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Since 1st March, 1999
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France, Bulgaria among qualifiers
- EURO 2004 - Germany back on course; England make it 8-in-a-row

London: Reigning champions France, Sweden, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic all booked their places in next yearís European championship finals after a night of 20 qualifying matches on Wednesday.

The penultimate round of games finally produced the first qualifiers but also left a mass of teams hoping the last round of fixtures on October 11 will open the door to Portugal.

The nightís stand-out game came in Prague where the Czech Republic and The Netherlands, both on 16 points from six games, went head-to-head for the Group III honours.

Karel Poborsky made it 2-0 and after Rafael van der Vaart had pulled one back on the hour, Milan Baros sent the Czechs through and the Dutch into the playoffs with an injury time third.

A hattrick by Dmitry Bulykin and one for Alexander Mostovoi gave Russia a thumping 4-1 home win over Switzerland in Group X and first-half goals from midfielder Mikael Nilsson and striker Olof Mellberg earned Sweden the 2-0 win in Poland that secured the group 4 honours with 17 points (as reported in Thursdayís Late City edition).

Switzerland cling on to top spot on 12 points but have a tough final match against Ireland, who have 11. Russia also have 11 and end at home to Georgia. Things turned towards the hosts after 14 minutes when Dutch midfielder Edgar Davids was sent off and Jan Koller converted the subsequent penalty.

France made it seven wins out of seven in qualifying as goals by David Trezeguet and Olivier Dacourt beat Slovenia 2-0 in Ljubljana.

Slovenia were assured of second place, however, when Israel were held to a 2-2 home draw by Malta, the islandersí first point in their eighth game.

Bulgariaís 3-0 win over Andorra coupled with Belgiumís 2-1 home win against Croatia put Bulgaria on an untouchable 17 points at the top of Group VIII.

Wesley Sonck scored both goals for Belgium, who join Croatia on 13 points, but the Croatians remain favourites to grab second place.

Latvia are back in the mix for second place after a 3-1 home win over Hungary took them to 13 points. Hungary have 11 while Poland have 10 and they meet on the last night when Latvia travel to Sweden.

Group II is even tighter with Romania, Denmark, Norway and Bosnia all still in the hunt. A goal five minutes into stoppage time by Martin Laursen earned Denmark a 2-2 home draw with Romania that secured the Danes at least a playoff slot.

Both teams have 14 points but while Romania have finished their campaign, the Danes can secure top spot with a draw from their final game in Bosnia.

Bosnia, who won 1-0 in Luxembourg, could still spring a surprise though as a victory for them would win the group and a first ever place in a major tournament finals.

Three-times champions Germany, in Group V, are back on course after a 2-1 home win over Scotland took them to the top of.

An early goal by Fredi Bobic and a Michael Ballack penalty took them to 15 points, two ahead of Iceland, who they host in their final game.

Wales edged closer to a first place in a major final since 1958 when they secured at least a playoff place with a 1-1 home draw against Finland. Wales have 13 points, one behind Group IX leaders Italy, who were also held to a 1-1 draw away to Serbia and Montenegro.

Italy draw

Italy scored first through Filippo Inzaghi but after surviving a late onslaught following Sasa Ilicís 81st-minute equaliser they should win the group in their final game at home to Azerbaijan.

England need only a draw from their last game in Turkey to win Group VII after second-half goals from Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney earned a laboured 2-0 home win over Liechtenstein.

It was Englandís eighth win in a row, their best run since 1909 and took them to 19 points, one ahead of the Turks.

Spain gave themselves an outside chance of catching Greece in Group VI with a 2-1 home win over the Ukraine.

Spain, needing at least a draw to guarantee a top-two finish in their group, started poorly against a powerful Ukraine side but took the lead after 59 minutes when Raul pounced on a Ruben Baraja pass and beat Olexander Shovkovsky at his near post.

Raul headed his second from a corner 12 minutes later and, although Andriy Shevchenko pulled one back, Inaki Saezís side held on for a valuable win to end the Ukraineís qualifying hopes.

Greece remain favourites, with Spain on 14 guaranteed at least second.Euro 2004 hosts Portugalgot back to winning ways as a Pauleta goal after eight minutes was enough to beat Norway 1-0 in Oslo.

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