When you come from a country which isn’t one of the major players in European football, there is nothing worse than watching either the World Cup or European Championships and knowing that your country hasn’t been able to make it to the glorious heart land that is a summer international tournament. Being Scottish I know all too well what this feels like, we haven’t qualified for a tournament since France 1998, and all the worst is that we haven’t really looked like qualifying for one either. So the new format for Euro 2016 (also in France, hopefully good omens) which allows 24 teams to compete in the Euro’s for the first time is a welcome moment for all of us diddy nations.
There has often been the argument over which is the harder competition to win, the Euro’s or the World Cup? There was never any doubt which competition every nation would rather win and it is unheard of to see a country which isn’t in the elite class of world football win the World Cup, something which cannot be said about the Euro’s, but that doesn’t mean that the World Cup is harder to win. In fact more than often in the past the Euro’s would throw up groups which consisted of four of the top teams in Europe at the first stage, no easy passage for these teams to get settled and no room for mistakes, that was the Euro’s. That however is no longer going to be the Euro’s, as with this new format you are going to see more groups so the big teams will be more spread out and much greater room for error. Is that a good thing? It depends who you’re asking, personally I think that a tournament doesn’t truly start till the knockout stages anyway, and being from a country which doesn’t qualify by default I am also pleased to know that we have a legitimate chance of breaking our major tournament hoodoo and actually make it to the big dance, rather than sitting at home in our nice dress like usual.
So onto the draw itself, the format is pretty simple I’ll break down each teams ranking in their respective pots based on how good I think they are and then talk about who I think will go through in each group. As a reminder the top two teams qualify automatically, plus the top ranked third place team and then the other third place teams go into a playoff.
Netherlands, Czech Republic, Turkey, Latvia, Iceland and Kazakhstan were drawn in this group together ranking out respectively at 3rd, 7th, 4th, 7th, 1st and 1st.
Quite honestly it’s the group of dreams for a Holland side that is undoubtedly in decline. The Czech’s aren’t much better and Turkey hasn’t really been any good for over a decade. For the three teams down the bottom it will be very interesting to see how they cope with the possibility of actually maybe finishing in a position to make it to a major competition. Kazakhstan hasn’t got a chance, but Iceland were a snippet away from making it to the World Cup this past year and will look at this group like a fat child in a Thornton’s shop. It is unlikely that they will ever getter a better chance than this in their current predicament, and the same could be said about Latvia (who I don’t really think are up to much). Holland will win the group and then it will be a battle between the Czech’s, Turkey and Iceland for the final two spots. Personally I see the Czech’s taking second and Iceland settling for third, but it will be close.
Group B consists of Bosnia, Belgium, Israel, Wales, Cyprus and Andorra; which ranks out at 7th, 1st, 9th, 4th, 9th and 6th.
Naturally the first question which comes to mind is how the hell are Belgium not ranked in the first pot? They are arguably the third best team in Europe yet the coefficient used for the group draw has them sitting as the 16th best. It really is a farce, and it is one of many examples of a poor ranking system used for this draw. Ironically this is another good example in this group as Israel somehow find themselves being ranked quite highly despite the fact they have never really done anything. Anyway regardless of all of this, the group itself is fairly straight forward, Belgium will win it Bosnia will comfortably finish second (two of the up and coming teams of world football) and then Wales and Israel will fight it out for third, with Wales in my opinion taking it. Much like Group A this is an unbelievably good chance for these two nations to play in an international competition, and one which I’m sure both will be keen not to waste.
Group C consists of Spain, Ukraine, Slovakia, Belarus, Macedonia and Luxembourg; which ranks out as 2nd, 3rd, 6th, 9th, 3rd and 2nd.
There won’t be any doubts about the defending European champions not making it to France 2016 as they’ve been handed a piss easy group. Spain will win it and Ukraine will come second, the only real question is who will come third. Slovakia looked like they were going places four years ago but have regressed, whereas Belarus and Macedonia are two countries who have never played in a major competition. Belarus and Macedonia are hard places to go, but they are never consistent enough teams to maintain a challenge, it is for that reason that it is hard to not pick Slovakia to take third in the group.
