Euro sides eye Brazil

Some of Europe’s leading nations can clinch qualification for the 2014 World Cup finals in a double-header of fixtures over the next week, starting on Friday. Four-time world champions Italy, the Netherlands and Germany will all be in a position to book their flights to Brazil, while the situation in all of the continent’s nine qualifying groups will become clearer before the final fixtures in October.

Cesare Prandelli’s Italy have taken 14 points from a possible 16 in qualifying Group B without ever producing their very best form. The Azzurri are four points clear of Bulgaria and five ahead of Czech Republic at the top of the group, so wins against both teams in Palermoand Turin in the next week will be enough to confirm qualification. However, Italy’s task against the Bulgarians has been complicated by the absence of several players due to injury or suspension.

The Netherlands have cruised through Group D so far, winning all six qualifiers, and that run appears unlikely to end when they go to Estonia on Friday and then Andorra next week, even with Rafael Van der Vaart out injured. Wins in those games will see them qualify irrespective of what nearest challenges Romania and Hungary-who met in Bucharest on Friday-can achieve.

Germany need other results to go their way if they are to stand a chance of sealing first place in Group C this month, with Joachim Loew’s side currently five points clear of Austria, Sweden and Republic of Ireland. Germany face Austria in Munich’s Allianz Arena on Friday, and wins there and in the Faroe Islands on Tuesday will be enough if Ireland and Sweden slip up.

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Face recognition to boost surveillance

The US government is making progress on developing a surveillance system that would pair computers with video cameras to scan crowds and automatically identify people by their faces, according to a newly disclosed documents and interviews with researchers working on the project. The Department of Homeland Security tested a crowd-scanning project called the Biometric Optical Surveillance System – or BOSS – last fall after two years of government-financed development. Although the system is not ready for use, researchers say they are making significant advances.That alarms privacy advocates, who say that now is the time for the government to establish oversight rules and limits on how it will someday be used.

There have been stabs for over a decade at building a system that would help match faces in crowd with names on a watch list – whether in searching for terrorism suspects at high-profile events like a presidential inaugural parade, looking for criminal fugitives in places like Times Square or identifying card cheats in casinos. The automated matching of closeup photographs has improved greatly in recent years, and companies like Facebook have experimented with it using still pictures. But even with advances in computer power, the technical hurdles involving crowd scans from a distance have proved to be far more challenging. Despite occasional much-hyped tests,including one as far back as the 2001 Super Bowl, technical specialists say crowd scanning is still too slow and unreliable.

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