teams scrap for last four places

HAMBURG - The names of the final four European teams to qualify for next year's World Cup finals will become known tomorrow after the four playoff return legs.

HAMBURG - The names of the final four European teams to qualify for next year's World Cup finals will become known tomorrow after the four playoff return legs.

All eight teams still harbour hopes of qualification after Saturday's first legs but 2006 finalists France look to be in the strongest position after coming away from their clash against Ireland in Dublin with a 1-0 victory.

Despite scoring an away goal and having home advantage in the return leg in Paris, team captain Thierry Henry remains cautious.

"It is only an advantage. It is a better way to come back and play the game in Paris. But still the Irish team is a very difficult team to beat," said the Barcelona striker.

France will be without Eric Abidal for the match as the Barcelona defender has a thigh injury. Russia also looked to be well on the way to South Africa after two goals from Everton striker Diniyar Bilyaletdinov put Guus Hiddink's side in control at home to Slovenia, but a late header from substitute Nejc Pecnik blew the tie wide open once again.

Though Russia remain favourites, Pecnik's late heroics mean that if Slovenia win 1-0, they will qualify, while 2-1 would lead to extra time.

"It's always disappointing when you allow your rivals to score a goal at the very end but we can only blame ourselves for it," Hiddink said.

"We had plenty of chances to increase our lead but missed them, while Slovenia converted one of their rare chances into a goal."

Portugal overcame the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo to edge out Bosnia-Herzegovina 1-0 in their first leg but needed the help of the woodwork twice in the final minutes to prevent the visitors from salvaging a draw.

Bosnian coach Miroslav Blazevic remains confident that his side will prevail at home. "We could have achieved more in Lisbon, but the result is good. I am certain we will be going to South Africa," he said.

Euro 2004 champions Greece are set to face Ukraine's underdogs after the first leg in Athens ended goalless.

Greece coach Otto Rehhagel remains upbeat.

"I am happy that we did not concede a goal and that leaves everything open for the return leg."

Rehhagel and Ukraine coach Alexei Mikhaili-chenko will be worried about their teams' inability to score. - Sapa-DPA

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