Germany, Ireland, Poland, Scotland, Georgia and Gibraltar make up group D; which ranks out at 1st, 8th, 5th, 2nd, 7th and 8th. As a side note this group consists my three favourite international teams; Scotland, Ireland and Germany (in that order), so that makes it all the more special.
Another group where the big team will be having a sigh of relief as Germany have picked up a group where it would be a surprise if they even drew a game. However the battle for second and third is very much up for grabs and that is where this group will create excitement and tenseness. I personally am very interested in this group because I’m Scottish and being Scottish I think we have an incredibly good chance of making it through this group (whether it be in 2nd or 3rd). In Ireland you have a team which is well past its best going up against Poland a team on the rise but too reliant on certain names and Scotland a team which is very much on the rise after a change of management and a very strong finish to the World Cup qualifying campaign. Georgia will produce a tricky away tie for all teams involved but won’t challenge and Gibraltar are making their first appearance as a legitimate footballing nation (may I add the team everyone wanted to draw [going to be a bloodbath] except for Spain who oddly enough drew them but were upset about the Gibraltan’s stealing their monkey’s or something…so they got moved here). In a perfect world Scotland would finish second with Ireland finishing third, but I doubt that will happen. I truly believe that any of these teams could finish 2nd, 3rd or 4th and in any order, but because I’m not a sit on the fence sort of guy (mainly cause fences are hard to climb) I’m going to say Scotland 2nd and Poland 3rd (I don’t sit on fences but clearly I’m deluded…).
Group E finds England, Switzerland, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania and the mighty San Marino paired together; ranking out at 6th, 2nd, 7th, 8th, 4th and 7th.
I think this may be the first time in living memory where San Marino haven’t been the worst side in Europe, well done them! Both England (a country which never gets a hard group) and Switzerland (another oddly ranked team) will be laughing at the draw they’ve received, it’s about as close to guaranteed qualification as you can get (felt like I’ve wrote that a lot) and I’m sure both will be very happy. The final spot is up for grabs but really Slovenia should take it, because the other three teams aren’t up to much and it wouldn’t surprise me if Slovenia took the best third place team automatic qualification position.
Greece, Hungary, Romania, Finland, Northern Ireland and the Faroe Islands make up the group of whatever the opposite of death is…life? That doesn’t make sense because I’m sure the games will be absolutely dire…Anyway they rank out respectively at 9th, 9th, 8th, 5th, 3rd and 4th.
Every time a draw comes around I think to myself surely Greece can’t luck out again, only for them to do exactly that and fall into what is the easiest group imaginable. From the first three pots you pretty much have the three easiest teams you could have asked for and they’ve all been put into one nice little group. That is the luck of the draw, but there’s luck and then there’s Greece (going to have to invent a new word for that sort of luck). Greece will probably win the group because the other teams are so poor, but when it comes down to it you could put up a good point for any of the other teams finishing in 2nd and 3rd. Hungary (a team ranked way too high) and Romania are naturally the favourites but I think that Finland may be the surprise package in this group. I don’t think that Northern Ireland are really good enough to mount a challenge and the less said about the Faroe’s the better. I’m going to go for Romania in 2nd and Finland in 3rd but really I don’t know because the group is just so poor that maybe the Faroes are legitimate contenders…
If you’ve been reading through this you’ll maybe have noticed that I think the quality of the groups is suspect at best, however that is all about to change with Group G consisting of Russia, Sweden, Austria, Montenegro, Moldova and Liechtenstein; ranking at 8th, 5th, 1st, 3rd, 6th and 3rd.
