The Road to Euro 2016

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar October 23, 2015 23:24

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The Road to Euro 2016

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (October 18th 2015)

Expansion

A record 53 nations has been whittled down to 20 – France qualify as hosts – and four third placed teams will advance to the finals of Euro2016 through play-offs. France last hosted the tournament in 1984 when the currently suspended President of UEFA Michel Platini was in his pomp – one of the best players Europe has ever produced, part of possibly the best midfield trio ever to grace the Euros along with Alain Giresse and Jean Tigana.

Two years earlier France had been robbed by West Germany’s Harald Schumacher’s disgraceful mugging of Patrice Battiston and one of the worst refereeing decisions ever – amazing that Platini opposes using technology in football when it would have prevented that shameful injustice, but I digress. The reason I mentioned the 1984 tournament is that it was the last time a Dutch team failed to qualify for the Euros and the hosts were France who went on to win paying scintillating football.

Innovation

Euro 2016 qualifiers began on September 7th 2014 and ended on October 13th 2015 – play-offs to come in November. These qualifiers had a new concept – a week of football – where two rounds of matches would be played from Thursday through to Tuesday. It would be the first Euros to have 24 teams and will take place over 32 days next summer. Platini had previously insisted that the expansion would not dilute the quality.

However, only eight teams will be eliminated in the group stage of the finals in France. The top two from each of the six groups will advance to the knock-out stage along with the best four third place teams. Nevertheless, the qualifiers have resulted in some unexpected teams qualifying, including some from the fifth pot out of 6. Only Wales have qualified from Pot 4. With all teams that finished third placed or above either qualifying directly, or having a second chance through play-offs, the scope for upsets was limited, yet major upsets occurred.

Upsets

The Netherlands ranked 3 in the top pot of seeds and 7th ranked Greece are out. Bosnia and Herzegovina, ranked 9 in Pot 1 made the play-offs. Wales came second to Belgium in that Group – an upset certainly but not the biggest. That occurred in Group A. The Netherlands finished fourth. Iceland came second in that group, having qualified from Pot 5, ranked at 38 out of 53. Turkey came third in the group and qualified automatically as the best third placed team. The Czech Republic topped the group.

England, ranked 5, topped Group E as expected, but their perfect 10 wins out 10 record was unprecedented. Impressive definitely, but Austria’s achievement in Group G was arguably even more impressive. Ranked 27, they were the only team from Pot 3 to qualify top of their group, but did so unbeaten, dropping just two points in an unbeaten campaign. Only Sweden from Pot 2 avoided defeat to Austria, but Russia recovered from a stuttering opening to grab second place – Sweden had to settle for the play-offs.

Wales defied 57 years of unhappy history to qualify in second place, despite beginning the qualifiers ranked 37 in Pot 4, but Pot 5 provided even greater surprises. Northern Ireland was the only team from that Pot to top a group. Romania qualified in second place in Group F, which had the added surprise of having both Greece and Hungary from Pots 1 and 2 fail to qualify as of right. Hungary reached the play-offs. The winners of Euro 2004 finished bottom of the group level with the Faroe Islands.

Albania was the lowest ranked team to qualify, finishing second to Portugal in Group I. Portugal, ranked 6 are 34 places ahead of the Albanians. Serbia, ranked 20 places above their local rivals were the big losers as Denmark from Pot 2 grabbed third place and a play-off spot. Poland, the lowest ranked team in Pot 3 qualified in second place to Germany in Group D. The Republic of Ireland, also the lowest in their Pot (2), made the play-offs. Scotland ranked three places below Poland missed out.

Spain qualified top from Group C. Slovakia and the Ukraine reversed their expected positions. With the team from Pot 3 qualifying and the Ukrainians having to settle for a play-off berth. Only two Groups followed the seeding exactly, Groups E and H. England and Switzerland qualified and Slovenia made the play-offs. Italy and Croatia advanced from Group H and Norway finished third.

Play-offs

Turkey is the only third placed team to avoid the play-offs finishing Group A on 18 points, five ahead of the Netherlands. Slovenia had the lowest total to make the play-offs, 10 as their results against the lowest team in the group didn’t count because Group I only had 5 teams in it. That eliminated the results against the teams that came bottom in all the other groups in order to determine which was the best third placed team from the nine groups fairly.

This is why Turkey had 16 points – their draws against bottom placed Latvia didn’t count against them. Hungary fared even better. They only took a point against Greece – that didn’t count. The biggest surprise of play-off teams was Bosnia and Herzegovina being the only team from Pot 1 to feature in the play-offs – a position both Greece and the Netherlands would gladly settle for.

The final four places for Euro2016 will be decided next month. The seeded teams are Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ukraine, Sweden and Hungary. They will play the Republic of Ireland, Slovenia, Denmark and Norway respectively between November 12th and 17th.

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar October 23, 2015 23:24
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