High Stakes 2

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar October 22, 2015 14:58

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High Stakes 2

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (October 9th 2015)

Penultimate Success – Part Two

England had qualified impressively – easy groups still have to be won and Roy Hodgson’s team had beaten every opponent put in their path. Estonia came to limit the damage, losing 2-0, meaning that they needed a highly improbable set of results to deny Slovenia third place – Switzerland had secured second and automatic qualification by defeating San Marino 7-0 in St Gallen. Slovenia drew 1-1 against Lithuania, meaning that the Baltic nation still had a very slim chance of progressing at the former Yugoslav nation’s expense. Meanwhile, Hodgson’s charges had the opportunity of turning history 9 out of 9 into the perfect 10. Their dominance of Group E was unprecedented in the history of Euro qualifiers.

Spain ensured that the disappointment of a woeful defence of their World Cup title was consigned to the past with a 4-0 victory over Luxembourg in Logroño, although it came at a high price – an injury to David Silva. Slovakia’s surprise defeat 1-0 home defeat by Belarus ensured that the reigning European champions would top Group C. The last Euros’ co-host Ukraine kept their hopes of qualification alive with a 2-0 away win against Macedonia in Skopje, but they needed a favour – a huge one to pip Slovakia. They needed Luxembourg to beat the Slovakians – hardly likely, but a play-off place was a distinct possibility.

Strangely Group G didn’t attract the headlines that it should have. England had deservedly hogged the credit and set a new record, but another team was undefeated and they had achieved it in a tougher group. Austria beat Montenegro 3-2 away in Podgorica, while Russia threatened a renaissance after dispensing with the expensive services of former England manager Fabio Capello. Leonid Slutsky’s team were poised to consign Zlatan Ibrahimović’s Sweden to the play-offs – both teams scored away wins. Russia beat Moldova 2-1 in Chişinău and Sweden won 2-0 against Liechtenstein in that nation’s capital Vaduz.

Remarkable

Spain and Switzerland confirmed they would be going to France, but the real story of the night was that Austria had an even more impressive qualifying campaign than anyone bar England and that Hodgson’s team had a chance of the perfect 10 out of 10. Until they beat Estonia nobody had won 9 out of 9.

Also Russia’s remarkable transformation from also played to serious contenders was noteworthy, especially as Slutsky only took over on a temporary basis in August, having just 4 matches to save the next World Cup hosts’ faltering campaign. Slutsky’s achievement is even more impressive as he remains in charge of CSKA Moscow and their bid to reach the knock-out stages of the Champion’s League. His contract lasts until the end of the qualifying campaign, whether that was in October or November. Slutsky was also the first Russian coach of the national team in almost a decade.

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar October 22, 2015 14:58
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