Euro Championship 2016 – Qualifying Review Part 2

Welcome to Part Two of my Euro Championship Qualifying Review. With Uefa trying to make as many nations qualifying for the finals as possible, there are a total of 9 groups which will see 24 nations qualify from a total of 54 participants. So without wasting anymore time lets crack on with the second part of the review which starts off with Group E, featuring Roy Hodgson’s England.

Group E

England found themselves in a relatively easy qualifying group. The trickiest ties being most likely against Switzerland and Slovenia. The problem is that with groups like this it is a no win situation. England zoom through, it’s expected, an England failure and all hell breaks loose. After an opening win against the Swiss, England had to face San Marino and Estonia. With three points guaranteed against San Marino, it would be down to goals and how many England bagged. This is where England find themselves in a no win situation. A large victory is expected, but then at the same time no one comes to be surprised as it is expected. The end result saw England put five past their part time opponents. This though seemed not enough, the fans wanted more, Germany after all put thirteen past the San Marino goalkeeper. The thing though is where does it stop? when does the result hit the level of ridiculous?

Returning to group matters, after losing to England, the Swiss then faced Slovenia, the other nation making a serious challenge to the automatic qualification. It was a game that they needed to get something out of especially with them being at home to Slovenia. It wasnt too be as Slovenia came away with a solitary goal for a 1-0 win and the opportunity to trail hot on the heels of England. Lithuania could provide the surprise of the group and had they have beaten Slovenia, they would have found themselves level on points with England. Pre match day one, it would not have been expected that the Swiss would be losing two of their opening three qualifying fixtures and giving themselves a mountain to climb (no pun intended).

Match Day four will see England host Slovenia, will the three lions extend their lead or will the former Yugoslavian state pull themselves level at the end of ninety minutes.  with Estonia playing San Marino, the Swiss find themselves in the situation where if they dont win, they could find themselves with all but San Marino above them. Three defeats in four and it would be very much likely good night playoff hopes.

Group F

Another group featuring one of the home nations, this time in the form of Northern Ireland. The Irish have been the surprise outfit of the group. They have won all three games including a victory in Greece. Given that the group consists of Romania, Hungary, Finland and the seeded Greece, the Northern Ireland lads were probably not given much hope. They have a real good chance to finish in the top three especially with two of the wins against Hungary and Greece coming away from home. The Greeks only point has come against Finland in match day two.

The next round of matches will see Northern Ireland travel to Romania in a top of the table clash. It might only be match day four, but come the end of 90 minutes, Northern Ireland will either still be top or second with at least a two point margin ahead of Finland or Hungary. Greece will hope that they can take three points against the Faroe’s and that other results go their way, if they are to have a chance of top three.

Group G

This group which doesnt exactly come with big game interest, sees Russia and Sweden looking to take the automatic qualifying spots. Austria who are qualifying flops, will hope to make this a second European Championship finals, the previous being Euro 2008 which they co hosted. The Austrians have this time made a positive start with seven points from nine. They drew at home to Sweden in Match Day One. Russia will be hoping to make the finals once more and a fourth straight European Championship qualification. The same could be said for Sweden, they will be looking to qualify again for the fifth consecutive finals. They will though need to put their foot down if they are to qualify, given that their unbeaten run has seen only a win against the lowly Liechtenstein. Whilst of course its good to be unbeaten, it tends to get a bit more tricky when the draw column is larger than the win column. There is though still plenty of time for things to even out and predicted fortunes to go their way.

In the next round of Group G games, leaders Austria, face Russia at home, whilst Sweden travel to Montenegro. Results could see Austria pull away with a win or even fall to third if Sweden also win.

Group H

Group H sees Italy and Croatia battle for the top two spots whilst Bulgaria and Norway will more than likely battle for the playoff place. Football as we know can be unpredictable at times, but so far the predictability is winning. Both the Croats and Italians have 100% unbeaten records, but it is the manner of which Croatia are going about the job that makes it all the more interesting. The nation that once brought the end of Steve McLaren’s England coaching career, have bossed their way to not only nine points but have bagged nine goals and not conceded a solitary goal in the opening three games. In contrast to Italy who have managed wins by no more than two goals and that came against Norway. Should the Italians slip up, Norway or Bulgaria will be more than happy to take advantage especially if they can get more goals and even take points off the Italians.

Match Day 4 for this group sees the top two battle it out whilst Norway travel to Azerbaijan and Bulgaria host Malta. The Norwegians will not have a better opportunity to close the gap either by a point if they win and the other game is a draw, or Norway win and there is a winner from the Italy v Croatia game.

