With the return of International football this weekend, and a crucial set of qualifiers for the European Championships in France next year with the groups starting to take shape, we give you the individual run down, remembering that France, the hosts, are already there, and that the best third-placed team qualify automatically and the other eight third-placed nations enter the play-off round in November.
In group A the Czech Republic have seized control and are one of only three nations to still have a 100 per cent record in tact. Holland, the side everyone expected to be walking the group, have struggled, losing away to both the Czech Republic and, even more surprisingly, Iceland. The Turks, who were also absent from Euro 2012, are staring at a similar fate having won just one of their four games but there’s still plenty of points to play for. Iceland, who have never qualified for the finals, have been the surprise package so far, winning three out of four and they should continue their successful run by winning in Kazakhstan. A top football pick would have to be for the Czechs to be on top come the end of qualifying.
Group B remains wide open. Belgium, were expected to cruise through but it’s proved far from straightforward and they now lie fourth having beaten only Andorra. The current top two, Israel and Wales, meet on Saturday in Haifa and both will be delighted they still retain a good chance of making it to France. The best football prediction would have to be for Belgium though to get their act together and to be on top come the end of qualifying.
In group C most people would have expected Spain to be flying but October’s loss in Slovakia exposed a few flaws.
Despite still having to play Ukraine twice, it is surely inconceivable that Spain won’t make it and defend their title. As for Slovakia, they retain a 100 per cent record and have been mightily impressive on their travels, notably in beating Ukraine 1-0 in Kiev. A sports betting expert would have to go for Spain to be on top come the end of qualifying.
Plenty of excitement in Group D, where four teams are vying for just three slots. Poland upset the world champions Germany early on but then dropped two points at home to Scotland. Nonetheless, they remain ahead of their neighbours by three points ahead of their important visit to Dublin on Sunday. Germany shouldn’t have much problem taking one of the automatic places so that leaves Scotland and the Republic of Ireland to squabble over third place with the Scots who drew first blood with a 1-0 win back in October and the rematch in June will be pivotal.
The best football tipster would have to be for the Germans to be on top come the end of qualifying.
In Group E England seem to be making it look easy, and as soon as they won in Switzerland in the opening round of matches, they were in a strong position. Four wins from four should become five from five against Lithuania at Wembley on Friday and there’s no excuse to cede top spot from there. That leaves a shoot-out between Slovenia, Switzerland, Lithuania and Estonia for the other spots. The Swiss should be favourites but were criticised after defeat in Slovenia and have a bit of work to do. A top football pick would have to be for England to be on top come the end of qualifying.
It’s wide open in Group F, with Romania leading from Northern Ireland by a single point. Having won their opening three games, Northern Ireland were given a reality check in Bucharest last time out but, like Wales, this still represents their best chance of making a finals in a generation. Their home match with Finland on Sunday now carries great significance, as does June’s rematch with Romania. Greece, the 2004 winners, have really struggled, losing three matches at home and they’ve given themselves a mountain to climb to make it to France. A professional betting pick would have to be for Romania to be on top come the end of qualifying.
Nothing is guaranteed in Group G, where Austria have stolen the lead from Sweden, Russia and Montenegro. On paper, Sweden and Russia would be the ones you would expect to qualify but the Austrians have taken four points off them in the early stages of qualification They have Liechtenstein next on Friday so could well extend their lead further with the other two away. Russia’s meeting with Sweden at the start of September looks set to be a decider. The best betting prediction would have to be for Sweden to be on top come the end of qualifying.
Croatia and Italy are neck-and-neck in Group H, both with unbeaten records, after their 1-1 draw in Milan back in mid-November. They are closely followed by Norway, just a point behind, with the rest cut adrift already. There are big games this weekend, with Croatia meeting Norway in Zagreb and Italy heading to Sofia to face Bulgaria. The best football pick would have to be for the Italians to be on top come the end of qualifying.
It’s very tight in Group I, with Denmark just edging out a Portugal side that have yet to produce a convincing performance. Their 1-0 win in Copenhagen, when Cristiano Ronaldo scored a stoppage time winner, gives them the advantage with a game in hand and it’s Serbia at home this Sunday. However, that opening home loss to Albania and a flaky 1-0 win over Armenia suggests weaknesses that the others could capitalise on. Denmark can only watch from the sidelines this weekend and see if their lead survives. A top football tipster would have to be for Portugal to be on top come the end of qualifying.