Finally a group which could throw up an upset, yes it contains no major players of European football but what it does do is put four teams together who have a very small gap in quality. I honestly think that any of the top four teams (the other two are cannon fodder) could feasibly win this group. Russia are Russia and are constantly inconsistent in qualifying despite the fact that they are a major nation, Sweden are a team in transition but still have good players, Austria are a team on the up and look like they could be the next Belgium and Montenegro have been threatening to qualify for a major tournament since their country came into existence. It really is an excellent group, four teams battling it out for three positions, this is what qualification is all about. I really like Austria, and I think they will take the top spot, I think Russia will finish either second or third (probably second because this is a good Russian team) which leaves one position for the other two. It is tough to not go with the status quo on this and pick Sweden but I think Montenegro are a real wild card; it is for that reason I’m taking Montenegro for third ahead of the good ol’ Swedes, maybe a controversial choice because it will mean the most over rated player in football will miss out on another international tournament but hey, what you gonna do?
Group H sees Italy, Croatia, Norway, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan and Malta teamed together which ranks out at 4th, 6th, 2nd, 6th, 8th and 5th.
There isn’t too many complications to this group in my mind, Italy will win it comfortably and Croatia and Norway will take the other two spots (Norway 2nd in my opinion). The third place team in this group will be looking to try and take that elusive automatic space and will have a very solid chance of getting it as well.
Portugal, Denmark, Serbia, Armenia and Albania make up what I believe to be the group of death; ranking at 5th, 4th, 3rd, 1st and 2nd. This group also has the pleasure of playing against France in a friendly instead on their days off.
What makes this group great is that any team in my mind could feasibly win it. You have Portugal who are a one man team but that one man happens to be the best player in the world at the current moment (best European player at very worst), Denmark who are on their way back up, Serbia who have a decent team but are under achievers, Armenia who are very much on their way back up with a young exciting team and Albania who are in a similar situation to Armenia. It is hard to look past Portugal taking one of the top two spots, although they did do their best to miss out on the World Cup recently, I also think that Denmark will take one of the top two spots which would leave the other three teams to battle it out for the play-offs. Personally I’m not too impressed with what Serbia have to offer, and think they’ll struggle which will leave Armenia and Albania to battle it out for that chance to make their first ever international tournament. For me it will be Armenia, because they’re the better of the two teams, and it wouldn’t shock me if they put in a genuine challenge for the automatic places. I do think that any of these teams could finish in the top three slots and that’s what makes this the group of death for me, because a major country like Portugal aren’t definitely guaranteed their place in the finals.
So there you have it that is how I see each group going, it is highly unlikely that I will have predicted everything 100% but it’s tough to make a prediction for something you won’t know the result of in two years’ time. I talked earlier about increasing the size of the Euro’s to 24 diluting the tournament and therefore lowering the quality, and although it is yet to be seen whether that will be the case or not, you can already see that that is the case for the qualifying. There are in my opinion only two really interesting groups where any team could go through and the top team could be in trouble, and there are also too many groups which I think are vanilla at very best. That is very disappointing, it isn’t that there aren’t good matches in those groups but rather if a big team slips up there isn’t that genuine fear that they may not make it because of that result because their margin of error is so wide.
Personally though I’m excited because Scotland have received a group which not only has a big glamour tie in Germany but a local game against Ireland and an interesting tie against Poland (there are a lot of Poles in Scotland). Most importantly though for me is that we have a genuine chance of making it to the big dance once again, and for a nation which hasn’t had a sniff of a big date since the summer of 1998 it is encouraging. However for any Scot who is reading this they will know that Scotland do nothing better than raise expectations only to make an arse of it as we get beat 3-2 by Gibraltar, once again crushing the hopes and dreams of a bunch of door folks.
So leave a comment on what you thought of the Euro 2016 draw, I’m sure it’ll be a good tournament because they aren’t taking us to the arse end of Europe but rather to La France (France in French), also feel free to share your opinions on who you think will win (I’d say Germany but you can’t really truly say at this point). Plus find all the latest bm23sportsreviews posts on Facebook and Twitter.