by THOMAS O’SCANNELL Staff Writer
With the 2014 FIFA World Cup behind us, all teams in international soccer will get back to their own continental competitions, which in UEFA is the Euros.
Taking place every four years since 1960, the UEFA European Championship qualifying round has 53 teams vying for 24 spots at the finals tournament in France in two years’ time. France, being this edition’s host, automatically qualify to the finals. Spain, who have won the last two Euros, will be playing for their third consecutive win, which would also put them past their tie with Germany for most wins at the tournament (three).
With nine groups (eight of six and one of five) being drawn in February, the methods of qualifying for countries are as follows: finish in the top two in their respective group, be the best third place team, or be one of the other eight third-place finishers to qualify by winning a wild card.
Group A will be a battle for second place. The Netherlands, who finished third at the World Cup this year, should top the group without any problems. However, Iceland, Kazakhstan, and Latvia are just not strong enough to deal with the real two vying for an automatic qualification – the Czechs and the Turks. Although the Czech Republic was present at the last Euros in 2012, Turkey has also been a tough team capable of passing a team like the Czech Republic, which I think they will. My predictions of the exact top three finishes in Group A are the Netherlands, Turkey, and the Czech Republic.
The second group also has the potential to be a battle for second place. Belgium should top Group B as they are the strongest team. I am envisioning this to be Gareth Bale’s tournament to shine, so I will go with the shock as Wales finishes second, edging out Bosnia and Herzegovina, who will finish third.
Like the two groups before it, Group C should be a battle as to who finishes second and third beneath the obvious winner of the group, Spain. It will be less wide-open than Group A, however, with Ukraine being noticeably better than all the others going for second place. Slovakia’s shock appearance at the 2010 FIFA World Cup and recent 2-1 triumph over Spain shows they have the skill to get out of the group, so I will go with them for third place.
Many groups here have a clear winner before any of the games even begin ; Group D joins that rank. I would be surprised to see world champions Germany drop a point in this group. Although Poland, the Republic of Ireland, and Scotland, the three playing for second and third place, all have history as difficult to beat and are mainstays at the World Cup, all three have tumbled out of the radar. Therefore, I will say Germany and the Republic of Ireland will finish first and second, respectively, with Poland settling for third.
Sophomore Achal Shah says, “Germany is a strong contender; the World Cup victory will drive their win in the Euros.”
Another group that proves to be interesting is Group E. Although I am tempted to say England will win, the English are famous for choking at their own sport, and the Swiss have proved time and time again that they are not push-overs, most recently at the World Cup which they only lost 1-0 to runners-up Argentina after extra time. However, I think the English will not lose here; my three picks in order are England, Switzerland, and Slovenia, another surprising participant of the 2010 World Cup.
There is always that one group where it is difficult to predict exactly how everything will play out; in soccer, that group is called the “Group of Death”, and in this case, it is Group F. This is not because of how good the participants are, but rather how average they are, which means anybody can succeed in qualifying. The only very good team here is Greece, who I think will top the group. Hungary was a big dog in the early years of soccer and now are nowhere, but I will side with them to finish second. The Romanians, another tricky team, will finish third.
Group G will be a bout between who finishes first. With Sweden home to sensational striker Zlatan Ibrahimović, and the Russians always home to some exceptional talent like current goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, they will finish first and second. Although I think Russia are a more complete team with known names in all departments, I think the Swedes will overtake them for first. I see Montenegro, another team of considerable talent, finishing third.
The group I am clearly the most interested in is Group H. Italy is the strongest team in this group, especially with new head coach Antonio Conte (who won the scudetto three years in a row with Juventus) calling the shots. With a world class manager like Conte at the helm, Italy will finish first. Croatia, a team that always seems to have Italy’s number, will place second with Norway close behind for third place.
Sophomore Nick Lupiano says, “Well I feel Italy will make it to the final 24, and the winner… it is too soon to tell who the true contenders are.”
Group I, which is no slouch, features the Danes, the Portuguese, and the Serbs playing for the top three spots. After a disappointing stream of results starting with the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals, I see Serbia finally redeeming themselves and winning the group. Choke-prone Portugal (true world class teams do not lose 1-0 to Albania at home) will finish second. Although Denmark has a past of making Portugal sweat (they have forced the Portuguese to undergo the extra stress of getting into the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 Euros through playoffs), I think Denmark will finally be outdone by Portugal and finish third.
Qualifying takes place at least once every monthly international break. The 2016 Euros in France is already shaping up to be a tournament to remember.
Who are the heavyweights and the underdogs that can make some noise at the 2016 Euros?