Liam Togher analyses every single possible scenario as the Euro 2016 qualifiers draw to a close.
Four nations have already joined hosts France in ensuring their place at the finals of Euro 2016, with 15 more set to book their tickets in the coming days before the remaining four places are decided in November’s play-offs. As it stands, 12 teams know they will either qualify automatically or go into a play-off, seven can only hope for a play-off, 17 have already been eliminated and the other 13 nations, Ireland amongst them, have their fate very much in the balance ahead of this final, decisive week of the qualifiers, with the groups coming to a conclusion.
Football fans across the continent will weigh up what can still happen and where points are likely, or unlikely, to come from. It will be a hectic six days of calculations, permutations and general headaches. However, I hope to ease some of those headaches a small bit by doing the hard work for you and calculating exactly what each team needs to do, if anything, in their final two qualifying matches. Here goes!
The key games: Kazakhstan v Netherlands, Czech Republic v Turkey (Saturday 10th); Netherlands v Czech Republic, Turkey v Iceland (Tuesday 13th)
What we know already: Iceland and Czech Republic are already assured of qualification, while Latvia and Kazakhstan are too far back.
What’s up for grabs: It’s between Turkey and Netherlands for third.
TURKEY: Four points from their final two games will secure a play-off berth for the Turks, who play both of the top two. If they can go into the final matchday still in third, they might well fancy their chances of beating already-qualified Iceland at home.
NETHERLANDS: The Dutch need at least three more points from their final two games than Turkey, as they have an inferior head-to-head record. They should beat Kazakhstan, but a trip to Astana is no longer a nailed-on three points.
Verdict: Even if Netherlands win their two games, I can see Turkey getting the four points they need to claim third and, incredibly, leave the Dutch watching on from afar next June.
The key games: Andorra v Belgium, Bosnia v Wales, Israel v Cyprus (Saturday 10th); Belgium v Israel, Cyprus v Bosnia, Wales v Andorra (Tuesday 13th)
What we know already: Wales and Belgium will at least be in the play-offs, while Andorra have been left for dead.
What’s up for grabs: With first and second all but confirmed, it’s realistically a fight between Israel, Bosnia and Cyprus for the play-off spot.
WALES: One more point will ensure a first major tournament appearance for Wales in 58 years. With their final game at home to Andorra, their fans can start looking for accommodation in France next summer.
BELGIUM: Likewise, Belgium are only waiting on official confirmation of their place in the finals. It will arrive once they beat Andorra on Saturday.
ISRAEL: Two wins could push Israel into the top two, but with the teams above them both facing Andorra, the Israelis’ focus is on maintaining their grip on third. Four points will make sure of it, although defeat for Bosnia on Saturday could allow Israel to guarantee third before they travel to Belgium.
BOSNIA: Bosnia need at least one win if they are to sneak into the play-offs, as their head-to-head record against Israel is inferior. The goal is to get three more points than the Israelis.
CYPRUS: If Cyprus win both of their remaining qualifiers, they will get third. Nothing less will do unless they beat Israel by at least two goals and then avoid defeat against Bosnia, presuming they haven’t beaten Wales in the meantime.
Verdict: Wales and Belgium will both beat Andorra and qualify. Israel should beat Cyprus and, as I can’t see Bosnia defeating Wales, the Israelis will probably remain in third even if they lose in Belgium.
The key games: Macedonia v Ukraine, Slovakia v Belarus, Spain v Luxembourg (Friday 9th); Luxembourg v Slovakia, Ukraine v Spain (Monday 12th)
What we know already: Belarus, Luxembourg and Macedonia can no longer qualify.
What’s up for grabs: Two out of Spain, Slovakia and Ukraine will definitely qualify automatically, with the third-place finisher in the play-offs at least.
SPAIN: In all likelihood, Spain only need one more point to guarantee qualification. While they will surely tick that off as soon as they beat Luxembourg, a draw against Ukraine would absolutely secure the reigning champions’ passage to the finals.
SLOVAKIA: Slovakia need just one more win to reach their first ever European finals. Two games against teams who are already out of the running provide them with a near-certainty of doing so.
UKRAINE: In order to finish in the top two, Ukraine have to get at least four more points and hope for unlikely favours from elsewhere. However, they are currently the best third-placed team in the qualifiers and if they retain that status after all of the groups finish, they will qualify automatically.
Verdict: Not much is going to change here. Spain and Slovakia will take the top two places, while Ukraine are well placed to join them unless the third place picture changes elsewhere.
