With less than a year to go until the European Championships kick off in Poland and the Ukraine the qualifying rounds in Europe are starting to hot up. With the two hosts already qualified, there remain 14 other spots to fill – the nine group winners and the remaining five will come from a series of play-offs involving the runners-up. On this week’s main report we take a look at how the groups are shaping up. This report has a transcript below. Explanations of key vocabulary (in bold) can be found at the foot of the post, while other key phrases (in blue) also have meanings explained.
Germany top the group with seven victories from seven and barring a miracle they will definitely be taking their place in the finals next summer. Four points separate the next three teams with Belgium currently in second place with 11 points, followed by Turkey on 10 and Austria on 7. The Turkish side have a game in hand but it will be interesting to see whether the recent scandal there will have a negative effect on their chances. Prediction: Germany winners and Belgium as runners-up.
Three teams are locked on 13 points apiece in group B, and this week’s matches will do much to tell us which of Russia, Ireland or Slovakia will be travelling to Central Europe next summer. Ireland under Trapattonni have become difficult to beat and are on an impressive unbeaten streak though they still have to play Russia away – Russia should have enough to see off the Irish and progress to the finals next year, though Ireland should come second.
Italy are running away with group C and have 16 points from their first 6 matches. They are followed in second place by Slovenia on 11 points and then Northern Ireland and Serbia on 9 and 8 points respectively. Serbia started the group badly but have picked up points and form in recent months so they should be able to make it into second place behind the Azurri.
After a very shaky start which saw the French side lose to Belarus, Les Bleus have recovered well under coach Laurent Blanc and they currently sit atop group D one point ahead of Belarus and 3 in front of Bosnia. Romania are also still in the hunt for second place but will need some big results over the weekend. France will make it with the Romanians coming second.
Like Germany, Holland have also won all of their games – six wins from six matches – and are almost qualified for the finals, indeed, their run of victories has taken them to the top of the FIFA rankings. Sweden are favourites to come second as they have only lost once and are three points clear of third place Hungary so they should qualify again for a major finals.
There are three teams battling it out in group F with Greece leading both Israel and Croatia by a point though the Israeli side has played a game more. Former European Champions Greece look favourites to make it through Croatia have started to find their form and will push them hard.
It all appeared so simple for England but some sloppy home draws has meant that they must win away at second place Montenegro in order to guarantee first place. Both sides have 11 points and are involved in a straight battle at the top with a disappointing Switzerland languishing in third place 6 points back. England should do it but it will be close.
After a slow start the Portuguese have come good and now lead the group – though only on goal difference. They will not have it all their own way as they will have to overcome both Denmark and Norway who also have ten points. This one is too close to call but it would be a huge surprise if the Portuguese side does not make it to the finals.
Spain are the current holders of both the European Championship, the World Cup and have won all five of their group matches yet FIFA does not feel that they are the best team in the world! They have all but guaranteed a qualifying spot while it increasingly looks as if the Czech Republic will secure the runners-up spot unless Scotland win their game in hand and claw back the five point defect.
top the group: The team is in first place, they are leading
barring a miracle: As long as nothing remarkable happens, there should be no surprises
have a game in hand: The team has played one game fewer
are locked on 13 points apiece: The teams are all on the same points, there is nothing to chosse between them
an impressive unbeaten streak: The team has not lost in a long time
to see off: To beat
are running away with: The team are dominatng the group, are winning comfortably
respectively: Each one
Les Bleus: the nickname of the French team
sit atop: To be leading the group, to be winning the group
are also still in the hunt for: The team still has a chance
battling it out: Fighting for the lead
sloppy: Messy, careless
to guarantee: To officially/certainly make it, to qualify
languishing: struggling, performing poorly
on goal difference: A way of separating teams on the same points
is too close to call: It is difficult to predict
all but guaranteed: Almost certainly
will secure: the team will qualify
claw back: To come back, to overturn