In less than a week, the 2016 EURO Qualifiers will resume once more with two, three day sets of matches. While there is still plenty of football remaining after this flurry of matches, this is where teams can either loosen their grip from the top or secure their dominance in their respective groups. Due to the sheer amount of matches taking place in a few days, we at The Three Four would like to highlight and analyze the most important match of each day. What qualifies a match to be considered is the value it places on the standings within each group and how entertaining the match should be on paper.
September 3: Iceland vs. Netherlands
Not too many football fans across the globe would have placed Iceland at the top of Group A, 5 points ahead of the Netherlands, at this point in qualifying. This is a critical match for the Netherlands if they wish to make it out of Group A, where the top half of the group is separated by 2-3 points per team.
In the past, the Netherlands has drawn 9 wins, 1 loss, and 1 draw in their last ten meetings. A meritorious note for the Dutch is that they have drawn 5 of those 9 wins at home, reigning undefeated in Amsterdam. Iceland, however, have seemed to turn it around from their last abysmal Euro Cup qualifier roughly four years ago. Perhaps their coach Lars Lagerbäck and their impressive forward Gylfi Sigurdsson are in fact their keys to victory in this tournament.
Prediction: The Dutch do not lose at home very often, the Dutch will win 3-1 with an explosive first half.
September 4: Germany vs. Poland
This match may turn out to be the highlight of the tournament in terms of skill level, intensity, and weight that the match bears. Poland leads group D by one point over their German counterparts, and this meeting could set the tone for the remainder of the group D qualifying matches.
Assuming both teams continue to win the remainder of the matches that they are favored to win, this could truly decide who is atop group D come October.The Polish look dominant in all of their match ups, excluding a very awkward performance that resulted in a tie against the Irish. In comparison, the world champions have been, in my opinion, very underwhelming and sloppy in their play. However Germany’s sheer talent alone places them only one point behind the surprising leaders of group D.
Prediction: Poland has a smart, solid squad of players that will defeat the Germans 2-1, in a close match.
September 5: Spain vs. Slovakia
Group C has been all about Slovakia. The Slovakian football team remains undefeated entering this month’s whirl of matches, starting it off with a match against their toughest group opponent, Spain.
Truthfully, this might be the toughest match to cast a prediction for. While Slovakia is undefeated and often simply look like they can’t lose, Spain’s only loss is to the undefeated Slovakian team (a close 2-1 match as well). Both teams are looking to prove something – the Slovakians are looking to show everyone that they are a legitimate threat and remain undefeated while the Spanish are looking to avenge their only loss in group play by defeating the group C leaders.
Prediction: The Slovakians suffer their first road bump in a close 2-2 draw to the Spanish team.
September 6: Croatia vs. Norway
The last matchup between these two teams, in an international friendly, was a very one-sided 5-1 victory by the Croatians. However, here’s where you might think that I’m going to write a defense for the Norwegians – I am not.
While the Norwegians do have 10 points from early victories in the qualifiers, they have been just awful in their most recent euro cup matches. Barely scraping a 1-0 win last November against Azerbaijan is representative of the integrity of their football teams’ strength and tenacity during this tournament. Croatia, on the other hand, shows no signs of falling from the top of group H. They look dominant on both sides of the ball and only need to worry about the Italians two points below them.
Prediction: Croatia cruises to an injury free, 3-0 victory over the failing Norwegians.
September 7: Albania vs. Portugal
Being an honest writer here at The Three Four, I must admit that this match may be the only match on here due to pure interest as opposed to the value and weight of the match in group I. While Portugal is obviously the most solid team in the dysfunctional group I, Albania is much more of an enigma.
Due to the decision (then reversed decision) of the Serbia v. Albania match, Albania was gifted 3 crucial points to place them in an actual race to leave the last group. While Albania does not have a figurehead or superstar like Portugal does, they still seem to draw and win often enough against opponents to somehow give them a realistic chance at moving on to the actual Euro Cup in 2016. However, Portugal actually is a solid team and will remain atop group I.
Prediction: Portugal calmly and confidently defeats Albania 3-1.
September 8: Sweden vs. Austria
The final day of matches, until October, brings about a proto-typical first place vs second place matchup that is truly center-focused around the two teams. Group G is very much a top-heavy group with Austria and Sweden having more points than the other four teams in their group combined. The top seeded Austrians have accumulated an impressive 16 points, mostly thru 1-0 victories over the bottom four teams. The only team they did not beat? Sweden, in a 1-1 draw.
The Swedes have their work cut out for them with Ibrahimovic and Erkan Zengin leading the team in scoring and winning their games by a larger margin than 1-0. Not to mention, that this match against the Austrians may be a necessity in order to advance onward being down an awkward 4 points. This match should be an interesting one to watch, as both teams seem to draw heavily from momentum swings, turnovers, and aren’t huge divers (here’s looking at you, Italy).
Prediction: The Swedes, after a strong first half, make key defensive errors to end the match in a 2-2 draw against Austria.