Group I

The troublesome group of all. On the footballing terms it should have been a three horse race between Serbia, Portugal and Denmark for the top three spots. Unfortunately it has not been that straight forward. Albania who started the group with an away win in Portugal and a home draw against the Danes, could have seen them topping the group and upsetting the apple cart. The game though would be brought to a premature end through technology and not the right reasons. A drone was flown into the stadium causing a brawl to take place between Serbian and Albanian players. The match resulted in being cancelled. At a disciplinary hearing, Serbia were awarded the game with a 3-0 win but with the three points taken away.

Match Day four in this group sees a Denmark side who can maintain control of the group with a win over Serbia, who will be hoping to put the events of the last game behind them. With Albania not playing in this round due to a five nation group, Portugal could find themselves back on top with a win and a Danish loss or draw. It would be what they needed as they look to get their campaign back and running once more. Anything else and the Portuguese could find themselves dropping behind.

Old Harry’s Game – A Dan Raywood guest blog

The past few days has seen former Spurs manager Harry Redknapp claim that he was close to winning the title whilst he was manager.

Well if I had worked harder at school, I would have got better grades in my exams. If I hadn’t have been so tired at Glastonbury in 1995 I’d have seen Elastica. If I wasn’t so tight on buying football tickets, I’d have got one for Spurs v Newcastle at the weekend….scrub that one.

The Spurs team of the Redknapp era had a wonderful midfield of Van Der Vaart-Parker-Sandro-Modric-Bale that would evolve into the Gareth Bale show a season or two later. As Spurs fans we are reminiscent of that as a great era, although the current offering of Lamela-Chadli-Eriksen with (currently) Mason and Capoue providing defensive cover may get the similar rose-tinted treatment in years to come.

The squad then, now mostly departed but still playing for QPR, Stoke and Hull, was very strong, and it can be agreed that had we have had a prime Robbie Keane or an in-form Adebayor, that team could have gone on to bigger and better things.

But let’s not ignore the reality, the Redknapp era saw the management refuse to rotate exhausted players on the grounds that “Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst never needed a break”, that too often opportunities to purchase a much needed striker were missed, and when we did make the signings we wanted, the C-list options of Ryan Nelson and Louis “glass ankles” Saha were purchased. Yes Louis made the effort in the 5-0 win over Newcastle, but strikers were there and to paraphrase Jose Mourinho following the loss of Juan Mata, it wasn’t the failure of the player to perform, it was the failure of the manager to get the best from the player.

Spurs had some excellent players in the attacking third – Pavulychenko, Crouch and Defoe, and untold youth players who I never heard about. Could one of those not be coached to a level of acceptable level of form and performance? The failure Harry was not in the lack of funds to get the best players, it was in getting the best of what we had.

There is plenty of romantic reminiscing about the Redknapp era, in the same way I suspect Manchester United fans do about Sir Alex Ferguson’s dominance. Yes we looked strong, yes we qualified for the Champions League and progressed well in it, but bad decisions were made and let’s hope that history treats us well for the next challenges.

Euro Championship 2016 – Qualifying Review Part One

So the European Championship qualifiers reached the third round of games and two match day rounds that produced some interesting outcomes and some not so welcome scenes. For the UK representatives it would continue to be a good start, for the defending champions however it would not be a straightforward one.

Group A

Iceland and the Czech Republic appear to be storming away from the pack having both maintained 100% records. Iceland currently lead the group with 8 goals scored and 0 conceded, which considering they have played the Netherlands, is quite an impressive feat. The Czech Republic who rival them for the lead and the notching of 8 goals have also played the Dutch. It seems at this rate the Dutch will be hoping to get home victories against the Czech’s and Icelandic sides, otherwise the Orange men will be battling to even make the third spot and a playoff place. Turkey surprisingly find themselves bottom of a group that features Kazakhstan, who claimed their only point so far against the Turks. The Dutch will be hoping that Latvia don’t pick up points although they can be relieved that their only points have come from draws against Kazakhstan and Turkey.

The final round of qualifiers in 2014 will see the Dutch travel to Latvia and the Czech’s taking on the Icelandic team. A victory for the Dutch is essential anything else and in theory it could already be curtains for the side that has impressed so much previously under Van Gaal. They will of course be hoping that there is a winning outcome in the Czech Republic v Iceland game to give them a hope of automatic qualification.

Group B

This group contains one of the home nations, in the form of Wales. They weren’t given the greatest qualifying group, what with the likes of Israel and Belgium, but they would do themselves no harm by getting off to the best start that they could. Despite being only facing Andorra, Cyprus and Bosnia Herzegovina, the Welsh would have hoped to get close to maximum points as they possibly could. That is of course what they achieved. A total of seven out of nine gives them a really good start especially as they will be facing the hot favourites Belgium who have played a game less than the Welsh. Notably, the Belgians could only take a point from their meeting with Bosnia. Israel will also find themselves believing that they have their best chance of making their first ever European Championship finals and second only major international championship finals.

