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Striking worries but Europeans can progress

Written by: Staff

BERLIN, June 17 (Reuters) European heavyweights Portugal, Czech Republic and Italy are all well placed to seal second round berths at the World Cup today despite concerns over their strikers.

Portugal get day nine underway against Iran in Frankfurt (1300 GMT) and coach Luiz Felipe Scolari will demand a much improved forward display from their opening Group D win over Angola, when they went ahead through Pauleta inside four minutes but could not add to their tally.

The Portuguese have a doubt over Cristiano Ronaldo, who has muscle problems, and Scolari says he would be happy with victory by any scoreline.

''As far as I'm concerned if we win half-nil, 1-0 or 2-1 that will be enough to reach our target,'' Scolari told reporters.

Iran captain Ali Daei has overcome a back injury and should be fit for a game they need to win after a 3-1 defeat by Mexico.

Group E then takes centre-stage, with the Czechs aiming for a second victory against Ghana in Cologne (1600 GMT) and the United States fighting for survival against Italy in Kaiserslautern (1900).

Czech coach Karel Brueckner has serious problems for the game against Ghana with strikers Jan Koller and Milan Baros both ruled out.

OVERWHELMING FAVOURITES Brueckner's side will nevertheless be overwhelming favourites after playing superbly in a 3-0 win over the US.

Ghana, beaten 2-0 by the Italians but not outclassed, believe breaking down the defence will be their main problem.

''They have a good goalkeeper (Petr Cech) and a good defence so we'll have to shoot from outside the box,'' said captain Stephen Appiah.

Italy's defence also looked outstanding against Ghana but there were doubts over the form of striker Alberto Gilardino, whose place is under threat from Vincenzo Iaquinta after he came on to score the second goal.

The US have never beaten the Azzurri in five meetings and will need to take any slight chances that come their way.

It is doubtful whether any of the three favourites will be able to match the new standard set by Argentina after they demolished Serbia&Montenegro 6-0 on Friday.

Esteban Cambiasso scored one of the best goals of this or any other tournament, 18-year-old Lionel Messi came off the bench to score what could be the first of many World Cup goals and Maxi Rodriguez (2), Hernan Crespo and Carlos Tevez got the others.

The Dutch followed them through from Group C with a 2-1 win over Ivory Coast, while Mexico were held to a goalless draw with Angola in Group D.


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