After the excitement and upsets of the early rounds, things operated on a more even keel in Round 4, with few surprises. However, the groups are all still wide opening, making this easily the best qualifying campaign in recent memory – bravo UEFA! There’s something you can’t say every day. After another week of international fixtures has gone by, let’s take a look at the best matches of the round gone and of the one to come.

N.B. All group prognoses were made after round 1.

Group A

Pick of Round 4: Czech Rep 2 – 1 Iceland

The two teams with 100% records in Group A produced an excellent spectacle in Plzeň, complete with end to end football, fortuitous goals and individuals errors. The Czechs clawed their way back from a one goal deficit to scoop three points and cement their grip on top spot, albeit through a heavily deflected winner. Meanwhile, the Netherlands finally got their campaign up and running with a 6-0 demolition of Latvia.

One to Watch in Round 5: Netherlands v Turkey

The Orange will hope to build on their belated start with another win against Turkey, who have looked lacklustre and bereft of ideas in their opening two games, before showing signs of encouragement against Kazakhstan in their last match. The Netherlands will know three points are a must, with both the Czechs and Iceland expected to stick to winning ways in their respective ties.

Group Prognosis: 1st Netherlands 2nd Czech Republic 3rd Iceland

Group B

Pick of Round 4: Israel 3 – 0 Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia manager Sasa Susic appeared to have thrown in the towel before a ball had been kicked, remarking: “If Dzeko can’t play we will be resigned to playing for a draw against Israel because we have no hope of winning without him.” Dzeko didn’t play; Bosnia lost; Susic was subsequently sacked. Elsewhere, Wales pulled out a gutsy performance to deny a misfiring Belgium in a goalless stalemate.

One to Watch in Round 5: Israel v Wales

With Bosnia’s team rudderless and their campaign now in tatters, this match may well decide who has the best chance to snapping up second place in the group behind favourites Belgium. Of course, underdogs Cyprus should not be disregarded; but the door has opened for Wales to take this group by the scruff of the neck and a result in Tel Aviv would do them the world of good.

Group Prognosis: 1st Belgium 2nd Wales 3rd Bosnia and Herzegovina

Group C

Pick of Round 4: FYR Macedonia 0 – 2 Slovakia

Slovakia continued their exemplary start to the campaign with a convincing away win over Macedonia. Enjoying their best challenge ever, they can begin to feel quietly confident about making the first Euros in their history. There’s still a long way to go, but with captain Martin Škrtel steadying the ship and the talismanic Marek Hamšík controlling the game from midfield, Slovakia are looking in excellent shape.

One to Watch in Round 5: Spain v Ukraine

Spain and Ukraine are locked in second place on nine points apiece and after their shaky start, Spain will be looking to reassert control of the group. The current holders will be confident of progressing and more than likely in top spot (despite Slovakia’s impressiveness) but if they are to do so, games like this are a must-win.

Group Prognosis: 1st Spain 2nd Slovakia 3rd Ukraine

Group D

Pick of Round 4: Scotland 1 – 0 Republic of Ireland

The battle of the Celts came down to a tight, physical affair in which Scotland deservedly won out after a Barcelona-esque build-up and a magical piece of skill from Shaun Maloney. Though Roy Keane did his best to overshadow proceedings on the pitch with rumours of a pre-match altercation, Scotland let the football do their talking, and joined the Irish and the Germans on seven points in this tightest of groups.

One to Watch in Round 5: Republic of Ireland v Poland

Ireland will want to bounce back from the defeat in Glasgow with a home win against the impressive Poles; failure to do so may leave them adrift in the group, with both Scotland and Germany expected to record comfortable wins in their fixtures. Group D is certainly the group of death; it’s also easily the best in terms of entertainment value. After four games, who will ultimately qualify is still anyone’s guess.

Group Prognosis: 1st Germany 2nd Poland 3rd Scotland (sorry Ireland! Tough to call.)

