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World Cup worries

Play-offs at best for Ribéry, Altintop & Co

The Netherlands qualified for the 2010 World Cup long ago and Germany are well on course for South Africa, but a handful of Bayern stars now have it all to do if they are to appear at the finals. France, Turkey, Croatia and Ukraine can realistically hope for second place in their groups and a play-off spot at best, while Belgium are already out of the running with two qualifiers still to play.

Second place in Group 7 is now the target for Franck Ribéry and 2006 World Cup runners-up France. The French made the worst possible start to their crunch away meeting with leaders Serbia, losing keeper Hugo Lloris to a straight red card after just ten minutes, but fought their way back to a 1-1 draw. The French are four points off the Serbs with two games to go, but remain four ahead of third-placed Austria.

Nenad Milijas converted from the spot on 11 minutes to fire the home side in front, but Thierry Henry prodded home on the half-hour to rescue a point. As in the previous fixture against Romania, Ribéry began on the bench before replacing Henry for the closing stages. France are at home to the Faeroe Islands and Austria in their remaining games.

Advantage Ukraine

The play-offs are Croatia’s only hope now following a 5-1 thumping away to England, who win Group 6 and qualify directly for South Africa following an eighth win in eight matches for Fabio Capello’s men. A Wayne Rooney strike and a brace apiece from Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard accurately reflected England’s dominance over a poor Croatia side. Danijel Pranjic completed the 90 minutes, while Ivica Olic was substituted at half-time. The Croats, for whom Eduardo da Silva struck a consolation, remain in second place on 17 points.