Thursday, June 14, 2007

Euro 2008 Roundup: By And Large, Order Is Restored

The last time we took a tour of Euro2008 qualifying was back just before the March matches, and at that point several of the big boys were in various levels of trouble thanks to poor starts to the campaign, including Italy, France, Spain, England, and Portugal.

Well after those two matches in March and the two last week, we're now about halfway to Austria-Switzerland, and most of the big boys have sorted themselves out and are out of trouble. England still have some serious work to do, but even they have put themselves back into the mix. Anyhow, we're now at the point of the proceedings where each group has been split into two groups: those that can still qualify {contenders} and those that either cannot or are extremely unlikely to {pretenders}. Remember, there are 7 groups playing round robin, with the top 2 in each group qualifying for Euro2008 and everyone else going home. The 2 host nations will join the 14 qualifiers in the field of sixteen teams next summer.

In the 2 rounds of matches last week there were only 2 upsets, neither of which shifted the order of things too dramatically: Bosnia beat Turkey, making that group a little more open than the Greece/Turkey 2 horse runaway that is was looking to become, and little Armenia rose up and shocked group leaders Poland, who despite the upset loss are still group leaders.

The goal of the week belonged to David Villa of Spain, who after scoring from a great through ball from Cesc Fabregas added a ridiculous bicycle kick goal to make it 2-0 to Spain:

El segundo gol: que ridiculo

Most everything else went to form, so here's a quick rundown of where things stand. Note: "gp" = games played and "pts" = points {3 are awarded for a win and 1 for a draw}.

Group A
Poland 9gp, 19 pts
Serbia 7 gp, 14 pts
Portugal 7gp, 14 pts
Finland 8gp, 14 pts

It looks like these four will be duking it out for the two spots, with Portugal & Poland favorites to get it done. Things will start to shake out further in September, when the top 4 play each other twice: Sept. 8 Portugal-Poland, Serbia-Finland, and Sept. 12 Finland-Poland, Portugal-Serbia. they also play each other in the final match on November 21: Portugal-Finland, Serbia-Poland.

Belgium 8gp, 7pts
Armenia 7gp, 7pts
Kazakhstan 8gp, 6pts
Azerbaijan 8gp, 5pts

Thank you for playing, we have some nice parting gifts for you.

Group B
France 7gp, 18pts
Italy 7gp, 16pts
Scotland 7gp, 15pts
Ukraine 6gp, 12pts

A bitch of a group, with the World Cup winner, World Cup runner up, and another World Cup quarterfinalist. Scotland are the feel good story but they still have miles to go before they sleep against the aforementioned strong ass teams. Most everyone, including the always pessimistic Scots, will tell you that this will probably come down to two of three from France, Italy, and Ukraine. Nevertheless, DCTrojan and the rest of the Tartan Army will hold on to the hopes and dreams that the ghost of Archie Gemmill will rise up and somehow carry Scotland to a qualifying place.

After losing the World Cup final to Italy, Les Blues thumped Italy 3-1 last September in Paris. The return match in Italy is September 8. In the final match Ukraine hosts France: it's not hard to imagine a scenario where Italy are already qualified as group winners and these two fight it out for the 2nd spot on the final day.

Lithuania 7gp, 7pts
Georgia 8gp, 6pts
Faroe Islands 8gp, 0pts

Thank you for playing, we have some nice parting gifts for you. A word for the Faroes, who scored a goal home to Italy last week to only lose 1-2, and then hit the woodwork twice in their 0-2 home loss to Scotland. Those are actually points of pride when it comes to Faroe Islands footy, so it would be rude not to shout them out.

Group C
Greece 7gp, 18pts
Bosnia-Herzegovenia 7gp, 13pts
Turkey 6gp, 13pts
Norway 7gp, 13pts

As I mentioned, Bosnia's upset of Turkey evened this group out a good bit, and these four still have plenty of matches against each other, so it should be a tight race to the finish.

Hungary 7gp, 6pts
Malta 7gp, 4pts
Moldova 7gp, 2pts

You would think that when Hungary played Turkey it would be no contest; Hungary should gobble Turkey right up, but in reality that is not the case. By the way, I think the best theoretical group for the food analogy would definitely be Hungary, Turkey, Swiss, and Chile. Anyhow, thank you for playing, we have some lovely parting gifts for you.

Group D
Germany 7gp, 19pts
Czech Republic 7gp, 14pts
Ireland 7gp, 13pts
Slovakia 7gp, 9pts

Slovakia are most likely not a contender, although I guess they must be included since they are only 5 pts out of a qualifying spot with 5 matches to play. But in reality, Germany are running away with this group and Czech Republic and Ireland will most likely battle it out for the 2nd spot. The last 2 sets of matches sees the contenders all playing weak teams, so the clashes that may very well decide it are Czech-Ireland on Sept. 12, Ireland-Germany on Oct.13, and Czech-Germany on Oct. 17.

Wales 6gp, 7pts
Cyprus 6gp, 4pts
San Marino 6gp, 0pts

Cyprus is loving the fact that for a change they are not the most hapless team in a qualifying group, and they have been able to grab 4 points thusfar without even playing San Marino yet: they shocked Ireland 5-2 and drew with Germany 1-1, but have lost all of their other matches- bizarre. San Marino must feel like rockstars: they only lost 6-0 away to Germany last week, which is a massive improvement over their 0-13 loss on home soil to Germany back in September. Thank you for playing, please come back in 4 years and try again.

