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Spain and Sweden look for finishing touch

MADRID, Nov 15 (Reuters) Although they are on the verge of claiming their places in Euro 2008, Spain and Sweden know that a slip-up in their top-of-the-table Group F clash at the Bernabeu on Saturday (kickoff 2100 GMT) could cost them dear.

Sweden lead the group with 23 points from 10 games and a draw would secure their passage to the finals in Austria and Switzerland with a game to spare, while Spain, who are a point behind, need a win to guarantee themselves a berth in next year's tournament.

However, defeat for either team could leave them within striking distance of Denmark and Northern Ireland if one of those two sides comes away with a victory when they go head to head at Windsor Park on Saturday.

''All we need now is that finishing touch,'' said Spain midfielder Albert Riera when the squad got together yesterday.

''We have got two important games left to play and our aim is to win them both so that we can top the group. You always want to show that you are the best side, play well and make a good impression.'' Spain's qualification campaign was almost derailed last year after consecutive defeats at the hands of Sweden and Northern Ireland, but six wins and a draw in their next seven matches have put Luis Aragones's side back on track for Euro 2008.

Spain will be without Liverpool striker Fernando Torres who was left out of the squad despite returning from injury at the weekend, with the in-form Raul Tamudo likely to partner David Villa up front.

INJURY WORRIES Opponents Sweden turned in a sluggish performance in last month's 1-1 draw against Northern Ireland and have a number of injury worries ahead of Saturday's match.

Toulouse's Johan Elmander, a first choice striker for Sweden alongside Inter Milan's Zlatan Ibrahimovic, has pulled out of the ties with a thigh injury and his natural replacement Marcus Allback is in doubt with a sore hip.

If Allback misses out, Werder Bremen's Markus Rosenberg or AaB Aalborg's Rade Prica could partner Ibrahimovic up front.

''We would rather not depart from using two strikers,'' said coach Lars Lagerback. ''But it's an option. A deep-line forward or an offensive midfielder instead of a second forward, but then we break a lot with the foundations of our game.'' Sweden's holding midfielder Tobias Linderoth is out with a groin injury while skipper Fredrik Ljungberg is doubtful because of a calf problem.

Probable teams: Spain: Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Carles Puyol, Carlos Marchena, Joan Capdevila; Xavi, David Albelda, Andres Iniesta, David Silva; Raul Tamudo or Cesc Fabregas, David Villa.

Sweden: Rami Shaaban; Erik Edman, Petter Hansson, Olof Mellberg, Mikael Nilsson; Fredrik Ljungberg, Anders Svensson, Daniel Andersson, Kim Kallstrom, Christian Willhelmsson; Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Referee: Roberto Rosetti (Italy) Reuters RAR DB2117

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Story first published: Thursday, November 15, 2007, 21:35 [IST]
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