European teams jockey for position as qualifying for the 2016 European Championships in France reaches the half-way stage with matches.
Holders Spain are hoping to keep second place in their group by beating Ukraine while world champions Germany seek to step up a gear when they travel to Georgia when Euro 2016 qualifiers resume from Friday.
Twenty-six games are being played in the Matchday Five fixtures – the half-way stage – from Friday to Sunday, with Israel up against Belgium next Tuesday in a game postponed from September.
Going turbo all round
Spain have a Group C encounter in Sevilla Friday against Ukraine, who are joint second in the group, three points behind leaders Slovakia, who host minnows Luxembourg.
Striker Diego Costa is injured and coach Vicente del Bosque has named young strikers Alvaro Morata and Juanmi.
“It is going to be a close group, so we really have to beat Ukraine,” Del Bosque said.
“Our aim, as always, is to finish top, so this is a match that we really have to win.”
On the same day, Harry Kane could make his debut up front for England, who are looking to maintain their 100 per cent record when they meet Lithuania for the first time at senior level.
England top Group E with the maximum 12 points, six more than Slovenia, Switzerland and Lithuania. Slovenia host rank outsiders San Marino, while Switzerland entertain Estonia.
Kane has scored 29 goals in a breakout season for Tottenham.
The 21-year-old striker celebrated his first call-up with a hat-trick against Leicester last weekend and his chances of playing improved Monday when Daniel Sturridge was ruled out with a hip injury.
“It is hard to talk a young player up too much because I think we do that a lot in this country,” Chelsea defender Gary Cahill said. “But for me he has everything.”
Friday also sees three matches in Group G where leaders Austria are in Liechtenstein hoping to protect a four-point lead over Sweden and five over Russia. Sweden travel to Moldova, while Russia are at Monenegro.
Among Saturday’s encounters, Group H leaders Croatia, who are level on 10 points with Italy, greet Norway, who are a point behind, while the Azzurri travel to Bulgaria.
Italy coach Antonio Conte takes three newcomers into the match, looking for new ideas up front from Sampdoria’s Brazilian-born Eder and Argentinian-born Franco Vazquez of Palermo.
Midfielder Mirko Valdifiori hopes to make his debut as Juventus veteran Andrea Pirlo is out injured and Daniele De Rossi was not called up.
“Their absence can be both a problem and an opportunity because players like Marco Verratti will have a chance to show that they can really take control in midfield,” Conte said.
Group A sees the Netherlands, who have lost two of their first four games and are without injured Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie, meet Turkey in Amsterdam, while group leaders Czech Republic greet Latvia, and surprise side Iceland, second in the group, are at Kazakhstan.
Israel and Wales, both unbeaten at the top of Group B, meet in Haifi, while Belgium hope to pick up their campaign at home to Cyprus. Bosnia-Herzegovina are at Andorra looking for a first win in the group.
World champions Germany travel to Tbilisi to meet Georgia in Group D Sunday, out to revive their campaign which has not gone as smoothly as expected since the World Cup triumph in Brazil.
Group leaders Poland are in Dublin to take on Ireland, who with Germany and Scotland are three points behind the Poles. Scotland meanwhile will be expected to take all three points against Gibraltar in Glasgow.
“The main thing now is to win the next two games against Georgia and in summer against Gibraltar,” Loew said.
“Then things will heat up in the autumn with games in Ireland and Scotland and at home to Poland. I am conviced we will do it.”
Also Sunday, unbeaten Group F leaders Romania are at home to the Faroe Islands, while second-placed Northern Ireland greet Finland, and Hungary host bottom side Greece.
Portugal have the chance of going top of Group I above Denmark – who are not playing – with a win at home to Serbia, while Albania play Armenia.
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