x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Low looking for a perfect 10

A seventh successive win in Group A tomorrow would lift Germany 10 points clear of second-place Belgium.

German players celebrate their 1:2 victory against Austria.
German players celebrate their 1:2 victory against Austria.

A seventh successive win in Group A tomorrow would lift Germany 10 points clear of second-place Belgium, leaving only Turkey capable of stopping Joachim Low's side qualifying as pool winners.

With tomorrow's five other 2012 European Championship qualifiers not involving any of the continent's heavyweight teams, the focus will turn on a selection of high-profile friendly internationals.

Top-ranked Spain - fresh from a 4-0 thrashing of the United States on Saturday - play Venezuela away, Netherlands visits Uruguay, in a repeat of last year's World Cup semi-final, and Brazil hosts Romania.

In a match between teams that top their Euro 2012 qualification groups, Italy plays Ireland in a friendly in Liege, Belgium.

Germany's opponents Azerbaijan sit second bottom in Group A, but their three points picked up so far came from an impressive 1-0 home win over Turkey in October, ensuring Low will not be complacent as he heads to Baku after a 2-1 win over Austria on Friday.

"I believe the players can do their job in Azerbaijan. We have to mobilise all our forces while we are at the end of the season," said Low, whose side are one of three - alongside Spain and Holland - to have perfect records in qualifying.

"Turkey lost there and they [Azerbaijan] don't usually concede too many goals."

With midfielders Sami Khedira and Simon Rolfes withdrawing because of injury, Under 21 players Lewis Holtby of Mainz and Sebastian Rudy of Hoffenheim were called up by Low. Rudy was summoned from his holiday in Italy.

Lukas Podolski is nursing an ankle injury, but the striker is expected to recover in time.

Azerbaijan, who lost to Kazakhstan on Friday, are managed by Berti Vogts, the former Germany coach who told journalists he had been attacked by three men during a news conference in Baku yesterday ahead of tomorrow's qualifier. The German, under fire in Azeri media following his team's disappointing run, told German reporters in Baku that he had filed a report with police and would "discuss his next steps with my lawyers".

Second-place Belarus can trim the gap on France, the Group D leaders, to a point with a win at home to Luxembourg, while Sweden hosts Scandinavian rivals Finland in Group E knowing a victory will reduce the deficit to the leaders Holland to three points.

Vicente del Bosque, the Spain coach, can set a record for wins at the helm of the national team with a victory over Venezuela.

The former Real Madrid coach joined predecessor Luis Aragones on 38 victories with the win over the US

"I have benefited from the excellence and the style of play of this team and its victories," Del Bosque said. "Spain has continued a trajectory in recent years in all different scenarios and against all its rivals."

Fernando Torres, the Chelsea striker, scored the fourth goal against the US after coming on as a substitute and could be given a start by Del Bosque.

Stephen Hunt, the Republic of Ireland winger, is targeting at least four points from the September showdowns with Slovakia and Russia to make his Euro 2012 dream a reality.

The 29-year-old Wolverhampton Wanderers midfielder played his part in Saturday's 2-0 victory in Macedonia which left the Republic firmly in the race for qualification from Group B.

But the Slovakians and the Russians also both won at home to maintain the pressure, and the first round of fixtures next season could have a major say in which of them ultimately heads to Poland and Ukraine next summer.

Having missed out on World Cup qualification in a controversial play-off against France 18 months ago, Hunt is not prepared to leave anything to chance.

He said: "We knew the two of them would probably win, so it was important we won.

"Thankfully we did and we move on to the next one.

"It sets is up for a massive finish. It keeps us in there with Slovakia at home and Russia away.

"We might not have to win the two of them, but if we can get four points it would be massive."

Robbie Keane scored his 50th and 51st international goals in the 2-0 success over Macedonia, making him the first player from the British Isles to accomplish the feat.

* Agencies