Euro 2016 Qualifiers – Review, Preview and Prognosis Part 2

After rounds two and three of qualifying, it appears Michel Platini’s much-maligned decision to expand the competition format into 24 teams may actually be being vindicated. Almost every big name in the groups has faltered so far, including World Champions Germany, third-placed Netherlands and the recently-untouchable Spain. With the incentive of actually making the finals in France in two years, it seems the supposed minnows are pulling out all the stops, which can only make for more entertaining football in the fixtures still to come. Let’s have a look at some of the more memorable ties from each group.

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

Group A

Pick of Rounds 2 & 3: Iceland 2 – 0 Netherlands

Iceland have come flying out of the traps, scoring eight goals and conceding none. Led by a rejuvenated Gylfi Sigurðsson, the Icelandic team can have real faith about reaching their first major finals in their history – possibly at the expense of a disappointing Netherlands.

One to Watch in Round 4: Czech Republic vs Iceland

The top two in Group A both have flawless records, with nine points from their first three games. Now they will battle it out to keep their noses in front, though with Netherlands limping into third position with a dismal three points, their automatic qualification places will be safe – for now.

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

Group B

Pick of Rounds 2 & 3: Wales 2 – 1 Cyprus

While Wales haven’t been overly convincing in their opening three games, relying perhaps a little too much on Gareth Bale’s wizardry, they have picked up the points where it matters, including a dour home draw to Bosnia. After Cyprus’ shock win in Sarajevo, three points against the Cypriots were far from guaranteed – but an efficient performance saw the Welsh prevail.

One to Watch in Round 4: Belgium vs Wales, Israel vs Bosnia and Herzegovina

Realistically, the Welsh shouldn’t be expecting too much from the match in Brussels, though with game-changers Bale and Ramsey in the side, anything is possible. Meanwhile, over in Haifa, Israel will be looking to continue their steady progress under the radar with a triumph over under-achieving Bosnia.
Group Prognosis: 1st Belgium 2nd Wales 3rd Bosnia and Herzegovina

Group C

Pick of Rounds 2 & 3: Slovakia 2-1 Spain

Spain, much like their emphatic conquerors at the World Cup, Netherlands, appear to be in free-fall. Meanwhile, Slovakia have been mightily impressive, picking up maximum points in their opening three games. Is it really conceivable that the reigning European champions won’t even qualify for the Finals? Probably not, given the nature of their group. Doing so would make history, however.

One to Watch in Round 4: FYR Macedonia vs Slovakia

With Spain fully expected to pick up maximum points against Belarus, Slovakia will be determined to build further on their exemplary start by conquering Macedonia, whose only points so far came in a win against bottom-placed Luxembourg.

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

Group D

Pick of Rounds 2 & 3: Poland 2-0 Germany, Poland 2-2 Scotland, Germany 1-1 Ireland

What a group this one is shaping up to be – it’ll be a tragedy on whichever team misses out on a qualification spot. Prior to the qualifiers, Germany were widely touted to run away with top spot, leaving Scotland, Poland and Ireland to scrap it out between them for the second and third berths. But after three games, all three of these teams have acquitted themselves so well that the World Champions find themselves in fourth place.

One to Watch in Round 4: Scotland vs Republic of Ireland

The battle of the Celts at Celtic Park should prove to be a highly entertaining and potentially decisive match. The Scots will know that a win on home soil is all but essential for them to progress, while Ireland’s away form in Germany will spur them on. With Poland breathing down their necks and the Germans always likely to pick themselves back up, neither team can afford to slip up.

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

Group E

Pick of Rounds 2 & 3: Slovenia 1-0 Switzerland

Switzerland continue the pattern of World Cup heroes falling from grace as they struggled to another loss in Group E. England’s place at the top of the pile is all but a formality, despite not having electrified in their opening games, so this victory for Slovenia could prove to be decisive in the battle for second.

One to Watch in Round 4: England vs Slovenia

Though England should be confident of picking up another three points here, they cannot afford to allow complacency to steal into their game. The Slovenians have acquitted themselves well so far and share second spot with Lithuania, so anything they can get against the Three Lions will be seen as a bonus.

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

Group F

Pick of Rounds 2 & 3: Greece 0-2 Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland complete the pattern of Home Nations performing above expectations, and against all odds, find themselves sitting atop group F with maximum points from their first three games. This fantastic away win in Greece followed on the heels of their first win on their travels in Hungary for four years, and has set Northern Irish pulses raises in anticipation of progress to their first Euros ever.

One to Watch in Round 4: Romania vs Northern Ireland

After such an impressive start, Northern Ireland now face their toughest test to date with a daunting trip to Bucharest to face their closest rivals, Romania, who sit two points behind them in the table. A draw would be an excellent result; a third consecutive away win would be out of this world.

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

Group G

Pick of Round 2 & 3: Sweden 1-1 Russia

Both of these teams have faltered so far, with Sweden only managing a draw in their opening game against the Austrians and Russia in turmoil, having only won one game in six competitive matches (against underwhelming opposition) and amid rumours that manager Fabio Capello hasn’t been paid for months. A point won’t be viewed as a disaster by either; though they will want to pull their socks up for future rounds – and quickly.

One to Watch in Round 4: Austria vs Russia

Capello’s task of reinvigorating Russia seems an increasingly uphill one; and it won’t get any easier against current group leaders Austria in Vienna, who have been unspectacularly efficient so far. Elsewhere, Sweden will hope to stay in the mix by navigating a tricky away tie in Montenegro.

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

Group H

Pick of Rounds 2 & 3: Norway 2-1 Bulgaria

It’s looking increasingly likely that Italy and Croatia will both snaffle the top two automatic qualification spots in the group, so Norway’s win over Bulgaria gives them a significant advantage in the race for the play-off spot. Of course, the reverse tie in Sofia could change everything – but for now, it’s advantage Norway.

One to Watch in Round 4: Italy vs Croatia

The top two in the group meet to square off for poll position. Anything other than an Italian victory would be an excellent result for the Croats, so they will hoping (but probably not expecting) to spring a surprise of sorts in Milan.

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

Group I

Pick of Rounds 2 & 3: Serbia – Albania

Unfortunately, this match took the headlines in the group for all the wrong reasons. Alleged racism and organised hooliganism led to the tie being called off early – both parties are likely to be castigated, leaving Portugal and Denmark an easier route to the Finals. The ugly side of football reared its head.

One to Watch in Round 4: Serbia vs Denmark

Serbia will be hoping to spring back from the ignominy of their last game against Albania with a win at home. Meanwhile, something may well be rotten in the state of Denmark, as well, with coach Morten Olsen blaming star player Christian Eriksen for the team’s failings. Interesting man management from the Dane – only time will tell how it affects his blossoming starlet.

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

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