Uefa backs winners in Euro 2008 seeds
With three rounds to go, qualifying for the European Championship has thrown up relatively few surprises. Of the 14 teams who qualified for the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany, 12 could reach Euro 2008. This is the maximum number, given that, thanks to the vagaries of the seeding system, groups A and B feature three sides who went to the World Cup, whereas group C does not have any and there is only one such side in group G.
When the qualifying draw was made in January last year, it looked particularly cruel for Scotland, who ended up facing Italy, France and Ukraine. As it turned out, the task appeared to get even tougher – all three sides reached the quarter-finals in the World Cup and, of course, Italy and France contested the final – which makes Scotland’s first-place status in the group even more of an achievement. Barring some kind of divine intervention, France will qualify and the other spot will be determined at Hampden Park on November 17, when Scotland host Italy. Odds are, the Azzurri will need to win, a tall order, which is why we could see the world champions fail to qualify for the next European Championship. It would not be the first time; it also happened to them in 1984. Then, however, there were only eight places in the European Championship finals; today, there are twice as many.
While it may seem unfair that three World Cup quarter-finalists should be stuck in group B while group C does not feature any, you have to bear in mind the Fifa world rankings when the draw was made: France were fifth, Italy twelfth, Ukraine 40th and Scotland 60th. Today, Italy are first, France sixth, Scotland fourteenth and Ukraine seventeenth – which only goes to show that things can and do change rather rapidly in world football.
The system works in reverse, as well. Take group C. When the draw was made, Turkey were seventh, Greece eleventh and Norway nineteenth. Having those countries as the top three seeds in their group did not seem as silly as it does today, when Greece – the highest-ranked of the three – come in at No 12.
What all this does is set up some exciting finishes. Had Serbia won away to Armenia, group A would probably have gone down to the wire. Instead, they were awful in Yerevan and lucky to avoid defeat in the 0-0 draw on Saturday. It looks as if Poland and Portugal will advance. Group C is finely poised for a three-horse race between Greece, Turkey and Norway. Turkey host Greece on Wednesday in the pick of the week’s ties and then they are away to Norway in what is likely to be another barnstormer.
In group D, Germany became the first side to qualify for the finals, with a goalless draw away to Ireland, who are now five points behind the Czech Republic in third place. In group E, Croatia and England control their own destinies. Unless England win in Moscow, however, things may go down to the wire, especially if Croatia fail to win away to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Group F looked wide open until Northern Ireland fell apart with consecutive losses to Iceland and Latvia and Denmark were punished by Uefa with a 3-0 defeat and a four-match home ban after a supporter ran on to the pitch and attacked the referee in their game with Sweden. Spain and Sweden have now virtually sewn up their summer plans for 2008.
While some viewed Romania’s 1-0 win over Holland as an upset in group G, do not expect it to have too much of an effect. Holland and Romania are heavily favoured because Bulgaria, the third contender, has two away match-es (against Slovenia and Albania) sandwiched around a crucial home tie with Romania, while Holland host two relative cream puffs – Slovenia and Luxembourg – before travelling to Belarus for their final outing.
The bottom line? Uefa’s seeding system seemed to work. Of the 16 first or second seeds when the draw was made, 14 look almost certain to advance. The other two are Italy, whose fate will be decided when they play Scotland, and Denmark. That is not a bad strike-rate for the governing body of European football.
[SIZE="1"]AEK 2007/2008=REAL Champions win on the field, not in the courts. Euro 2004 champs. Eurobasket 2005 and 1987 champs. FIBA WC 2006 Silver Medal. FIBA WC U19 Gold Medal 1995. Non-qualification equals no progressAlexander