Posted by: mdegeorge | September 9, 2010

Euro 2012 Qualifying so far: The winners, losers, and quitters

We’ve begun the long and winding road that is European qualification with the first round of 13 months worth of qualifying for Euro 2012.

While no one has certainly booked a place in the final just yet, if the old adage is true, some may have already seen their hopes of qualifying come and gone. I’ll take you through it group by group to find round one’s winners, losers, and quitters.

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First, it’s important to go over a rather convoluted qualification scheme for the 2012 tournament. The co-hosts, Poland and Ukraine, are in the tournament automatically (and are two middle-of-the-road squads who failed to qualify for the last World Cup and would’ve faced a challenge to earn a berth in Euro 2012 were they not hosting, ratcheting up the pressure on the other contenders).

Qualifying is broken into 9 groups, Groups A-I. The winners of each of those groups automatically progresses to the final. The runners up in the groups are ranked according to points scored (because some groups have five teams and others six, results of teams in six-nation groups against the sixth-ranked teams aren’t factored into ranking of runners up). The top second place squad earns a berth, while the remaining eight runners up will play in a seeded-drawn playoff for the right to advance.

With that complicated rubric solved, it’s on to the groups.

Group A

One of the deepest groups in qualifying—featuring three teams who appeared in the last European Championship, along with a young Belgium touted by many to ride a maturing wave of successful youth products to a surprise finals appearance—hasn’t disappointed yet. The Germans, who always seem to avoid trap groups, have kept their noses clean and sit atop the group with six points. They managed to escape Brussels with three points and inflict the requisite damage on Azerbaijan to go top. Turkey has kept pace with two wins and suddenly have the inside line on second place. Austria also took care of business by defeating Kazakhstan in their lone match. Belgium appear dead in the water after defeats to Germany and Turkey, though they do have easy matches ahead. Any points dropped by the Red Devils in their next set of games would spell disaster. The battle for the bottom looks likely to come down to the two former Soviet nations, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

Group B

In a group without an established European power, surprises may be in the offing here. Ireland has exploited an easy schedule to claim the pole position, though I won’t be waving the tricolor in exuberance until I see how they survive a visit from Russia and a trip to Slovakia in the next round of games. Slovakia, though second on goal difference, is in the best position thanks to their win in Russia. The Russians will be stewing over that defeat, and a relatively narrow 2-0 win in Andorra will do little to ease the pain of the game of catch-up they’ll have to play in third place. Macedonia and Armenia are level with one point each after an entertaining draw, while Andorra is left to bring up the rear.

Group C

Some of the fears over the apparently imminent implosion of the Italians have been allayed—temporarily at least—after two wins and a gaudy seven goals scored (though you do have to adjust it the plaudits for the opponents). They also showed character under Cesare Prandelli by not folding after falling a goal down to Estonia early, and seemed to find some attacking balance in their rout of Faroe Islands. Serbia lies second after dusting the hapless Faroe Islands (I really do hate making fun of them this much) and drawing somewhat disappointingly at home to Slovenia. By stealing a win in Slovenia, Northern Ireland may be poised for a shock second-placed finish. Estonia sits fourth, but with the win being over the Faroe Islands, don’t expect much upward mobility there. The Slovenes will be stinging from the Northern Ireland loss, sitting fifth with only the Serbia draw to their credit. The lowly Faroe Islands sit last with three losses in three matches.

Group D

France was supposed to be the big name here, but currently now it’s the unlikeliest of leaders that has come to the fore. Albania (yes, Albania) lead the way after drawing in Bucharest and tumbling Luxembourg. They’re joined on four points by another surprise, Belarus, who continued the French misery with a road victory and also drew the suddenly hapless Romanians. Both teams will remain near the top for a while, at least until they meet in the next round of games in Minsk. Bosnia and Herzegovina, so close to qualifying for the last World Cup, missed a chance to pounce on France’s stumble when Les Blues beat them 2-0 in Sarajevo. They still have three points gained against Luxembourg, but missed a chance to capitalize further. France, buoyed by that win, has to feel a little bit better about sitting fourth in the group knowing they passed one of the group’s biggest hurdles—and are back on the winning side of the ledger at long last. Romania has been in a free fall since the last European championship, and two dour draws has severely hampered their qualification hopes. Luxembourg will likely have little recourse to another bottom finish.

Group E

Sweden, on the power of a 6-0 drubbing of our other favorite bottom-dwellers, San Marino, sits atop the group with two wins in as many matches. They’re just ahead of the Netherlands on goal difference. We’ll see if Sweden is for real when they travel to Amsterdam in the next round of games, but at the very least they’ve laid a solid foundation for a run at second place behind the Dutch. Moldova and Hungary are tied for third with three points each and, while Moldova has the edge on goal difference, Hungary’s in better shape with a victory against Moldova. Finland sit fifth, winless in two matches, while San Marino and their -11 goal difference reside, for now and for the foreseeable future, in the cellar.

