Sunday, October 17, 2010

Euro 2012 Qualifiers

First off, I want to apologize for not writing in a while and for interrupting my best of the 90's posts, but I just finally read my brothers Premier League breakdown. First off, I want to commend him for a great piece of writing, and I felt I would keep up with his soccer motif and write about the Euro 2012 qualifiers. Outside of the World Cup I would have to say that the European Championship is the most exciting competition in the world (yes, more than the Summer Olympics). Europe has the best concentration of talented soccer countries in the world, which was reflected in the 13 teams their continent sent to the world cup in 2010 (the next best continent, Africa, sent 6, including hosts South Africa).

Like the World Cup, The European Championships are held every four years, and teams face a grueling qualifying campaign that began this past September for most countries (Estonia and Faroe Islands had a qualifier in August, but neither country played in the World Cup), and runs through next October. For those that are familiar with the qualifying process for UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) teams for the World Cup, it is a very similar process for the Euros. The main exception being that 16 teams participate in the Euros and 13 qualified for the World Cup (starting in 2016, 24 teams will participate in the Euros). The countries are drawn into into 9 groups according to power rankings. The group winners and best runner-up will automatically qualify, and the remaining eight runners-up play a home and away playoff. In the playoffs the team who wins on aggregate score goes through. If the aggregate score is tied, the winner is determined on away goals, then a penalty shootout.

Every team has played at least three qualifiers to this point, and there have been some real shocking results, as well as some great underdog stories. I will go into a few brief game summaries, followed by the current group standings and my predictions for where teams finish.

Here are a few upsets by round that stood out before I post the current tables:

First Round:

First, was France losing to Belarus in Paris 0-1. The troubled French squad hoped their disastrous World Cup saga wouldn't carry over into the Euro qualifiers, but this loss did little to settle the French about Les Bleus. Belarus have been in good form to this point, (fun fact about Belarus: they are the only country in Europe to be on the US Treasury List of sanctioned countries).

The next shocker was a 4-4 draw between Portugal and the island nation of Cyprus who were ranked 63rd in the world at the time (they jumped 20 positions following the result), compared to Portugal's 8th.

Second Round:

First, was The Czech Republic coming off of a disappointing World Cup qualifying campaign losing to Lithuania at home. The Locomotive, as the Czechs are affectionately known to their fans...insert clever pun about derailment here.

Second, was Portugal losing on the road to surprising Norway. The 1-0 result has propelled Norway in their group hoping to earn themselves a spot in the competition for the second time in the nations history.

Third Round:

Slovakia had a surprisingly strong World Cup qualifying campaign in which they clinched an automatic berth ahead of The Czech Republic and runner-up qualifiers Slovenia. A 3-1 thrashing in Armenia was a surprising result the Slovaks hope won't keep them out of another major competition.

Serbia was another team who had a strong qualifying campaign leading into the World Cup, finishing ahead of France. Serbia lost at home to Estonia, also by the score of 3-1.

The next result was a tie between Northern Ireland and Italy in Northern Ireland, a nil nil draw.

Fourth Round:

Turkey got trounced by Germany 3-0 the week before they were slated to play Azerbaijan. The Crescent-Stars of Turkey hoped this would be a good bounceback, but their nightmare continued in a 1-0 loss in Azerbaijan.

England looked to continue their strong qualifying against Montenegro at Wembley, but were frustrated despite outplaying The Brave Falcons, whose performance truly lived up to their name. In fact, they almost stole three points, but a late effort rang off of the crossbar leaving both sides with a point after a 0-0 draw. Even more impressive is that Montenegro is tied with England atop the group with three wins and a tie.

That does it for the upsets, but I wanted to mention the fact that after 6 minutes in the Italy Serbia game, the match was abandoned due to crowd control issues (namely, masked Serbian fans straddling the glass and throwing flares onto the field. If you get the opportunity, check this out on youtube. UEFA are investigating the incident.

Standings (All teams have played four games unless noted otherwise)

Group A
Germany (12 Pts)
Austria (7 Pts)*
Turkey (6 Pts)
Belgium (4 Pts)
Azerbaijan (3 Pts)*
Kazakhstan (0 Pts)

Germany should run away with this group. Look for Turkey to have a strong last six games and finish second, but don't count Austria out with a 1 point lead, and a game in hand over the Turks.

