Yes. Euro is back. While teams from individual leagues engage themselves in near cut-throat competition, players also need to disintegrate upon call of duty. Euro 2008 was nothing short of a thriller and looks like 2012 promises to be the same. The adrenaline levels are slowly rising as teams from a nucleus of 52 look to make it to the final roster of 16, edging out the competitors in their respective groups.
Being the hosts, Poland and Ukraine have been granted automatic qualification and also seeded for the tournament, while the winners from the nine groups (A-I) along with the best runner-up will qualify directly for the tournament. This leaves four more spots for the remaining eight runners-up who will then contest in play-offs. Well, while the dish is yet to be served, let’s have a look at what’s going on in the kitchen?
It is all about Deutschland in Group A. The Germans booked a spot in the Euro following a 6-2 thrashing of Austria at Gelsenkirchen. Joachim Low’s men have so far won all their games, conceding just five goals while netting in 28 for themselves. It has been a rejuvenated German side following their third place finish in the 2010 World Cup. However, there is a closer competition for the runners-up spot in Group A, with Turkey and Belgium in the running for the second spot. With two games remaining, there is a possibility that Turkey is at an advantage since they face Azerbaijan in their last round of group-stage matches while Belgium will travel to Germany looking to snatch that second position from the Turks.
It is a pride of lions tussling and fighting for two spots. While Russia leads the pack with 17 points, Republic of Ireland lies a close second with 15. Armenia and Slovakia have refused to give up as they lie third and fourth respectively but with 14 points each. With the current standings, team Russia will board the plane to Slovakia while Republic of Ireland travels to Andorra. A win for Slovakia will bring them equal on points with Russia but in all probability will send them to the second spot. But this is just one half of the picture. At the same time of Russia’s loss, if Ireland triumph over Andorra who are in the last spot and have not won even one game in their group, it will be Giovanni Trapattoni’s men who would overtake Russia in the race to first.
The melee doesn’t end here yet. Armenia, who are currently sitting third in the group, host Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). John Toshack’s team is certain to lose out on this year’s Euro and losing against Armenia will be gifting them the top spot. The Armenians have the best goal difference in the group a place at the top is bound to make life harder for the rest three teams in contention.
Things have panned out in a rather smooth manner in Group C. Italy’s recent victory against Slovenia awarded them the top spot in the group and confirms their qualification. The second spot in this group now looks more likely to go Serbia. Although Estonia and Slovenia, currently lying third and fourth respectively, are not too far behind the Serbs, the fact that Serbia has an extra game in hand over its competitors surely weakens the chances of the other two teams qualifying for the runners-up. Unless Serbia loses both its games, it looks highly unlikely they will fall out of the tournament. On the other hand, a victory against Italy on October 7th will seal the runners-up spot for Serbia.
France missed out on all three points when they drew against Romania away from home. This jeopardizes their first spot. Belarus have one more game to go before they complete their quota of 10 and hence are pretty much out of the running for second spot. This leaves Romania and Bosnia & Herzegovina in contention for the runners-up spot from their group. France will be facing Albania come October 7th in what should be an easy game for Les Blues. Laurent Blanc will, however, ponder over his team selection due to the absence of Ribery, Benzema and Sagna. A victory for Bosnia-Herzegovina over minnows Luxembourg should leave them in a strong position to finish second but Romania can spoil the party if they manage to beat Belarus in their next group stage encounter.
Laurent Blanc – Will He Turn France’s Fortunes Around?
World Cup runners-up Netherlands have the best goal-difference amongst all the teams so far and a 0 – 2 win over Finland has heralded the threat the Dutch are going to bring at Poland & Ukraine. The team has been in fine form throughout the group stage with striker Van Persie putting up some scintillating performances like the one in the team’s 11 – 0 thumping of San Marino early in September.
With Netherlands well on their way to becoming group leaders (worst case, they would end up as the best runners-up which will still grant direct qualification), it is the runners-up spot that has drawn attention. Sweden and Hungary are equal on points (18 each) but Hungary has just one more game at home against Finland on October 11th to keep its hopes alive. Sweden on the other hand will have to beat Finland on the 7th of October, if that happens, it will be Sweden who will clinch the runners-up spot for this group.
Poland and Ukraine will be thankful they won’t be playing a role in any of the qualification stages but if they had to be, Group F would be their wish. Croatia and Greece have pretty much ruled the roost since the group matches have begun and by the looks of it, it is now nothing but a tug-of-war game between the two teams to finish first and second. Slaven Bilic’s side currently is the leader with 19 points while Greece are a point behind the Croats. In fact, Croatia will be facing Greece away from home on the 7th and a victory will seal qualification. Come what may, Croatia and Greece will be incumbents of the top two spots from Group F.
There is always a surprise package at every football tournament and Montenegro could just be that surprise at Euro 2012. Zlatko Kranjcar’s side has sprung to second spot ahead of Switzerland and being three points ahead, are in a better position to qualify than the Swiss. England look pretty with seventeen points and the number one spot. Fabio Capello’s men are up against Montenegro this Friday and a victory for the Three Lions will put them into the group of 16. Montenegro have a tougher task ahead of them with England and Switzerland lined up as their opponents for the last two fixtures. Switzerland will be back in the race provided they beat Wales this Friday and Montenegro get anything less than a win against England. Ottmar Hitzfeld’s team will then face Montenegro at Basel on the 11th of October for their final encounter. Looks like it will go all the way down to the wire with this group.
It’s a three-horse race here in Group H. Portugal have found it hard to dominate the likes of Denmark and Norway; and although they currently stand as group leaders with two games to go, Paulo Bento’s side find themselves equal on points with the Scandinavian countries.
Norway get one final chance to stay in the competition when they face Cyprus who are currently last in the group with just two points from their six games, on October 11th. The penultimate encounter throws up a relatively easier fixture for Denmark than Portugal with the Danes visiting Cyprus and Portugal hosting Iceland at home. The Portuguese and the Danes look to be the likely top finishers of Group H albeit the number one spot will go to the winner of the game between these two sides in the final match on 11th.
Spain continue to show consistency as they have won all their six matches so far in the group stage. The defending champions have certainly booked a spot in the tournament and have done so with ease. Following Spain is Czech Republic with Scotland sitting two points further back at third spot. Both teams have two more games to go but the Czechs are in a tight spot. The team is scheduled to play a friendly against Ukraine on the 6th, a day before their all important game against La Roja. We can expect a second string side fielded for the friendly but then again, it all depends on the manager; and we have seen ridiculous decisions made in the past haven’t we? The Scots on the other hand cannot afford anything less than a victory against Liechtenstein and following that, Spain. David Levein has his work cut out for Euro this time around.
Will They conquer Europe Again?
The stage looks set for another fascinating Euro Cup. There may not be any Samba magic or Messi’s meandering runs but this tournament still holds a touch of panache to it.
For latest standings of Euro 2012 qualifiers, please visit this page.