Group F

This is another wide open group with potential for surprises. Croatia leads the way with four points, though only managing a draw at home to Greece is somewhat disappointing. They’re level on points with Israel, who could be poised to spring an upset if they can scrape together some points from a challenging round of fixtures in October (home for Croatia, at Greece). Latvia sits third, though matches against Georgia and Greece upcoming will determine if they’re serious contenders or if it’s just a by-product of playing Malta. Greece and Georgia each have two draws in fabulously entertaining games; both should be satisfied with their away results (a point for Greece in Croatia; a point for Georgia in Greece). Malta looks again consigned to the bottom.

Group G

All is right beneath the Union Jack after comfortable wins over Switzerland and Bulgaria put England atop the group. They also benefit from an off day in the next round of games before hosting Montenegro. The Montenegrins, with wins over Wales and Bulgaria, are comfortably ensconced in second place, six points clear of competition. Switzerland, Wales, and Bulgaria round out the group in pointless fashion, with Bulgaria in the direst predicament with two losses to the Swiss and Welsh’s one each. Both Wales and Bulgaria have the added turmoil of looking for a new coach after the slow start.

Group H

Norway is the surprising leader in the group after scoring a major upset of Portugal at home and navigating a tough away fixture in Iceland. They’re three points clear of Denmark, who emerged victorious in their only fixture. Cyprus sit third with a shocking, barn-burning draw in Portugal, while the Portuguese, easily the disappointment of the tournament so far, sit fourth with the lone point against Cyprus to show from two matches. They do receive a reprieve with only one game in the next round, but it’s a tricky affair with Denmark visiting. Iceland sit at the foot of the table, narrowly coming up empty in two matches.

Group I

The group currently belongs to a pair of unlikely names, with Scotland and Lithuania sharing the spoils atop the group in two matches each. The two teams drew with each other in the opening fixture before the Scots felled Liechtenstein and Lithuania pulled a shock upset in Prague. World Champions Spain sits third having played only one match, a handy trouncing of Liechtenstein; they could return to the summit of the group after trying their hand at bursting the Lithuanian bubble in the next round. The disappointing Czechs sit fourth and face a near make-or-break game when they host Scotland next. Liechtenstein, with two defeats, is the group’s doormat.

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We’ve begun the long and winding road that is European qualification with the first round of 13 months worth of qualifying for Euro 2012.

While no one has certainly booked a place in the final just yet, if the old adage is true, some may have already seen their hopes of qualifying come and gone. I’ll take you through it group by group to find round one’s winners, losers, and quitters.

First, it’s important to go over a rather convoluted qualification scheme for the 2012 tournament. The co-hosts, Poland and Ukraine, are in the tournament automatically (and are two middle-of-the-road squads who failed to qualify for the last World Cup and would’ve faced a challenge to earn a berth in Euro 2012 were they not hosting, ratcheting up the pressure on the other contenders).

Qualifying is broken into 9 groups, Groups A-I. The winners of each of those groups automatically progresses to the final. The runners up in the groups are ranked according to points scored (because some groups have five teams and others six, results of teams in six-nation groups against the sixth-ranked teams aren’t factored into ranking of runners up). The top second place squad earns a berth, while the remaining eight runners up will play in a seeded-drawn playoff for the right to advance.

With that complicated rubric solved, it’s on to the groups.

Group A

One of the deepest groups in qualifying—featuring three teams who appeared in the last European Championship, along with a young Belgium touted by many to ride a maturing wave of successful youth products to a surprise finals appearance—hasn’t disappointed yet. The Germans, who always seem to avoid trap groups, have kept their noses clean and sit atop the group with six points. They managed to escape Brussels with three points and inflict the requisite damage on Azerbaijan to go top. Turkey has kept pace with two wins and suddenly have the inside line on second place. Austria also took care of business by defeating Kazakhstan in their lone match. Belgium appear dead in the water after defeats to Germany and Turkey, though they do have easy matches ahead. Any points dropped by the Red Devils in their next set of games would spell disaster. The battle for the bottom looks likely to come down to the two former Soviet nations, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

Group B

In a group without an established European power, surprises may be in the offing here. Ireland has exploited an easy schedule to claim the pole position, though I won’t be waving the tricolor in exuberance until I see how they survive a visit from Russia and a trip to Slovakia in the next round of games. Slovakia, though second on goal difference, is in the best position thanks to their win in Russia. The Russians will be stewing over that defeat, and a relatively narrow 2-0 win in Andorra will do little to ease the pain of the game of catch-up they’ll have to play in third place. Macedonia and Armenia are level with one point each after an entertaining draw, while Andorra is left to bring up the rear.

