Oct 8, 2007

Euro '08 Qualifying: Matchday 15/16 Preview

Scotland face a crucial home game against Ukraine Saturday in a highly competitive Group B. A win can--if my math is correct--knock the Ukrainians out. Scotland then travel to Georgia for the second game. Man U's Darren Fletcher is out for both games and Celtic's Paul Hartley seems likely to join him on the injured list. But the Scots are in the driver's seat and "control their own destiny" for qualifying for their first major tournament since 1998. If they win their remaining three games, they're in. Of course the third game happens to be against second-placed Italy at Hampden Park. Throw in the fact that Italy and third-placed France both have cupcake schedules the rest of the way (both still have to play Faroe Islands, though France's final game is in Kiev--then again Ukraine should be out of their misery at that point) and qualification looks far from certain.

Ireland faces a "must win" at home against Germany, but even if they do win qualification is a longshot. Germany and the Czech Republic are the class of Group D by a wide margin (22 and 20 points, respectively, versus Ireland's 14. Germany even has a game in hand). The Czechs only game is at Munich next Wednesday so if by some miracle Ireland defeat Germany they could make up ground on the Czechs. Like I said, it's a longshot.

Northern Ireland currently sit second in Group F, but Denmark and Sweden--placed third and fourth, respectively--have two games in hand. The Green & White Army has three extremely tough games remaining: at Sweden, hosting Denmark and at Spain. Ouch. Talk about longshots. N'Ire is idle Oct. 13 round and face Sweden Oct. 17.

And England? The Oct. 17 game in Moscow is the one everybody's looking toward and rightly so. If England lose to Estonia at (new) Wembley Saturday, McClaren should be fired then and there. I think England will win both games, despite the artificial turf they're due to play on in Moscow. Just expect to see a lot of injuries. Group E leaders Croatia face pesky Israel at Zagreb Saturday.

In Group C, Greece and Turkey face off in a crucial game for both sides, but that's not until Oct. 17. Greece will be boosted by the return of Bolton's Stelios Giannakopoulos from injury. That group is very crowded and besides the two aforementioned teams, Norway also has a legitimate shot at winning it. Bosnia-Herzegovina is still alive, but to qualify for their first major tournament, they'll need some luck. For starters, they'll need some points from Saturday's game at Athens. They'll then need to beat Norway in Sarajevo Oct. 17.

The biggest fixture is undoubtedly going to take place Saturday in Constanta, Romania, where the top two teams in Group G, Holland and Romania, face off. The teams are tied at 20 points from eight games and both have a game in hand over Bulgaria, the only other team that has a reasonable--or even mathematical--shot at qualifying. Bulgaria have 18 points and play only one game, at Albania, Oct. 17. Update: Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt will miss the game for Holland due to a hamstring injury he picked up in Sunday's Tottenham game.

The two matchdays will undoubtedly prove decisive for several squads, with some getting eliminated and others perhaps managing to book their tickets to Switzerland and Austria already. We'll soon know more.

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