So, the Qualifying group stages are over – 13 months worth of games have culminated in what was for me, one of the most interesting qualification processes there has ever been. With an extra 8 teams entered into next years tournament, it opened it up for a whole host of teams to qualify for the first time – and we have 5 (6 if you include Austria, who have only entered previously through hosting). With a fair amount of poor teams, there were few shocks – but the one that did happen was Holland did not get through – despite having a seemingly easy-ish group. Here’s how the standings finished, and who qualified:
Winner – Czech Republic (22 Points)
Runner Up – Iceland (20 Points)
Playoff – Turkey (18 Points, Best 3rd Place – Automatically Qualified)
Out: Holland, Kazakhstan, Latvia
The top two dominated the group phase as you can imagine – both the top two beat Holland twice, while Turkey beat them 3-0. Latvia and Kazakhstan were cannon fodder – the the former not winning a game, despite drawing 5! Iceland will make their debut need year, and with a well drilled team, they should do well. Turkey take the best 3rd spot place, thanks to Kazakhstan beating Latvia to take 5th.
Winner – Belgium (23 Points)
Runner Up – Wales (20 Points)
Playoff – Bosnia (17 Points)
Out: Israel, Cyprus, Andorra
This was a tense group that was all decided on the last day. There were three vying for 3rd – Bosnia, Israel and Cyprus, with 5 teams taking 10+ points, which is rare. Bosnia started badly but recovered to take 3rd, while Israel at one point were 2nd, so will be sick as a parrot that they did not get at least 3rd place. Wales and Belgium were pretty much assured of a place before this weekend – as both needed a point or two and both played Andorra. Wales also make their debut’s next year, and will be one to watch!
Winner – Spain (27 Points)
Runner Up – Slovakia (22 Points)
Playoff – Ukraine (19 Points)
Out: Belarus, Luxembourg, Macedonia
Spain lost just one game to Slovakia, which spurred them into action – and since that defeat it never looked in doubt. Slovakia were the surprise package, getting 2nd and make their debut next summer, with Marek Hamsik especially impressive. Ukraine take 3rd, and will face a two-legged playoff in November, but in my opinion should get there no matter who they face. Belarus provided a stern test for a few, beating Slovakia, while the other two were again, cannon fodder – taking 8 losses in 10 games.
Winner – Germany (22 Points)
Runner Up – Poland (21 Points)
Playoff – Rep Ireland (18 Points)
Out: Scotland, Georgia, Gibraltar
This was an interesting group – it took until game 9 to decide what the top three was, and the last game to decide the order. Poland beat Ireland to secure 2nd, while Germany laboured to a 2-1 win over Georgia to win the group. Scotland were unlucky – a defeat to Georgia eventually costing them dear. An honourable mention to Gibraltar in their first qualifying – did well, despite taking 10 losses – scoring goals against Poland and Scotland, while really having a good go at the likes of Germany. No disgrace whatsoever!
Winner – England (30 Points)
Runner Up – Switzerland (21 Points)
Playoff – Slovenia (16 Points)
Out: Estonia, Lithuania, San Marino
Not exactly the hardest group, but England dispatched of a very good Switzerland side twice, only conceding 3 goals against Slovenia in 10 games! They are the only team to go through with a 100% record. Switzerland looked vulnerable at one stage, but came from 2 goals down against Slovenia to ultimately secure 2nd. Slovenia were pushed all the way by Estonia, who had beaten them in the first game – but never really looked in doubt. I don’t think a team can qualify with 4 goals in 10 games (Estonia). Both them and Lithuania took 10 points, so a 2nd group with 5 teams with 10+.
Winners – Northern Ireland (21 Points)
Runner Up – Romania (20 Points)
Playoff – Hungary (16 Points)
Out: Finland, Faroe Islands, Greece
Yes, that’s right – the 2004 winners are out, finishing bottom in what was the most boring group in history. If Ireland did not qualify from this, they would never qualify at all. It was the Group of ‘Bored to Death’ – Romania just about hit double figures, while conceding 2. Ireland were the most exciting team, with 15/16 goals in total, but overall it was a drab group. Hungary were unlucky to lose the ‘Best 3rd Placed’ team spot, with Turkey robbing them of that at the last moment. Ireland make their debut next summer, while Romania should be a stern test for whoever gets them – a very lean defence!
Winner – Austria (28 Points)
Runner Up – Russia (20 Points)
Playoff – Sweden (18 Points)
Out: Montenegro, Liechtenstein, Moldova
Austria qualify of their own accord for the first time (after hosting in 2008) with 9 wins and a draw from 10 games. They will certainly be a difficult side to beat – Alexander Dragovic and David Alaba two star performers throughout – Juzunovic another to watch. Sweden and Russia battled it out for 2nd – with the Russians eventually sealing their place. Ibra’s men go into the playoffs, with this likely to be his last chance to shine on the international stage. I think they will go through.
Winner – Italy (24 Points)
Runner Up – Croatia (20 Points)
Playoff – Norway (19 Points)
Out: Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Malta
This was always going to be the top three – I don’t think the other three had it in them to get anymore than 10/12 points each. Norway were in the top two all the way through, but blew it at the last – a loss to Italy left Croatia needing a win against Malta to get 2nd place, and duly did. Norway will be a tough draw in the playoff’s, so I wouldn’t be shocked to see them get through.
Winner – Portugal (21 Points)
Runner Up – Albania (14 Points)
Playoff – Denmark (12 Points)
Out: Serbia, Armenia
This was a shock. The expect order was Portugal, Denmark, Serbia. But Albania took no notice, beating Portugal once & Armenia twice (as well as an awarded 3-0 win over Serbia after a game was abandoned) as well as two draws against Denmark. It needed a last game win over Armenia, but the minnows qualify for the first time. Denmark drop into the playoffs, while Portugal – like Spain, took one defeat then won the rest. Serbia were so poor – which is surprising given their squad!
So – that’s that! 19 teams have qualified, as well as France. 8 teams go into the playoffs next month, with four to qualify from the two-legged ties. We have 5 debutants next summer, while 4 teams went unbeaten throughout – England, Romania, Austria and Italy. From a spectators view it’s been great to watch, but from a betting view – not so much. So many close accumulators – the last being a 20/1 on Monday, which everything won except Slovenia -3, having 37 shots and scoring twice…
That’s all from us now – I can’t imagine we will touch the friendlies next month with a 1000ft barge-pole, but will have a preview for the playoffs.