With a month to go in the Group Stage of Euro 2020 Qualifiers we have the following six-of-twenty direct qualifiers: Ukraine, Spain, Poland, Belgium, Russia, and Italy. All others are still either vying for one of the remaining 14 direct slots or fighting for playoff spots that will lead to the other four qualifier slots.
Among those still not guaranteed participation are World Cup 2018 finalists France and Croatia, semifinalists England, and quarterfinalists Sweden. Similarly, World Cup 2018 contenders Germany, Switzerland, Portugal, Denmark, Iceland, and Serbia, must wait until next month to find out if they are in.
The tournament finals will have whittled the 55 original contestants down to 24 and those will be divided into six groups of four teams each. Of those 24 finalists, eventually to be divided into Groups A-F, three teams have already begun to populate their groups. Group A has Italy, Group B has Russia, and Group E has Spain.
But what is intriguing at this late date in the Group Stage of these Euro qualifiers is the fact that with powerhouse teams competing just fifteen months removed from great World Cup performances in Russia, we are at six-of-twenty slots filled with but a couple of games left to go. Many of these groups have leaders who did not make the past World Cup, some of those six did not make the 32 who traveled to Russia in 2018 but are making waves now.
In 2020 Euro Qualifiers, Group A action saw England win away to Bulgaria 6-0 in a match marred by racial outbursts that stopped play twice. At Kosovo, the hosts assured themselves a playoff possibility with a 2-0 win over Montenegro. Three days prior, the Czech Republic won 2-1 at home over England to keep secure their one point second place lead over third placed Kosovo. With two matches to go England, atop the group and with 15 points, seems assured passage while the Czech Republic and Kosovo vie for direct or playoff qualification. Montenegro is eliminated while Bulgaria has an outside chance of progressing.
Group B action on Friday, saw Portugal and Ukraine cruise to easy home victories, the Iberians 3-0 over Luxembourg and the Yellow Blue 2-0 over Lithuania. Yesterday, the Serbs won 2-1 away to Lithuania while Ukraine clinched their passage to the next round with a tough 2-1 home win over a lackluster Portugal who nevertheless celebrated Cristiano Ronaldo’s 700th goal. With two matches to play Portugal and Serbia a vying for direct or playoff passage while Luxembourg has an outside chance of making the playoffs. The defending champions, at 11 points, need to win both of their last matches, against Luxembourg and Lithuania, to progress directly.
The Netherlands and Germany, both having played six matches, stand alone at 15 points apiece while Northern Ireland, at 12 points and with two matches left, is looking to progress directly by defeating both of the rivals ahead of them in those two matches. The Netherlands, nevertheless, defeated the Irish in a 3-1 home win on Thursday. If the remaining matches go according to form the Irish have a chance of making the playoffs.
Denmark and the Republic of Ireland maintained their lead atop Group D at 12 points apiece albeit with both the Danes and the Swiss (at 11 points) having an extra game to play. With the Swiss having games against lowly Gibraltar and Georgia, and the Danes having one of their matches against Gibraltar, the November 18th group match between Denmark and the Republic of Ireland seems the clincher for this group’s direct passages.
With Wales only managing 1-1 home and away draws against Croatia and Slovakia respectively, Hungary and Slovakia have taken up the slack and placed themselves in better situations than the Welsh to advance. Croatia with 14 points and Hungary with 12 lead the group with one match apiece left, while Slovakia and Wales have two must-win matches left to make up ground. The November 16th Croatia v Slovakia and the November 19th Wales v Hungary should be the deciders in this group.
In Group F, Spain with 20 points and two games to play has already qualified and done so with but two draws on the low end of their performance. Sweden and Norway have assured themselves of at least a playoff spot while Romania has a hard road to the next stage having both Sweden and Spain to play in their last two matches. The tiny Faroe Islands and Malta have already been eliminated.
Poland has qualified from Group G with 19 points and Austria at 16 points and North Macedonia at 11 points are assured of a playoff chance. Slovenia and Israel still have outside chances of advancing while Latvia has been eliminated.
Turkey, France, and Iceland, at 19, 19, and 15 points respectively, are still competing for qualification from Group H while Albania, Andorra and Moldova have been eliminated. France is in the driver’s seat with matches against Moldova and Albania while Turkey and Iceland have one easy match and then will have to meet on November 14th in Istanbul to determine their fates.
In Euro qualifiers Group I, Belgium and Russia, at 24 and 21 points respectively, have already qualified, to become two of those six-of-twenty, while Scotland has advanced to the playoff round. Cyprus, Kazakhstan and San Marino have been eliminated.
Italy has qualified from Group J with 24 points while Finland and Bosnia and Herzegovina have assured themselves of playoff slots. Armenia is still in the mix while Greece has an outside chance to make it and Liechtenstein are already eliminated.
That we have to wait until the last couple of group games to get beyond a six-of-twenty figure for qualifiers also speaks volumes about the resurgence of some teams—such as Poland after a poor World Cup 2018 showing, or the Dutch and Italians after not qualifying—and the solidifying of some who had grown opaque—Germany, Spain, Belgium, and Russia.
But these partial results of these Euro Qualifiers can also point to the on-going changing of the guard as golden national generations (Croatia, Belgium, England, Iceland) begin to struggle, some on their way to allowing newer ones, emerging anew in traditionally powerful nations, to take over (France, Italy, Spain).
Most Euros have an ebb and flow of upstarts pushing themselves onto center stage and stalwarts going through the throes of reinvention and renewal. This Euro is no different in that regard, but what the six-of-twenty in mid-October seems to be foretelling is that a summer 2020 Euro may not have as much to say about a winter 2022 World Cup as past Euros have done. Those extra six-of-twenty plus months may well provide other would-be 2022 qualifiers who today may not be making the grade, time to emerge. That World Cup, the one many dread in the desert, in the winter, in new football frontiers, might also be different in that unexpected qualifiers might attend.
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