Group B
Russia (9 Pts)
Ireland (7 Pts)
Armenia (7 Pts)
Slovakia (7 Pts)
Macedonia (4 Pts)
Andorra (0 Pts)

This is an intriguing group where every team has at least one loss. No team has shown any real dominance. Armenia have been the surprise team, and Ireland have only taken 1 point from their last two matches against Russia and Slovakia, they will need at least 4 pts from those two countries in their next matches to avenge their heartbreak in World Cup qualifying. My Prediction is Russia barely winning, Ireland second, with Slovakia third, and Armenia falling a distant fourth despite a surprising first four games.

Group C
Italy (8 Pts)
Slovenia (7 Pts)
Estonia (6 Pts)
Serbia (5 Pts)
Northern Ireland (5 Pts)*
Faroe Islands (1 Pt)**

Italy have not lost yet, but they also haven't buried their opponents. They tied Northern Ireland and were given a tie by UEFA for failing to control the crowd in their match against Serbia. Despite poor play by Italy in the World Cup, this group should be a cake walk for them, look for Italy first, and Serbia second despite a poor start.

Group D
France (9 Pts)
Belarus (8 Pts)
Albania (5 Pts)
Bosnia Herzegovina (4 Pts)*
Romania (2 Pts)*
Luxembourg (1 Pt)

France needs to continue to play well after their loss to Belarus. Belarus have shown that they are dangerous, and Bosnia and Herzegovina made it to the playoff leg of qualifying for the World Cup, but lost out to Portugal. France will take this group barely ahead of a surprising Belarus side.

Group E

Netherlands (12 Pts)
Hungary (9 Pts)
Sweden (6 Pts)*
Moldova (6 Pts)
Finland (0 Pts)*
San Marino (0 Pts)

Netherlands didn't lose one qualifying game for the World Cup, and lost in Extra Time to Spain in the World Cup Final. They will easily take this group, which has no other country that qualified for the World Cup. Sweden will finish second.

Group F

Greece (8 Pts)
Croatia (7 Pts)*
Georgia (6 Pts)
Israel (4 Pts)
Latvia (4 Pts)
Malta (0 Pts)*

Greece had a rough showing at the World Cup after an impressive playoff win over The Ukraine. Croatia had a lackluster qualifying effort in the World Cup, but are undefeated to this point in the Euro qualifiers. Croatia will finish first and Greece will finish second, no other teams will pose a threat in this group.

Group G

Montenegro (10 Pts)
England (7 Pts)*
Switzerland (3 Pts)*
Bulgaria (3 Pts)*
Wales (0 Pts)*

This is one of the toughest groups. Montenegro are playing great ball and England are one of the world's best. Switzerland are much better than they have played and Dimitar Berbatov and Bulgaria are no pushovers. England were unlucky not to defeat Montenegro, as they outplayed the Brave Falcons. This is not to say Montenegro are not a formidable opponent, they have beaten everyone else in the group so far, and showed some serious courage drawing with England at Wembley. England will finish first and Switzerland will barely edge out Montenegro.

Group H

Norway (9 Pts)*
Portugal (7 Pts)
Denmark (6 Pts)*
Cyprus (1 Pts)*
Iceland (0 Pts)*

Norway have been impressive so far getting the maximum 9 points in three games. Portugal are in trouble, but are no where near out of it. Look for Norway to get an automatic bid for finishing first continuing in their impressive form and Denmark and Portugal to battle out for second, but Portugal coming out on top.

Group I

Spain (9 Pts)*
Czech Republic (6 Pts)*
Scotland (4 Pts)
Lithuania (4 Pts)*
Liechtenstein (0 Pts)*

Spain appear unstoppable at the moment as should have little trouble winning this group. A young Czech Republic side with some veteran leadership shouldn't have many more mistakes like their loss to Lithuania on their way to a second place finish.

*Indicates team only played three matches so far
**Indicates team has played five matches so far

I will try to update this as the rounds progress.

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