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Crucial Euro 2008 qualifiers (part two)

Paul Armstrong | 11:18 UK time, Tuesday, 16 October 2007

This Wednesday sees a potentially crucial set of Euro 2008 fixtures. All four UK international sides can be seen on the BBC.

Scotland's huge game in Georgia is live on BBC Scotland and UK-wide on BBC TWO with a 6pm kick-off. Except for Freeview viewers in Wales (don't shoot the messenger - I don't understand all the technical or scheduling details either).

Then, later, the game Northern Ireland cannot afford to lose in Sweden, and the now largely academic San Marino v Wales encounter are live in both Northern Ireland and Wales. They are also via the red button, across the UK.

This is the first time we've been able to offer (most) BBC viewers a choice of three football matches at once. It's almost like a Wimbledon-style digital options-fest in October.

On this occasion, England are the only UK team BBC TV are unable to show live. Sky have those rights, but BBC 5Live has live radio coverage (kick-off 4pm) and we have been able to acquire extended highlights, along with highlights of the aforementioned three home nation games, on BBC ONE at 10.40pm. With the teatime kick-off, this will be the first opportunity for many viewers to see the action from Moscow.

James McFadden celebrates scoring against Ukraine with team-mate Kenny Miller

As has been said many times, for Scotland to qualify from a group containing both World Cup finalists (as well as a quarter finalist in Ukraine), would probably be their greatest international football achievement. Everyone here would love to be able to cover their progress at next summer's finals, and it's great that we have the chance to show this Wednesday's game live. And, yes, we understand that not all Scottish viewers will be reciprocating by wishing England well! The BBC only has highlights rights to all Scotland's home games so this is a real bonus for us.

If Scotland win they won't have qualified (although a French slip-up against Lithuania later that evening would then have that effect) and if they draw or lose, qualification would still be in their own hands. Mind you, that would probably mean having to beat World Champions Italy at Hampden, so an away win on Wednesday would be altogether preferable. Strangely, England will qualify by winning in Russia but, conversely, will have qualification taken out of their hands by a defeat.

Much has been made of the artificial pitch England face in Moscow, and it does seem odd that a match of this magnitude should be played on such a surface, particularly when Uefa has insisted on a grass surface being laid in the same stadium before next May's Champions League final.

It is also less than helpful to have even more injury problems on the eve of such a big match. With Ashley Cole and, quite possibly, John Terry missing from the back four. We could see Micah Richards at centre-back and perhaps Joleon Lescott and Phil Neville at full-back. All good players, but they'd be forced to play in unexpected roles, and Russia did enough in defeat at Wembley to suggest another of those nervy England evenings (or afternoons) ahead.

My only trip to Moscow was nine years ago, and also involved a controversial pitch. It was April 1998, and as part of a deal to cover the Uefa Cup final live, we also had the rights to show the semi-final 2nd leg between Spartak Moscow and an Inter Milan side featuring Ronaldo.

I flew over with then-BBC commentator Jon Champion on the same flight as the Scottish match referee Hugh Dallas. We were greeted by freak Easter snowfalls several feet deep. It made the Kremlin and other Moscow sights look ridiculously picturesque. Football-wise, we were assured there was no problem because the game would move to Dinamo's ground which had undersoil heating.

Come matchday it transpired that the undersoil heating had been on the wrong setting and, once the snow was cleared, all the grass had in fact been burned off. With no prospect of playing anywhere else in the city, Hugh Dallas had to ask Inter to play on a mud surface which closely resembled the Roland Garros clay of the French Open tennis.

So we had the surreal spectacle of a brown playing surface surrounded by piles of white with vodka-fortified spectators shivering in furs and balaclavas. I have never ever been so cold, even as a kid in Teesside. Somehow a game took place and Inter won with two goals from Ronaldo who, to be fair, had probably played on worse surfaces in his youth in Brazil.

So, I have to say, having experienced the Russian weather in April, I can see why they would have artificial surfaces available to them. I'm still not sure England should be forced to play on one in a crucial October qualifier, though, and just hope it doesn't materially affect the result.

Here's to England and Scotland still being in good shape by 8pm on Wednesday - both qualifying would make the finals in Austria and Switzerland particularly special next summer.

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