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FIFA World Cup 2014 European qualifying preview

Qualification for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Europe begins over the next few days, with many of the leading contenders in action. 

Group A kicks off with Croatia taking on Macedonia and Chris Coleman's Wales will host Belgium.

The Welsh will need to improve their current form if they want to qualify, which already looks like a tough task.

The group’s final game of the weekend sees Scotland host Serbia.

The visitors are without a win in their previous five games, but the Scots are coming into the game off the back of a 3-1 friendly win against Australia.

In Group B, minnows Malta and Armenia will do battle, while Italy travel to Bulgaria and the final match in this group will be played on Saturday, involving the Czech Republic and Denmark.

The Republic of Ireland aim to bounce back from a disappointing Euro 2012 on Friday, when they travel to Kazakhstan in Group C. James McClean will hope to add something to the squad that drew in Serbia last month.

Giovanni Trapattoni's side will then travel back to Ireland, to host Oman in a friendly on Tuesday.

Kazakhstan remain in World Cup action on Tuesday, when they visit Euro 2012 finalists Sweden. The Swedes will be looking to bounce back after their 3-0 defeat to Brazil last month.

FIFA's ranked number two team in action

Also in Group C, FIFA's ranked number two team Germany host the Faroe Islands, in what should be no more than a training exercise and should contain plenty of goals.

In Group D, Estonia host Romania on Friday. The Estonians are on a high after beating Poland in their last match, whilst Romania will be looking to get over their 4-3 defeat away to Slovenia. On Tuesday, Estonia travel to Turkey, whilst Romania host Andorra.

Group E could be one of the closest to calls with the opening matches seeing Albania hosting Cyprus, Slovenia playing Switzerland and Norway travelling to Iceland.

Northern Ireland began their Group F campaign with the difficult trip to Moscow to play Russia, now managed by ex-England boss Fabio Capello.

The away side will be without Paddy McCourt, Shane Ferguson and Martin Paterson, although Jonny Evans and Aaron Hughes return to the squad after missing last month's friendly encounter with Finland.

Northern Ireland will take on Luxembourg four days later back in Belfast, but first they will have to compete with a Russian side who start this group as among the favourites to progress.

The Russians will have to travel to Israel on Tuesday for their second qualifier, a match they lost in Euro 2008 qualification.

Also in Group F are Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo and co will be entertaining Luxembourg and Azerbaijan in their first two fixtures, with neither match expected to offer much of a challenge.

Brimming with confidence 

After defeating Wales 2-0 last month, Bosnia and Herzegovina will travel to Liechtenstein for both sides opening qualifier in Group G brimming with confidence.

The hosts are also coming into the game from a win, after defeating Andorra 1-0 at home last month.

The qualification double header will see Bosnia travel back home on Tuesday for the visit of Latvia, who will firstly host Greece on Friday.

In Group H, Montenegro will host Poland, who haven't won any other their last four competitive matches.

The other Group H fixture is between Moldova and an expectant England side, who are without Wayne Rooney, Adam Johnson, Andy Carroll and Ashley Cole for the group opener.

Four days later, Ukraine travel to Wembley, just over ten weeks since their Euro 2012 group stage clash in Donetsk.

Lastly in Group I, France began a new era under Didier Deschamps when they travel to Finland before Belarus come calling in Paris on Tuesday.

Defending World and European champions Spain will begin their campaign on Tuesday, with a trip to Tbilisi to take on Georgia. 

By Josh Harris


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