Ronaldo to miss crucial qualifier

LONDON - Switzerland and Slovakia will be bidding to make it over the line in the final round of World Cup qualifying matches tomorrow while Portugal will have to capture a playoff spot without Cristiano Ronaldo.

LONDON - Switzerland and Slovakia will be bidding to make it over the line in the final round of World Cup qualifying matches tomorrow while Portugal will have to capture a playoff spot without Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Swiss had hoped to reach next year's finals in South Africa on Saturday after they returned home from Luxembourg with a 3-0 victory.

But they were held up by Greece's spectacular 5-2 come-from-behind victory over Latvia and, still with a three-point lead, now need to avoid losing at home to Israel tomorrow.

The Greeks, European champions five years ago, should capture at least a playoff spot by beating Luxembourg at home.

Slovakia blew a chance to qualify for the first time by losing 2-0 at home to Slovenia in Group 3 on Saturday.

Though they still lead the Slovenes by two points, they face a tricky visit to Poland tomorrow, while Slovenia will be confident of a victory over San Marino.

That result would also end the Czech Republic's lingering hopes of qualifying through the playoffs.

Out of 13 spots open to European nations, seven have now been filled.

Defending champions Italy and three-time winners Germany were among the latest to capture places among the 32 finalists.

Denmark and Serbia also made it to join England, the Netherlands and European champions Spain.

After a tough 1-0 victory over Russia in Moscow, Germany coach Joachim Loew said he would rest some of his regular stars for the final group game against Finland tomorrow.

Portugal can only make it through the playoffs and moved up to second place behind Denmark in Group 1 on Saturday with a 3-0 victory over Hungary.

Now comes what should be a routine victory at home to Malta to secure the runners-up spot and that would guarantee a place in the playoffs.

But Ronaldo, the world's most expensive star and Fifa player of the year, won't be in Guimaraes to help his teammates.

He limped out of Saturday's victory over Hungary with the recurrence of a right ankle injury only 27 minutes into the game and the Real Madrid star is out of action for three or four weeks.

Eight of the nine second-place finishers go into the playoffs in mid-November, the team with the worst overall results dropping out.

That looks like being Group 9 runners-up Norway but that can't be finalised until all the games have been played.

France, Russia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Ireland have also guaranteed finishing second in their groups and, regardless of tomorrow's results, have a better record then Norway.

So do Switzerland, Portugal, Slovakia or Slovenia, Ukraine or Croatia if they were to finish second.

Spain have the chance to go to South Africa with a perfect record of 10 victories by winning at Bosnia-Herzegovina tomorrow but England's chances of doing that are gone.

Fabio Capello's team went down 1-0 to Ukraine on Saturday and now the Italian wants his team to bounce back with a victory at Wembley over Belarus.

The Dutch qualified with a perfect record of eight wins in a group that only had five teams.

Sweden coach Lars Lagerback said on Sunday he planned to quit if his team failed to capture a playoff spot and then qualify for the World Cup. That now seems unlikely after Saturday's 1-0 defeat to Denmark sent the Danes to South Africa and pushed his team down to third behind Portugal.

"I've been very privileged to have worked so long with these guys," said Lagerback, who led the Swedes to five major tournaments since Euro 2000. "But I am very disappointed that we did not score (more) goals during qualifying."

Turkey coach Fatih Terim has decided to step down after tomorrow's game against Armenia after his team, semifinalists at Euro 2008, failed to qualify. - Sapa-AP

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