Match Day Four sees Wales and Belgium clash which gives the Israeli team a chance of going top if they beat Bosnia and the Welsh lose. Group B in fact looks a close one to call and could end up going to the final round of qualifiers to see who goes through automatically and who goes to the play off if the best third place team isn’t from this group.

Group C

Spain who were going into the qualifying as defending champions, had looked to maintain a positive start to their qualifying, but came unstuck against a surprise Slovak side. Slovakia, captained by Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel, lead his team to victory. The Ukraine who seemed the natural threat to the Spaniards find themselves level pegging with the holders having themselves lost to Slovakia. Naturally it would appear that the top three would come from either Slovakia, Ukraine or Spain but given the nature of how football seems to run these days, you wouldn’t be surprised to see Spain either missing out or having to hope they are the best third place team, or the possibility of a play off which given they are the holders will certainly be a bitter pill to swallow.

The next round of group fixtures should see Spain return to form with a home game against Belarus, the Ukraine keep the pressure on with a trip to Luxembourg and Slovakia playing Macedonia. Given the World Cup disaster, qualifying automatically would not only be a standard practice for the Spanish, but also a matter of footballing importance.

Group D

This group was certainly a mix. World Cup winners Germany, home nation Scotland, Republic of Ireland, Poland and newcomers Gibraltar. Given that the World Champions were in this group, it would seem that one thing was going to be guaranteed, Germany would steam roll their way through the group. With the first round of matches having taken the expected route. Match Day 2 saw the Irish maintain their 100% record with a victory against the new boys Gibraltar. Scotland bounced back with a win over Georgia, but the surprising result of the night saw Poland beat Germany 2-0 in Warsaw. A result not many would have come to expect. In the next game for Germany, victory was denied against Ireland in injury time. John O’Shea grabbed a point to maintain the Irish unbeaten record and a total of 7 points from 9 games. Scotland faced a tricky tie away to Poland and given the Polish win over Germany, not too many would have given the Tartan Army much hope. The Scots though had other ideas and looked certain to score a famous victory. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be as the home side levelled in the 76th minute. The visitors could be pleased with their performance which could have seen them go second behind Ireland.

Next up The Irish face Scotland, Germany can bounce back against Gibraltar and Poland travel to Georgia. As this group moves closer to the halfway point, it is something to most certainly keep an eye on.

That’s it for Part One, look out for Part Two of the review plus more over the next few days. Don’t forget that you can find more observations and thoughts by following Match of The Doy on Twitter.

UEFA still not serious on Racism

It seems to be a broken record with UEFA. They claim to be tough in dealing with racism. Unfortunately it seems not the case. Following the banner unveiled in the Partizan v Spurs match, UEFA handed out their punishment. Was it a heavy fine? lengthy stadium ban? No unfortunately UEFA handed Partizan Belgrade a fine of 40,000 euros and the closure of Sector K against Besiktas this month. As well as the banner, the Partizan fans were investigated for three other offences. These offences had included setting off of fireworks, invading the pitch and pointing a laser pen.

A UEFA statement released stated:

“The fight against racism is a high priority for UEFA. The European governing body has a zero-tolerance policy towards racism and discrimination on the field and in the stand”

Adding to the statement UEFA stated:

“All forms of racist behaviour are considered serious offences against the disciplinary regulations and are punished with the most severe sanctions”

“Following the entry into force of new disciplinary regulations in June 2013, the fight against racist conduct has been stepped up a level – resulting in stricter penalties to deter any such behaviour”.

Now I don’t mean to come across as cynical, but since when did a 40,000 euro fine a sector ban for Partizan’s next European home game, be a result of tough new stricter penalties. They need to be tougher. A fine and partial ban is hardly going to deter fans from causing anymore problems.

Of course it’s not the first offence that Partizan fans have been involved in trouble. In 2007/08 Partizan were disqualified from further competition. Surely given the fact that Partizan have history, tougher punishment for the club should have been handed out. I guess nothing should surprise us anymore when it comes to UEFA and their inability to handout a substantial punishment.

The idea of 40,000 euros being a reasonable fine is just in fact a complete joke when Niklas Bendtner was fined at Euro 2012 a sum of £100,000 and a match ban for revealing some branded underwear.  How on earth can UEFA be taken seriously on racism when they hand out bigger fines for what is in contrast a trivial issue.

I feel until UEFA take the option of banning a nation, like they did to England after the Heysel Tragedy, then whatever they do, whatever they try to do or say should be taken with a pinch of salt because until then, no fans will have faith in the organisation to deal with the issue that hounds the game across the globe.