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Soccer-European World Cup qualifiers - potential highlights
October 5, 2016 / 10:26 AM / a year ago

Soccer-European World Cup qualifiers - potential highlights

ZURICH, Oct 5 (Reuters) - Two rounds of European World Cup qualifying matches will be played over six days starting from Thursday. Following are some potential highlights.

* Italy defend long unbeaten qualifying run against Spain

Italy defend a 10-year unbeaten run in European championship and World Cup qualifying matches when they host Spain in Turin in Group G on Thursday in the week’s top match.

The four-times world champions have clocked up 51 matches without defeat since losing 3-1 to France in a Euro 2008 qualifier under Roberto Donadoni in September 2006.

The match is an early chance for Spain to avenge their 2-0 defeat by Italy in the round of 16 at Euro 2016 and is an early test for coaches Giampiero Ventura and Julen Lopetegui who both took over after the tournament in France.

* Ronaldo back for Portugal

Cristiano Ronaldo returns for European champions Portugal after missing their opening Group B loss to Switzerland through injury.

Portugal have relatively easy games at home to Andorra and away to the Faroe Islands, although coach Fernando Santos is still worried about both opponents, comparing the latter to Euro 2016 surprise packages Iceland.

* Netherlands striking worries

Coach Danny Blind’s lack of attacking options were all too apparent when he called up Manchester United’s Memphis Depay and PSV midfielder Siem de Jong, even though both have barely played for their clubs this season.

The pair were drafted in for the Group A games against Belarus and France after forwards Steven Berghuis and Luuk de Jong dropped out through injury.

* Kosovo play first-ever home game but on neutral territory

Kosovo, admitted as members of FIFA in May, will stage their first-ever competitive home fixture when they meet Croatia in Group I on Thursday - but it will not be in their own country.

Shkodra, in neighbouring Albania, will stage the game as none of the stadiums in Kosovo are considered by UEFA as ready for international matches.

Kosovo drew 1-1 away to Finland in their opening match.

* Finland see opponents Iceland as role models

Finland, who have failed in 18 attempts to qualify for the World Cup, visit Euro 2016 quarter-finalists Iceland and admit they see their opponents as role models.

Coach Hans Backe remembered that, before Euro 2016, neither team had ever qualified for a major tournament.

“Iceland were an inspiration not only for Finland but throughout Scandinavia - even for the bigger nations,” he told FIFA.com.

”“They showed that it is possible to do something special if you do things the right way, and do them as a team. We can only learn from and be inspired by that.”

* Southgate in at the shallow end

Interim England manager Gareth Southgate will enter at the shallow end when his side host Malta in Group F on Saturday, followed by a more testing visit to Slovenia three days later.

Southgate has been put in charge for four matches after Sam Allardyce was sacked after 67 days in the job for behaving “inappropriately” as he sought a lucrative sideline role while talking to undercover reporters in a national newspaper sting.

* Ivanovic under pressure for Serbia

Serbia’s new coach Slovljub Muslin is under growing pressure to drop his captain Branislav Ivanovic as well as Chelsea team mate Nemanja Matic amid growing impatience with the team’s recent results.

After failing to qualify for Euro 2016, Serbia, who visit Moldova on Thursday and then host Austria on Sunday, were held 2-2 at home by Ireland in their opening Group D game last month.

* Twenty-three teams battling for World Cup debut

Finland and Kosovo are among European teams who have never played at a World Cup. Luxemburg have suffered the most frustrations trying and failing on 19 occasions since 1934 to reach the finals. (Additional reporting by Zoran Milosavljevic in Belgrade,; editing by Ed Osmond)

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