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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.