October 26, 2007

Euro Cup 2008: Four teams book Finals place

The European Nations Cup, Euro 2008, enters its final qualifying stages next month. Following the latest qualifiers, four teams, Germany, Czech Republic, Greece and Romania, have secured places in the Finals, to be staged jointly by Austria and Switzerland next summer. But some “big names” are left sweating, uncertain about qualification and needing to put their best foot forward to avoid embarrassment.{{more}} In addition to national pride, there is the economic boon to be gained by qualifying. Estimates in England, for instance, say that that country could miss out on over US$1 billion if it fails to qualify.

Three of the biggest names in European and world football are among those still on tenterhooks. Italy, the reigning World Cup champions, and the team it beat in the 2006 Final, France, will have to wait until the last day to know if they will contest the final phases. Both, as fate would have it, were drawn in the same group, but a series of disappointing results and a miraculous run by little-fancied Scotland, leave them short of qualification. The Scots surprised the footballing world by twice beating France 1-0 and, had it not been for a loss to Georgia on Wednesday last, would have led the Group table. As it stands, the Nov. 21 Scotland vs. Italy match will be a key one, for the winner will definitely go through. On that day, too, France must at least match Scotland’s result when it visits Ukraine to be guaranteed of a place, given that the Scots have a head-to-head advantage. The brightest spot in France’s last two victories was striker Thierry Henry’s feat of surpassing the great Michel Platini as France’s top scorer. He now has 43, two more than Platini.

1966 world champion team England, hyped up by its powerful media, suffered a big let-down in a 1-2 loss in Russia, and now only has a slim chance of qualifying. England must not only beat Croatia at Wembley next month, but also hope that Russia does not win both its remaining matches, otherwise it will be England-OUT, Russia-IN. Croatia needs just one point from two matches to be sure of a place.

Other teams looking likely to qualify are Poland from a group where Portugal, Finland and Serbia are all still in contention; Norway with a two-point lead and home advantage over Turkeyin the last-day decider; Sweden, needing just one point more and likely to be joined by Spain from its group; and Holland, the favourite to join Romania from Group G.

The 14 qualifiers, two from each of 7 groups, will join the co-hosts, Austria and Switzerland in the Finals to be played from June7-29, 2008