We are at the business end of the qualifying campaign for next summer’s European championships in Poland and Ukraine and October 7 and 11 present the last two match days for teams to secure automatic and play off spots for the summer football extravaganza. With Germany, Spain, Italy and Holland securing tickets for Euro 2012 well in advance along with co-hosts Poland and the Ukraine, the onus next was on the likes of England, France and Portugal to follow suit. Now, ten places remain up for grabs come the end of the qualifying process and this is how things stand.
Germany through as Belgium and Turkey battle for second place
Joachim Low’s side are the undisputed leaders of Group A and their bid to become the first German side in history to qualify for a major tournament with a 100% record remains intact as a resurgent Die Mannschaft outclassed Turkey 3-1 at the Turk Telecom Arena in Istanbul. With the Germans having garnered 27 points from nine matches, it is all down to the last round of games on October 11 when second placed Belgium visit Dusseldorf to take on the group leaders while Guus Hiddink’s Turkey host lowly Azerbaijan. The Turks would be hoping that Germany maintain their motivation to close the campaign with an all win record by seeing off Belgium who kept their play off hopes alive with a 4-1 victory over ten man Kazakhstan in Brussels. Georges Leekens’ side are a point ahead of Turkey on fifteen points but now must beat neighbours and old rivals Germany to go into the draw for November’s play-offs.
Group winners: Germany (27 points)
Second place: Belgium (15 points) or Turkey (14 points)
Remaining fixtures: Germany v Belgium, Turkey v Azerbaijan
Rep. of Ireland and Armenia chase second place as Russia all set to qualify
In what is considered to be the tightest group in the whole qualifying campaign, the Republic of Ireland will host Armenia in Dublin on Tuesday knowing that a point against Vardan Minasyan’s impressive side would be enough to guarantee a play-off spot and in all probability the best runners up finish for an automatic qualification. Russia are by all means the group winners having secured 20 points from nine games after beating Slovakia 1-0 in Zilina on Friday and barring a miracle, are overwhelming favourites to beat bottom of the table and pointless Andorra to secure the points for automatic qualification.
Giovanni Trapattoni’s men produced a professional performance in Andorra to set up a mouth watering clash against the free scoring Armenians who produced another high class attacking game to beat John Toshak’s FYR Macedonia 4-1 inYerevan. The Irish just need a point in Dublin although the home side would be aware of the dangers posed by the youthful Armenians who have won emphatically in the last two away encounters and another win at the expense of the Irish would secure second place.
Likely group winners: Russia (20 points)
Second place: Ireland (18) or Armenia (17)
Remaining fixtures: Ireland v Armenia, Russia v Andorra, Macedonia v Slovakia
Italy through as Serbia must win in Slovenia to deny Estonia a play off spot
Serbia secured a gutsy 1-1 home draw against already qualified Italy in Group C, which erased memories of last year’s abandoned fixture in Genoa due to rioting. But Vladimir Petrovic’s men know that a win in Slovenia is a must if they are to be sure of a play off spot at the expense of surprise package Estonia, who won 2-1 against Northern Ireland in Belfast. The Estonians are in second place on 16 points and having completed their qualifying engagements would now hope that Slovenia do them a huge favour in Maribor by maintaining their unbeaten record against the Serbians.
Slovenia have played five matches against Yugoslavia, Serbia & Montenegro and independent Serbia since their independence from the Yugoslavs and the record reads five matches played and five draws including four 1-1 draws and the Estonians would eagerly await a Slovenian result as only a Serbian win would prevent Tarmo Ruutli’s side from going into the play off draw.
Group winners: Italy (23 points)
Second place: Estonia (16) or Serbia (15)
Remaining fixtures: Slovenia v Serbia, Italy v Northern Ireland
France and Bosnia face off in Paris for a top two finish
Group D is straight forward as the top two teams meet in Paris on Tuesday to decide who will go through as the group winners. Laurent Blanc’s Les Blues need a point against a fast improving Bosnia side at the Stade de France to guarantee first place. Both teams were fluent on their respective backyards on Friday as France tamed Albania 3-0 and Bosnia outplayed Luxembourg 5-0. The stage is now set for a mouthwatering clash on Tuesday as Safet Susic’s side would be no pushovers against a rejuvenated French side. This is another group where the best runners up spot could be up for grabs and Bosnia are firmly on track to produce an inspired performance.