The key games: Ireland v Germany, Scotland v Poland (Thursday 8th); Germany v Georgia, Gibraltar v Scotland, Poland v Ireland (Sunday 11th)
What we know already: Not a lot. Only Georgia and Gibraltar have fallen by the wayside.
What’s up for grabs: It’s a four-way battle between Germany, Poland, Ireland and Scotland for the two automatic places and one play-off berth.
GERMANY: The world champions will book their place in the finals if they avoid defeat in Ireland. Even if they don’t, a more than probable home win over Georgia would be enough.
POLAND: Avoid defeat in Scotland and the Poles have a play-off at least. They could even afford to lose in Glasgow and then beat Ireland to make sure of a top two finish. They can also qualify with a draw against the Irish unless they have been overtaken in the meantime.
IRELAND: A win from either of our remaining matches guarantees us at least third, but in order to finish in the top two we will need that win. Automatic qualification would also require us not to lose in Poland. Two draws leaves us open to the possibility of being caught by Scotland.
SCOTLAND: Scotland need at least four more points to finish in the play-offs; they cannot get second because of the Poland-Ireland clash. If they can win both of their games and Ireland fail to win, that would take them into third.
Verdict: The bad news is I don’t think we’ll beat either Germany or Poland. The good news is I don’t think Scotland will beat Poland and I reckon we will get at least one draw, which in that circumstance would get us into the play-offs. Germany and Poland should remain first and second.
The key games: England v Estonia, Slovenia v Lithuania, Switzerland v San Marino (Friday 9th); Estonia v Switzerland, Lithuania v England, San Marino v Slovenia (Monday 12th)
What we know already: England have already won the group while San Marino, as per usual, will finish bottom.
What’s up for grabs: The second automatic qualification spot and play-off place have still to be decided.
SWITZERLAND: The Swiss need four points to ensure an automatic passage to the finals. Three of those will inevitably come against San Marino, so realistically they just need to avoid defeat in Estonia to qualify.
SLOVENIA: If Slovenia win on Friday and Estonia don’t, they will at least be in the play-offs. If they can win both of their remaining matches and Switzerland lose in Estonia, Slovenia will finish second.
ESTONIA: While mathematically they can still finish second, in reality Estonia are aiming for the play-offs. They will only get there with two wins, unless Slovenia collapse completely in their games.
LITHUANIA: Likewise, there remains the possibility of Lithuania squeezing into the play-offs, but they would have to hammer Slovenia and then, in all probability, better the Slovenes’ result on the final day. It’s a most unlikely scenario.
Verdict: Switzerland and Slovenia are both going to beat San Marino. The Swiss should then get the point they need to confirm second, while Slovenia ought to have too much for Lithuania and can then try their luck in the play-offs.
The key games: Hungary v Faroe Islands, Northern Ireland v Greece, Romania v Finland (Thursday 8th); Faroe Islands v Romania, Finland v Northern Ireland, Greece v Hungary (Sunday 11th)
What we know already: Northern Ireland are assured of a least a play-off place. Faroe Islands and 2004 European champions Greece are out of the running.
What’s up for grabs: Plenty. The two automatic berths and third place have still to be decided.
NORTHERN IRELAND: If Michael O’Neill’s men can avoid defeat in their final two games, or pick up just one more win, they will definitely be in France next summer.
ROMANIA: Four points will guarantee Romania’s place in the finals and only a freakish combination of results will see them finish outside of the top three.
HUNGARY: If Hungary can get three more points than Romania from the remaining matches, they will qualify automatically. Otherwise, the Hungarians will make sure of at least a play-off if they can add another win.
FINLAND: Finland have to get at least four points more than Hungary to overtake them in third. In the hugely unlikely event of the Finns winning both of their games, Romania losing both of theirs and Hungary collecting two points or fewer, Finland could still come second. In truth, however, they’re barely keeping alive a battle for third.
Verdict: I don’t see Northern Ireland losing either of their games, so I think they will ensure a first-ever qualification for the finals. I also fanyRomania will get the four points they need to join them, while even then two wins for Hungary might be enough for them to skip the play-offs as the best third-placed team.
The key games: Liechtenstein v Sweden, Moldova v Russia, Montenegro v Austria (Friday 9th); Russia v Montenegro, Sweden v Moldova (Monday 12th)
What we know already: Austria have qualified as group winners. Moldova and Liechtenstein will be the bottom two.
What’s up for grabs: Russia, Sweden and Montenegro are fighting it out for second and third.
