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.
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.
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.
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.
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.