Twenty qualifiers for Euro 2020, four playoff winners to come
The Group Stage of Euro 2020 Qualifiers has concluded with 20 teams qualified and 4 teams headed to the playoffs to round out the 24 who will compete this summer.
The tournament will be contested in twelve venues from June 12 to July 12: London’s Wembley Stadium, Munich’s Allianz Arena, Baku’s Olympic Stadium, St. Petersburg’s Krestovsky Stadium, Bucharest’s Arena Nationala, Amsterdam’s Johan Cruyff Arena, Dublin’s Aviva Stadium, Bilbao’s San Mames, Budapest’s Puskas Arena, Glasgow’s Hampden Park, and Copenhagen’s Parken Stadium.
The qualifiers have had plenty of drama as they follow a 2018 World Cup that upended many traditional powerhouses from their lofty perches and saw others simply not qualify for Russia’s summer extravaganza.
Italy and the Netherlands have been keen to show they are back in the mix, while Germany have attempted to show their first-round elimination at the hands of the South Koreans in Kazan Arena (2-0, June 27, 2018) was a fluke.
The much-maligned Portuguese side, Euro 2016 champs and Round of 16 losers (1-2) to Uruguay, are fighting for a little respect in what will likely be Cristiano Ronaldo’s last national team tournament foray. Meanwhile the Russian’s, the lowest ranked team to host a World Cup, will be trying to show their quarterfinals run to a penalty shootout loss against Croatia at Sochi was a true measure of their prowess.
England, Croatia and Sweden, all had great World Cup 2018 tourneys and are showing their success was no fluke, but at the expense of some tough matches against opponents who remember who-was-who just a few years back.
Finally, Poland—who had a terrible World Cup—and Austria, who missed it altogether, will be joining Iceland and Denmark in attempting to show why they belong among the top half of European national teams.
In Group A, England and the Czech Republic qualified directly, and Kosovo and Bulgaria made the playoffs.
In Group B, Portugal overcame a slow start to end up second to Ukraine and both qualified directly while Serbia made the playoffs.
In Group C, Germany made up some ground to end up top of the group with The Netherlands as the other direct qualifier, while Northern Ireland and Belarus made the playoffs.
In Group D, Switzerland and Denmark qualified directly while the Republic of Ireland and Georgia made the playoffs.
In group E, Wales needed a final game win over Hungary to come in second to Croatia and qualify directly. Hungary and Slovakia made the playoffs.
In Group F, Spain and Sweden qualified directly while Norway and Romania made the playoffs.
In Group G, Poland came in first while Austria came in second, returning to the party after missing the Russian summer. In a bow to the newest qualifiers twist the playoff teams were decided not by their placement on the group’s table but their 2018-19 UEFA Nations League performances. So, North Macedonia, who came in third, qualified, but Slovenia who came in fourth, with three more points and seven more goals than Israel, was eliminated, while the Israelis moved on.
In Group H, France and Turkey qualified directly, while Iceland made the playoffs.
In Group I, Belgium and Russia qualified, and Scotland made the playoffs.
In Group J, Italy and Finland qualified and Bosnia and Herzegovina leapfrogged Greece, a point better, thanks to the former’s Nations League performance.
While draws will determine where Bulgaria, Israel, Hungary, and Romania will play, some Paths have been pre-determined. Path A, with Iceland as its only member has yet to be fully determined, but in Path B, Bosnia and Herzegovina will play Northern Ireland, and Slovakia will play the Republic of Ireland, with the winners meeting thereafter. In Path C Norway and Serbia play each other while Scotland awaits its rival. In Path D Georgia plays Belarus, and North Macedonia plays Kosovo, with the winner meeting thereafter. There are enough good teams in this mix to make the four that emerge worthy contestants.
England’s Harry Kane (who will soon have a new boss) with 12 goals led all scorers while Israel’s Eran Zahavi and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo followed at 11 each.
This will be a special Euro. As opposed to the dreaded 2019 Copa America in Argentina, unabashedly held to provide Lionel Messi with a chance to win his first international trophy, and do so on home soil, the manner in which the 2020 Euro is being set up ensures a very open, and this year, very competitive soccer tourney. Hopefully, it will also provide a showcase for good futbol and ideally an opportunity for both the best referees to show how the game should be officiated and a now experienced VAR system to emerge as the arbiter we all hoped it would become.