrebnyak scored twice.

Slovakia, meanwhile, are hoping for at least a draw, having taken three points against Macedonia thanks to Filip Holosko's added-time goal.

"We cannot just come to defend," Slovakia coach Vladimir Weiss said. "And of course, that first win will help us to be mentally stronger."

Stanislav Sestak and Tomas Oravec miss out through injury for the visitors, while Jakub Sylvestr is on duty with the U-21s. Russia welcome Yuri Zhirkov back from suspension.

Group D

Bosnia and Herzegovina v France

(Sarajevo, 8.0)

Belarus v Romania

(Minsk, 6.30)

After a first-day setback with a home 1-0 defeat by Belarus, new France coach Laurent Blanc could have done with an easier task than a trip to Bosnia tonight.

Blanc faces striking problems after Loic Remy, Guillaume Hoarau and Louis Saha were ruled out by injuries. Karim Benzema has recovered from a sore ankle and will be fit. "Under such circumstances we cannot say we are going to Bosnia to win. We need to remain humble," Blanc said.

Group A

Germany v Azerbaijan

(Cologne, 7.45, Live, ESPN)

Germany winger Lukas Podolski must add to his 40 goals in 80 appearances or risk losing his starting spot. Podolski was substituted in Germany's 1-0 win in Belgium on Friday.

"In the second half his performance dropped," Germany coach Joachim Loew said. "He was not really in the game."

Apart from the 25-year-old's form, another concern for Loew is the absence of Marcell Jansen and captain Michael Ballack.

Group C

Italy v Faroe Islands

(Florence, 7.50)

Serbia v Slovenia

(Belgrade, 7.30)

There should be no wobbles this evening as Group C favourites Italy host Brian Kerr's Faroe Islands in Florence, where Antonio Cassano, back in favour after being ignored by previous boss Marcello Lippi, will play alongside Sampdoria team-mate Giampaolo Pazzini.

Serbia are at home to fellow 2010 World Cup participants Slovenia, who need to make up ground quickly following their surprise 1-0 home defeat by Northern Ireland in their opener.

Group E

Netherlands v Finland

(Rotterdam, 7.30)

Dutch striker Dirk Kuyt will be out for several weeks after injuring a shoulder while attempting a bicycle kick in training. Arjen Robben is also out with a hamstring injury while Robin van Persie is sidelined by an ankle problem.

"Now the strikers are out, the others can show what they can do," said manager Bert Van Marwijk.

The Dutch are also without Khalid Boulahrouz, but John Heitinga is back after suspension.

Group H

Norway v Portugal

(Oslo, 7.30)

Portugal need to play more as a team when they face Norway, defender Ricardo Carvalho said after last week's shock home draw with Cyprus. Norway, who beat Iceland 2-1 on Friday, will have John Carew back after a knee injury.

"The draw with Cyprus tells us the Portuguese team does not know how to deal with counter-attacks, and that can be good for us," said Norway coach Egil Olsen.

Irish Independent

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