Group E

Pick of Round 4: England 3 -1 Slovenia

In some ways, this campaign has both the best and the worst for England. Best in the fact that they have an enviable 100% record so far and conceded only their first goal against the Slovenians; the worst in that the quality of opposition has sometimes made for drab affairs and lacklustre performances from the team. Nevertheless, England showed great resolve to come back from a goal down and vanquish their opponents comprehensively and will be confident of reaching the Finals with ease.

One to Watch in Round 5: Switzerland v Estonia

England’s position at the apex of the group table seems all but assured, so the fight is on for second spot between these two and Slovenia. After their World Cup performance, Switzerland will be expecting to progress, but can’t afford any slip-ups against a team who are currently level on points with them.

Group Prognosis: 1st England 2nd Switzerland 3rd Slovenia

Group F

Pick of Round 4: Greece 0 – 1 Faroe Islands

Whilst Northern Ireland’s 2-0 loss to Romania was obviously more salient to the group table, Faroe Islands’ toppling of Greece was far more remarkable. It’s the first time the minnows have registered a competitive win in three years, against a former European champions no less. This game was a measure of how far Greece have fallen in a very short time – not long ago they were contesting the Round of 16 on the biggest stage of them all.

One to Watch in Round 5: Northern Ireland v Finland

Northern Ireland will be desperate to bounce back against the Finns and consolidate on their best start to a campaign, especially since a loss would undo much of their good work. Should that happen, their opponents will be within two points touching distance and the door will be wide open for Hungary to snatch second place from under their noses. They must not let the fantastic platform they have built be wasted.

Group Prognosis: 1st Greece 2nd Romania 3rd Finland

Group G

Pick of Round 4: Austria 1 – 0 Russia

Emerging as the surprise package in group G, Austria have been progressing under the radar nicely. This win over the Russians, who are seemingly in turmoil with under-fire manager Fabio Capello not being paid for his services, strengthen their lead at the top of the table. Sweden’s failure to overcome Montenegro has made things even easier for them, and with every passing game the outsiders are looking more and more like the favourites.

One to Watch in Round 5: Montenegro v Russia

Sweden and Austria will both expect to win their next games (although nothing is a sure-fire bet in this topsy-turvy campaign) so the loser of this fixture will find the battle for an automatic qualification spot a significantly uphill one.

Group Prognosis: 1st Sweden 2nd Russia 3rd Montenegro

Group H

Pick of Round 4: Italy 1 – 1 Croatia

What should have been an entertaining spectacle between two strong teams was overshadowed for the second round in a row by crowd trouble. Instead of drones, it was flares this time, as well as alleged racism on the part of the Croats. It’s something of a miracle the game was able to finish at all, and both teams should expect punishment from UEFA.

One to Watch in Round 5: Croatia v Norway

The draw in Milan keeps things very tight at the top of Group H, with Croatia and Italy both only a point ahead of Norway. While Italy too face a potential banana skin in the form of Bulgaria, neither team here will want to lose any ground on their rivals.

Group Prognosis: 1st Italy 2nd Croatia 3rd Bulgaria

Group I

Pick of Round 4: Serbia 1 – 3 Denmark

This loss for Serbia has left their hopes of qualification all but quashed, with only one point after the first three games. Indeed, like Bosnia, they too have lost a coach – though Dick Advocaat thought it best to fall on his own sword rather than being tossed to the sharks like Susic. With their concerning disciplinary record off the pitch, and the obvious problems on it, Serbian football is in trouble.

One to Watch in Round 5: Portugal v Serbia

Portugal will be confident of putting the final nail in the Serbian coffin when they play their game in hand on the Danes and attempt to usurp them at the top of the table. With Denmark enjoying a break, Albania will also be keen to put pressure on them with a win against Armenia. The top three spots now look all but decided; just which team slots into which position will be thrashed out in the remaining fixtures.

Group Prognosis: 1st Portugal 2nd Denmark 3rd Serbia

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