Group C

Some of the fears over the apparently imminent implosion of the Italians have been allayed—temporarily at least—after two wins and a gaudy seven goals scored (though you do have to adjust it the plaudits for the opponents). They also showed character under Cesare Prandelli by not folding after falling a goal down to Estonia early, and seemed to find some attacking balance in their rout of Faroe Islands. Serbia lies second after dusting the hapless Faroe Islands (I really do hate making fun of them this much) and drawing somewhat disappointingly at home to Slovenia. By stealing a win in Slovenia, Northern Ireland may be poised for a shock second-placed finish. Estonia sits fourth, but with the win being over the Faroe Islands, don’t expect much upward mobility there. The Slovenes will be stinging from the Northern Ireland loss, sitting fifth with only the Serbia draw to their credit. The lowly Faroe Islands sit last with three losses in three matches.

Group D

France was supposed to be the big name here, but currently now it’s the unlikeliest of leaders that has come to the fore. Albania (yes, Albania) lead the way after drawing in Bucharest and tumbling Luxembourg. They’re joined on four points by another surprise, Belarus, who continued the French misery with a road victory and also drew the suddenly hapless Romanians. Both teams will remain near the top for a while, at least until they meet in the next round of games in Minsk. Bosnia and Herzegovina, so close to qualifying for the last World Cup, missed a chance to pounce on France’s stumble when Les Blues beat them 2-0 in Sarajevo. They still have three points gained against Luxembourg, but missed a chance to capitalize further. France, buoyed by that win, has to feel a little bit better about sitting fourth in the group knowing they passed one of the group’s biggest hurdles—and are back on the winning side of the ledger at long last. Romania has been in a free fall since the last European championship, and two dour draws has severely hampered their qualification hopes. Luxembourg will likely have little recourse to another bottom finish.

Group E

Sweden, on the power of a 6-0 drubbing of our other favorite bottom-dwellers, San Marino, sits atop the group with two wins in as many matches. They’re just ahead of the Netherlands on goal difference. We’ll see if Sweden is for real when they travel to Amsterdam in the next round of games, but at the very least they’ve laid a solid foundation for a run at second place behind the Dutch. Moldova and Hungary are tied for third with three points each and, while Moldova has the edge on goal difference, Hungary’s in better shape with a victory against Moldova. Finland sit fifth, winless in two matches, while San Marino and their -11 goal difference reside, for now and for the foreseeable future, in the cellar.

Group F

This is another wide open group with potential for surprises. Croatia leads the way with four points, though only managing a draw at home to Greece is somewhat disappointing. They’re level on points with Israel, who could be poised to spring an upset if they can scrape together some points from a challenging round of fixtures in October (home for Croatia, at Greece). Latvia sits third, though matches against Georgia and Greece upcoming will determine if they’re serious contenders or if it’s just a by-product of playing Malta. Greece and Georgia each have two draws in fabulously entertaining games; both should be satisfied with their away results (a point for Greece in Croatia; a point for Georgia in Greece). Malta looks again consigned to the bottom.

Group G

All if right beneath the Union Jack after comfortable wins over Switzerland and Bulgaria put them atop the group. They also benefit from an off day in the next round of games before hosting Montenegro. The Montenegrins, with wins over Wales and Bulgaria, are comfortably ensconced in second place, six points clear of competition. Switzerland, Wales, and Bulgaria round out the group in pointless fashion, with Bulgaria in the direst predicament with two losses to the Swiss and Welsh’s one each. Both Wales and Bulgaria have the added turmoil of looking for a new coach after the slow start.

Group H

Norway is the surprising leader in the group after scoring a major upset of Portugal at home and navigating a tough away fixture in Iceland. They’re three points clear of Denmark, who emerged victorious in their only fixture. Cyprus sit third with a shocking, barn-burning draw in Portugal, while the Portuguese, easily the disappointment of the tournament so far, sit fourth with the lone point against Cyprus to show from two matches. They do receive a reprieve with only one game in the next round, but it’s a tricky affair with Denmark visiting. Iceland sit at the foot of the table, narrowly coming up empty in two matches.

Group I

The group currently belongs to a pair of unlikely names, with Scotland and Lithuania sharing the spoils atop the group in two matches each. The two teams drew with each other in the opening fixture before the Scots felled Liechtenstein and Lithuania pulled a shock upset in Prague. Spain sits third having played only one match, a handy trouncing of Liechtenstein; they could return to the summit of the group after trying their hand at bursting the Lithuanian bubble in the next round. The disappointing Czech’s sit fourth and face a near make-or-break game when they host Scotland next. Liechtenstein, with two defeats, is the group’s doormat.

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