Euro 2016 Qualification in Final Stretch

At the end of today, only two matches remain for most of the teams in the qualification for next year’s Euro 2016 in France. Already # countries have successfully qualified, and several more have assured themselves of at least making the playoff spots. With the expansion from sixteen to twenty-four teams for Euro 2016, some newcomers and lesser teams qualifying are to be expected. This does not lessen their qualification though. This rings especially true for a few teams such as Iceland, who have had spectacular qualification runs and would still be on track to qualify even without the greater number of teams. Here are how the qualification prospects for each group stand after the latest matches.

We begin with Group A, which was set to be one of the toughest groups but has produced one of the most spectacular upsets in recent football history. The group, consisting of the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Iceland, Latvia, and Kazakhstan, was all set to have the Netherlands sail through while the Czechs and Turks battle for second and third. However, the tables quickly turned in a manner reminiscent of Costa Rica’s success in the 2014 World Cup group stage. Plucky Iceland continued the impressive form of their 2014 World Cup qualifying playoff run under the helm of manager Lars Lagerback and proceeded to top the group for nearly all the qualification round thus far. Iceland has only let in 3 goals throughout the campaign and shut out the Dutch both in Reykjavik and Amsterdam. The Dutch have also struggled against the Czechs and Turkey, and now find themselves in a dangerous fourth place. The Czech Republic has also qualified after 8 matches and are tied with Iceland on points, leaving the playoff spot to either Turkey or the Netherlands. The Czech Republic play both teams in their final matches, so two difficult games await both teams currently on the brink of elimination.

Group B with Bosnia, Belgium, Israel, Wales, Cyprus, and Andorra has been more predictable, but there have still been a few surprises. While Belgium was expected to perform well in this group and sits second with a playoff assurance, Wales has played well on the back of striker Gareth Bale to top the group one point ahead of Belgium. Bosnia, while they were the pot A draw for the group, stumbled throughout the qualifying campaign. However, Belgium’s victory over Cyprus with a late goal by Eden Hazard coupled with Bosnia’s 3-0 victory over Andorra on September 6 kept Bosnia’s dreams alive. Israel currently sits third in the group and would go to the playoff right now, but both Bosnia and Cyprus can still reach third place in the group. Bosnia and Cyprus are set to play each other on the final matchday, which if the third place spot is still in contention is sure to have both teams giving their all and could produce a thrilling match.

Group C has had some of the fewest surprises so far of the qualifying groups. Except for a shock 2-1 defeat of Spain by Slovakia early in the qualifying process, the group has shaped up fairly normal for what the relative strength of the teams would suggest. The three top teams were already decided before the latest matchday, so now it only remains to be seen who will have to go to the third place playoff. The ranking as it stands is Spain at the top with 21 points, Slovakia in second with 19 points, and Ukraine in third with 16 points. The biggest deciding match of the final two matchdays will be Spain’s final match, which is against Ukraine in Kiev. If Ukraine can upset Spain and notch another win to their tally, they might have a chance of getting second in the group. Otherwise, it seems pretty likely that Spain will top the group and Slovakia will get second to reach their first ever European championship.

In Group D, Germany has done very well and leads the group, which is to be expected. The defending World Cup champions have already ensured themselves at least third place in the group. Their only stumbling blocks so far were a 1-1 draw to Ireland and a historic 2-0 loss to Poland. With Poland and Ireland scoring wins on the 7th, Germany almost found themselves in trouble during a touch battle against a spirited Scottish side. While Thomas Müller scored twice in the first half, Scotland tied it up by the end of the 45 minutes. Only a goal from Ìlkay Gündoğan in the 54th minute separated the two. Scotland has had a spirited qualifying run, but has been plagued by unfortunately one goal losses that have set them back to fourth place, with only a slim hope of making the third place playoff. Also in this group are Gibraltar, who are making their debut appearance in an international tournament qualification round after being accepted into UEFA in 2013. They are last in the group and have lost all their games so far, but Gibraltar was able to score a goal each against Poland and Scotland.