RUSSIA: Russia need four more points to be assured of qualification and their remaining matches are favourable. A draw against Montenegro guarantees a play-off at worst.
SWEDEN: If the Swedes can get three more points than Russia, they will take second. Another win would be enough to confirm a top three place provided Montenegro don’t beat Russia.
MONTENEGRO: Even two wins might not be enough for Montenegro, if Russia beat Moldova and Sweden win both of their games. If they can garner two more points than the Swedes, they will move into the top three.
Verdict: Even notorious bottlers Russia should be able to pick up at least four points from their two games and go through automatically. The Swedes will probably win both of their games and enter the play-offs.
The key games: Azerbaijan v Italy, Norway v Malta, Croatia v Bulgaria (Saturday 10th); Bulgaria v Azerbaijan, Italy v Norway, Malta v Croatia (Tuesday 13th)
What we know already: The only teams definitely out of the equation are Azerbaijan and Malta.
What’s up for grabs: While Bulgaria still have a mathematical chance of finishing third, we’re effectively talking about the 1-2-3 finishing order of Italy, Norway and Croatia.
ITALY: One more win will see the Azzurri take their customary place in the finals. Even two draws would suffice, as in that instance Norway couldn’t overtake them.
NORWAY: Norway have to win both of their games to be absolutely certain of qualifying automatically. Even four points leaves them within overtaking distance of Croatia, should they pick up two wins, as the Croats have the edge on head-to-head results.
CROATIA: It might not be cast-iron official but Croatia have at least third place in the bag. If they can better Norway’s total from both nations’ respective final games by two points, the Croats will qualify directly for the finals.
BULGARIA: Hopelessly optimistic Bulgarians, listen up - if you can win both of your remaining matches and Croatia lose to Malta, you will get into the play-offs. If you beat Croatia 1-0, you then need an 11-goal swing in goal difference on the final matchday. Good luck with that.
Verdict: Italy should do enough to get the three points in Azerbaijan and make sure of it. I fancy Croatia to win both of their games and I doubt Norway will do the same, so I reckon the Croats will jump up to second. However, third place in this group could be enough for an automatic passage to France, too, depending on results elsewhere in the qualifiers.
The key games: Albania v Serbia, Portugal v Denmark (Thursday 8th); Armenia v Albania, Serbia v Portugal (Sunday 11th)
What we know already: With Armenia and Serbia eliminated, the other teams will either qualify automatically or go into the play-offs.
What’s up for grabs: Portugal, Denmark and Albania are all bidding for the direct route to the finals, with the worst-placed of those three requiring a play-off.
PORTUGAL: If Cristiano Ronaldo and his team-mates avoid defeat against Denmark, they are definitely through. Even if they lose that one, victory in Serbia will clinch their place in the finals.
DENMARK: Even a win in Portugal won’t make sure of their place in the top two, but then Albania would need maximum points. If they fail to win in Portugal and Albania pick up one more win, Denmark are heading for the play-offs.
ALBANIA: If Denmark lose, Albania only need to avoid defeat in their final two games to qualify. Should Denmark draw, a win would still be good enough for the Albanians. A Danish win would require Albania to win both of their matches.
Verdict: Denmark might frustrate Portugal, but with Ronaldo firing, I reckon the Danes won’t beat them and I fancy Albania to win at least one of their remaining matches to make history and qualify for their first ever major tournament.
PREDICTED AUTOMATIC QUALIFIERS
Already assured: France, Iceland, Czech Republic, England, Austria
Set to join them: Wales, Belgium, Spain, Slovakia, Ukraine, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Northern Ireland, Romania, Russia, Italy, Croatia, Portugal, Albania
PREDICTED FOR THE PLAY-OFFS
Turkey, Israel, Ireland, Slovenia, Hungary, Sweden, Norway, Denmark
All in all, I can’t see any drastic change from the current standings, barring Croatia and Albania nudging their way into second place in their groups. What could turn out to be a highly interesting battle, and one that is open to frequent change over the coming days, is the identity of the best third-place finisher. With the third-place teams’ results against the bottom side in each six-team group being discounted, the fate of the teams in third could hang on possible change at the wrong end of the groups.
If anyone is looking for me between Thursday and Tuesday, I will most likely be found watching a TV with a laptop open and multiple pieces of paper as I try to work out just who is heading straight for France, who will have a play-off for which to prepare and who will miss out completely. I was never much good at maths in school, but my skills in the subject will be put to the test over the coming days across a multitude of football pitches throughout Europe - and I bloody love that!
Read more of Liam’s articles on his blog, The Togher Perspective
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