Group winners: France (20 points) or Bosnia and Herzegovina (19 points)
Second place: France (20 points) or Bosnia (19 points)
Remaining Fixtures: France v Bosnia, Albania v Romania
Finland confirm a top two finish as the Netherlands maintain their 100% record
With the Dutch having already qualified as Group E winners, all eyes were on Sweden as they traveled to neighbours and Nordic rivals Finland on Friday. Under pouring Arctic rain, Erik Hamren’s side beat the elements and the youthful exuberance of a fighting Finnish side to win 2-1 at the Olympic Stadium in Helsinki to guarantee a top two finish and boost their bid to secure the best runners up spot and avoid the tricky two legged play off. The Dutch are on course for an all win record just like the Germans in Group A and the Spaniards in Group I as they beat a stubborn Moldova 1-0 in Rotterdam. Sweden entertain the Netherlands in Solna on Tuesday in the top of the table clash.
Group winners: The Netherlands (27 points)
Second place: Sweden (21 points)
Remaining fixtures: Sweden v The Netherlands, Moldova v San Marino, Hungary v Finland
Greece rekindle Euro 2004 memories by claiming group initiative
Former European champions Greece won the summit clash against Croatia 2-0 to wrest the initiative back from Slaven Bilic’s men in a tense encounter at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium in Piraeus. The Balkan side went into this game leading the pack but were undone by a gritty and well organized Greek tactical display that revived memories of a similar sort of performance that brought home the 2004 European Championship trophy. Second half goals from experienced strikers Giorgos Samaras and Fanis Gekas ensured that Greece would have to avoid defeat in Georgia on Tuesday to top the group and earn an automatic spot for next year’s finals. Croatia, on the other hand, would look to win against Latvia in Rijeka and hope the Georgians beat Greece in Tbilisi in order to win the group.
Group winners: Greece (21 points) or Croatia (19 points)
Second place: Greece or Croatia
Remaining fixtures: Georgia v Greece, Croatia v Latvia, Malta v Israel
England qualify as Montenegro seal a play off place
England traveled to Podgorica needing a point against Montenegro to guarantee qualification for Euro 2012 from a low scoring Group G and Fabio Capello’s men did just that, albeit with ten men after Wayne Rooney got himself sent off in the second half with a needless foul which allowed the home side to launch a spirited comeback to draw 2-2 having been two goals down. The draw coupled with Wales’ 2-0 victory over Switzerland sealed a historic play off berth for tiny Montenegro, keeping alive their hopes of qualifying for a major final for the first time as an independent nation, thus making Tuesday’s clash against the Swiss meaningless.
Group winners: England (18 points)
Second place: Montenegro (12 points)
Remaining fixtures: Switzerland v Montenegro, Bulgaria v Wales
Portugal and Denmark face off in Copenhagen in winner takes all group
Portugal and Denmark occupy the first two places of group H level on sixteen points and the two sides play each other in Copenhagen on Tuesday to determine who earns the ticket to Poland and the Ukraine come June, 2012. Denmark would be banking on the passionate Parken Stadium support to earn them the three points needed against the Portuguese for an automatic spot at next year’s finals. But Paulo Bento’s men know that a draw in the Scandinavian country would be enough to send the hosts to the play off draw and earn Nani and company a place amongst Europe’s elite along with Spain, Italy, Germany, Holland and England. Both teams recorded emphatic victories on Friday as the Danes ran through a rugged Cyprus 4-1 in Nicosia while Iceland gave hosts Portugal a mighty scare before the latter came through 5-3 in a goal fest in Porto. So fans should look out for a thoroughly entertaining game in Denmark.
Group winners: Portugal or Denmark (both 16 points)
Second place: Portugal or Denmark (both 16 points)
Remaining fixtures: Denmark v Portugal, Norway v Cyprus
Scotland keep play off hopes alive as Czechs lose to Spain
Craig Mackail-Smith scored his first international goal on Saturday as Scotland earned a valuable 1-0 win at Liechtenstein that pulled them into second place behind the all conquering defending European and World champions Spain. Yet the irony is that Scotland need to win in Spain on Tuesday to make sure of a play off berth at the expense of the Czech Republic who visit Lithuania on the same night. The Czechs would be hoping that Vicente del Bosque’s side do not lack the motivation of keeping up their 100% record while entertaining Craig Levein’s men in Alicante. The bottom line is that the Scots would have to match the Czech Republic’s result in Kaunas for a second place finish and with Lithuania having already beaten Michal Bilek’s side 1-0 in Olomouc last September, the Czechs would also need to be on guard for their precious three points.
Group winner: Spain (21 points)
Second place: Scotland (11 points) or Czech Republic (10 points)
Remaining fixtures: Spain v Scotland, Lithuania v Czech Republic
All the upcoming fixtures would be played on Tuesday, October 11.
Note: Pictures courtesy uefa.com and eurosport