Group E
Croatia 7gp, 17pts
Israel 8gp, 17pts
Russia 7gp, 15pts
England 7gp, 14pts

England have gotten themselves back into striking distance with wins over no-hopers Andorra and Estonia, who between them have lost all 14 of their matches while scoring a grand total of 1 goal. They were also helped out when group leaders Croatia and Russia drew last weekend. As such, I disagree with the general sentiment in the media that England "are back" and the confidence that they will get it done. I'm not saying they won't, I'm just saying that those two teams are worse than horrid and they still have some hard ass matches coming home, and given their tendency to underwhelm and the fact that their manager hasn't shown that he isn't any less of a doofus than his predecessor Sven, qualification for The Three Lions at this point is far from certain. They still have to play SuperCoach Guus Hiddink's Russia twice, and Israel at home is no cakewalk, as Israel are undefeated in their last 18 matches and have not lost a road match in 4 years {and they were in a qualifying group for World Cup 2006 with France, Switzerland, and Ireland}.

My belief in Guus Hiddink alone says that Russia will get one of the spots, and I just have a funny feeling that either Croatia or Israel will beat out England for the other one. Either way this will be a wild and wooly fight to the finish between these four teams, and like a high seed in the early rounds of the NCAA tournament, watch for the pressure to build on England as we get closer to the end and their advancing is still in doubt.

Macedonia 7gp, 7pts
Estonia 7gp, 0pts
Andorra 7gp, 0pts

Thank you for playing, see you next time.

Group F
Sweden 7gp, 18pts
Spain 7gp, 15pts
Northern Ireland 6gp, 13pts
Denmark 6gp, 10pts

As predicted, Sweden was awarded a win by UEFA after Hans Drunkenfucker decided it would be a good idea to bumrush the field and take a swing at the referee. Spain have recovered from their horrible start with 4 wins in a row, and these two will most likely qualify at a canter with Norn Iron and Denmark fading from the scene, but you never know.

Liechtenstein 7gp, 4pts
Iceland 7gp, 4pts
Latvia 6gp, 3pts

Thank you for playing- better luck next time.

Group G
Romania 7gp, 17pts
Bulgaria 7gp, 15pts
Netherlands 6gp, 14pts

Most people think that Holland will win the group leaving the other two to duke it out for the 2nd spot. Hard to argue with that. Watch out for Bulgarian striker Berbetov, who this year established himself as one of the best strikers in Europe and when on form, as he has been, can put this team on his back and carry them quite far. I think he could be the difference for them, and I like Bulgaria to join Holland from this group.

Albania 7gp, 9pts
Belarus 7gp, 7pts
Slovenia 7gp, 4pts
Luxembourg 7gp, 0pts

Might be a bit harsh to put Albania here, but considering Holland have a game in hand on them, they are most probably 6 points out of third with six matches to play, and considering that they are Albania and the other three are who they are, they stay down here, because it just isn't going to happen. Although if it somehow did, it would be fun to spend next summer singing the "Albania" song that Coach came up with on Cheers way back when to help Sam pass a test of some sort: the details are fuzzy but the song is not- for some reason it has stuck in my head all these years.

So there it is. Halfway home, and for half the teams, everything still to play for. The next round of qualifying matches will be September 8th and September 12.


DC Trojan said...

Oh, you never know, a completely improbable win against the Ukraine and a couple of favorable results, and the Tartan Army will be yodeling their way to a first round exit from the finals...

If they do make it, they should dust off the old "We have a dream" song from the 1982 World Cup. I have reason to believe that the 7" vinyl version remains at my parents' house, unless of course Thistle71 has made off with it.

"it's no the ball yer kickin' ya eejit, it's me!"

Kanu said...

Aye, laddie, aye.

For you my friend, I hope it happens, of course, as long as it is at Italy's expense and not France's ;)

If you find that sone somewhere online, let me know- I'd love to hear it.

el pichichi said...

"..gobble up Turkey.."
Poetry indeed.

I'm hoping for a England v Scotland final...they've had it rough for a long time now. Besides they pretty much invented the game--'twould be nice

DC Trojan said...

Kanu, that's kind, but I think we don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows...

As for an England - Scotland final, can you imagine? The beer consumption alone would be monumental - you'd probably be able to see the piles of empties from outer space.

Michael said...

I normally root for the major powers in qualifying because I'd rather watch knock-out games between Italy and France as opposed to Ukraine and Scotland, but I'm feeling a twinge of inclination to root against England this time. For one thing, they're in a group with Israel, one of the minnows I like, and Russia, coached by Guus Hiddink. For another, nothing would be greater confirmation of my on-going "the English are overrated" screed than failure to qualify for a major tournament out of a decent, but not overwhelming group. Plus, while Germany-England would be a great pairing in Austria, Germany-Russia would provide me with endless opportunities for obscure Eastern Front references that would be the equivalent of blogging masturbation.

el pichichi said...

Hey DC...what about the concentration of white, pasty skin that this final would produce?? It would blind anyone checking it out on GoogleEarth!

Kanu said...

EP- great point.

I'd set up shop just outside the stadium and sell 1 oz tubes of suntan lotion SPF 30 for 5 euros.

Fucking goldmine.

M- I kind of don't want England to make it. It would be a proper punishment for the FA for completely fucking up the Sven replacement and then just giving the job to Mclaren.

Personally I think that comparing/arguing which league is the best is as silly as arguing which conference is the best in college football americano. The top leagues are all good, and in different years they go up and down as far as greatness, so I say let's just enjoy each one for what it is rather than argue about which one is better {not a rant directed at you but just in general at the whole "my conference/league rulz! Your conf/league suxx!" dialogue in general.