Thursday, October 18, 2007

Euro 2008 qualifiers: Gloom for Scotland and England

Euro 2008 qualifiers: Gloom for Scotland and England.
European championship qualifiers

Rumania, Greece and Czechia through;
disasters for England, Scotland and Turkey


A blind referee, Gerrard's glaring miss, Hiddink's magic, Terry's injury: so many adverse factors conspired to push England on the brink of elimination in Moscow. How terrible: Rooney, who had finally reencountered his scoring touch, tugged at Zhiryanov's shirt just in front of England penalty area, but the ref, strolling at a significant distance from the action, thought the foul was inside the area.

Now England do not depend on themselves: they depend on Israel holding Russia or Macedonia beating Croatia on November 17th. One of the two results must go England's way for the final game against Croatia at Wembley to count for anything.

Option no. 1: Russia fail to win in Israel

Are there any real chances of that happening? Well, yes, but they are slight. Israel's coach Dror Kashtan has just extended his contract until 2010 thanks to what the Israelis see as a good showing of the national team. Kashtan already started to rejuvenate his squad and a team with six debutants did quite well losing 1-0 in Zagreb. Croatia only created two more chances which proves Israel still have their own pride to defend. A draw with Russia in Tel Aviv is not impossible. After all, Israel did not even lose in Moscow in their first encounter 14 months ago.

Option no. 2.: Croatia lose in Macedonia

And Macedonia could pull it off against Croatia because we are talking about the Balkans rivalry. The Macedonians have largely underperformed in the current qualifiers, but they played best against the best: they drew 0-0 away to England and lost in Zagreb 2-1 with a late goal from Eduardo da Silva. It is true that Croatia have not lost a qualifying game in the past 50 months, never a single match against another team from the former Yugoslavia and not one game since Slaven Bilic took over. But, a defeat will come sooner or later.

Should Russia fail to win in Tel Aviv, England would have to beat Croatia by any margin, which would be made easier since the Croats would already have qualified at the Russian expense. In the latter case, that is if Russia win and Croatia lose in Macedonia, England would have to win their last game by 2-0 or by three goals because they had lost in Zagreb by 0-2. The away goals would count just as they do in the UEFA's club competitions so a 3-1 win would not see Steve McClaren's squad through; 2-0 would suffice, though, because England would have a superior overall goals difference.

Scotland's case is certainly more ridiculous than England's. McClaren's side at least lost to a known soccer power coached by a superior coach. McLeish's boys were capable of beating France twice, but they got beaten fair and square by an unimpressive Georgia; still, Scotland at least depend on themselves, the only British side to have that privilege. A win over Italy in Glasgow would guarantee a place over the Azzurri in the final standings. A draw could only be enough should France fail to win in Ukraine, which would also fall within the footballing logic.

Ironically, even Northern Ireland still have a chance of qualifying. For that they must defeat Denmark at home and Spain away, but at least one other score would have to be favourable to them. Either Spain would have to lose to Sweden at home (and Sweden are not certain yet!), or the Swedes would have to lose both their remaining games. A very long shot, longer even than Nayim's against David Seaman in 1995's Cup Winners' Cup finals.

Of the big teams, Turkey have commited a double-suicide by drawing away to Moldova and losing at home to Greece. Now the Greeks will be in Austria and Switzerland to defend their crown, but Turkey will have to beat Norway away; a mere glance at the form of both teams suggests that the Scandinavians are huge favourites to qualify.

Czechia have also made sure of their place in the final stage, perhaps even the top spot, as they thrashed Germany by 3-0 creating a better head-to-head record with respect to their hosts who have, incidentally, also qualified thanks to a draw in Dublin.

Finally, Romania have also qualified by beating Holland and Luxembourg in the space of four days, while Bulgaria have virtually bid goodbye after being incapable of overcoming Albania in Tirana.

Portugal look good in the Group A since six points from the two remaining home games would see them through, while Poland have a tougher task when their entertain Belgium and travel to Belgrade to meet Serbia, also with an outside chance of making it to the final stage.

Copyright Soccerphile/Ozren Podnar

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