Group E, like group C, has had few surprises throughout the qualifying round. England already became the first country other than hosts France to qualify for Euro 2016 after the seventh matchday, and remain the only team that has won all their qualifying games thus far. This is a much needed rebound for an England team that finished last in their group in the 2014 World Cup with only one point. Rounding off the group, Switzerland, Slovenia, and Estonia are all fighting for second and third place. However, Slovenia’s win over Estonia today will make it difficult for Estonia to reach third. Estonia could still potentially make it, but as their final two matches are against Switzerland and England, it will definitely be a tough road. Lithuania, coming off a narrow win over San Marino in injury time, saved themselves from elimination and could still conceivably make the playoff round, but this is extremely unlikely.

In Group F, the biggest shocks have come at the top and bottom of the group. Greece, who won the European championship in 2004, began qualification coming off of a high note from the 2014 World Cup where they advanced to the round of 16 for the first time. However, Greece’s qualification hopes quickly soured as they took only 1 point from their first four games; a 1-1 draw to Finland. As the group stands now, Greece sits last in the group having already been eliminated. To make the humiliation even worse, Greece is currently below the Faeroe Islands, whose only wins are from beating Greece twice. At the top of the group sit another potential newcomer to the European championship. Northern Ireland have, like Iceland and Wales, had a superb qualifying run and after a draw with Hungary are assured of at least reaching the playoff round. Romania and Finland are also in contention to qualify for the tournament from this group, though Finland’s hopes at advancing are slim.

At the outset, group G was probably the most even group when it came to which teams had a chance to qualify. Russia, Sweden, Austria, and Montenegro all had the potential to advance as part of the top two in the group. Even with only two matches left for each team, the difference between second and fourth in the group is only 3 points, meaning any of Russia, Sweden, or Montenegro has a decent chance at qualifying. However, the surprise runaway team in group G has been Austria. Today, Austria defeated a struggling Swedish side 4-1 to secure their Euro 2016 qualification berth. While Austria has participated in the European championship in 2008 automatically qualifying as host, this is the first time Austria has made it through the qualification round.

Group H is another group where the fate of all the teams has for the most part already been determined. Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, and Malta have already been eliminated. However, which of Italy, Norway, and Croatia will have to go to the playoff round to secure qualification is yet to be seen, and any of the three could end up in third place in the group. Both Croatia and Norway have matches against Malta coming up, which they should expect to win. However, Norway also has its final match of the qualifier against Italy on October 13. That match will probably be critical for how the teams are positioned in the group and which two teams will qualify automatically.

Lastly, we have group I. Due to the uneven number of teams attempting to qualify for the tournament, group I only has five teams instead of six. With Portugal, Denmark, Serbia, Armenia, and Albania in this group, it was expected that Portugal would qualify and likely Denmark and Serbia fight for third. However, while Portugal and Denmark currently lead the group as expected, Albania is the team bringing up third place. Albania has always been one of the worst teams in Europe, but recently they had a good run in the 2014 World Cup qualification. While they earned 11 points in a good run that included wins over Slovenia and Norway, the group was tight enough that those 11 points still placed Albania fifth in the group. Now, however, they are looking at possibly making it to their first major tournament. While Albania lost to Portugal on the 7th, this was their first loss in a qualifying campaign that began with a stunning win over Portugal exactly one year before. As the table stands now, Portugal, Denmark, and Albania are all assured of at least making the third place playoff while Armenia and Serbia have been eliminated.

There are only two matches left for most teams in the qualifying round, and just over a month before the teams qualifying directly from the groups will be decided. So far, five of the 24 teams have already qualified for Euro 2016: France as hosts and England, the Czech Republic, Iceland, and Austria. So far, Iceland is the only country making its debut next year, however there is potential for several more countries to make their debuts. Wales, Northern Ireland, and Slovakia are all likely to qualify. In addition, Albania, Montenegro, Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Bosnia, Cyprus, and Israel have not yet been eliminated and each country could still make it to the final tournament. The final matchdays look to be exciting as we whittle our way down to the 24 qualifying teams.

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