Some teams have already advanced to the final tournament next June, and some have no hope whatsoever. However, here is a pick of 5 crucial clashes, which will be tense and nervy for the teams involved, but mouth watering for any neutral onlookers. There are sides still hoping for automatic qualification, or a play off place, but in some cases some teams need to win every game to stand any chances.
Slovakia v Russia
Group B is looking like one of the toughest groups of qualification, where potentially 4 teams are hoping to get in the top 2, or importantly 1st place. There are 2 games left for all the teams, but none are bigger than this fixture. Slovakia are 4th with 14 points, 3 points behind Russia who are first. Slovakia won in Russia, and completing the double against them will put them in a strong position to qualify. For Russia, a win here would almost secure 1st place. They would remain 1st, regardless of other results and host Andorra at home in their final match. Russia failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, and missing two tournaments in a row would hurt their fans. Slovakia qualified for the 2010 World Cup, and managed to get to the second round, before losing to finalists Holland in the final. Ireland and Armenia will keep a close eye on this fixture, as both of them still have high hopes of qualifying themselves. All the teams have their destiny in their hands, and will be exciting to see how things unfold. The Russian team hasn’t changed much from each campaign, as they would rather rely on experienced players, like Arshavin, Zhirkov and Zyryanov.
Greece v Croatia
Greece and Croatia were both given kind draws for their groups, and both have been flawless in most of their matches. Croatia and Greece are 1st and 2nd respectively in their group. When these sides met last time it was 0-0 in Croatia, therefore giving Greece home advantage here. Despite the tame draw at home to Greece, Croatia have won all games with the exception of their defeat in Georgia. Greece are undefeated in the group, but have drawn 3 games, so sit a point behind Croatia. If Greece win, they will be favourites to automatically progress to the European Championships, despite facing a tricky trip to Georgia on the last day. Both of these sides have been quite apparent in previous European Championships. Of course, Greece won the tournament back in 2004, which literally shocked all football fans. Since then, they tournaments have been a disappointment. Croatia were quarter finalists in Euro 2008, and were close to getting even further in the competition. Greece are a solid team, and they will have to be here, to try and stop the likes of Modric and co who will try and unlock their defence. Croatia players are better on the ball, but experience may drive them to victory here. Croatia will settle for a draw here, as they will still be in pole position, a win here would secure their place at next year’s tournament.
Montenegro v England
Last time these two teams faced each other, Montenegro walked off the pitch keeping their 4th consecutive clean sheet, frustrating England in a 0-0 draw. Since then, England have been the stronger, and because of their position, avoiding defeat will secure their place in the European Championships. Montenegro’s best hope of qualifying is getting 2nd place, instead of Switzerland. Switzerland are currently 3 points behind Montenegro, and the two sides face each other next Tuesday, and that will be crucial. However, if Montenegro want 1st place, then they will have to win both games, including this one against England. England’s away form has been perfect in this campaign. Wins at Switzerland, Wales and Bulgaria, and all of them with relative ease. Montenegro will be a tougher place to go to, a more hostile place for the visitors. Wales and Switzerland have lost there, and Bulgaria were fortunate to get a point. England are always considered as strong candidates to win a major tournament, but in reality there are a long way from the likes of Spain, Germany and Holland. Capello may need to breed more youth in the team, and with 9 months left to the tournament, Friday night is where it could all start. For England tomorrow, the main man to look out for is Mirko Vucinic, now playing his trade at Juventus. He has more experience and quality than most of his team mates, and all their attacks will come through him, so certainly a one to watch.
Turkey v Germany
Germany have already qualified, but there is never a small match when they are involved, especially when they face Turkey, a side who hope to join them next summer. Turkey, managed by Guus Hiddink are going toe to toe with Belgium, but have a 2 point advantage, and both teams play Germany, although the Turks are home for their tie. Germany have a 100% record in qualifying and will want to continue it here. This is the 20th time these two sides have met, and Turkey’s 4th win of these fixtures would put them in a commanding position to finish 2nd. When these two sides met last time, Germany ran out comfortable 3-0 winners, with goals from Ozil and Klose. The most notable match in between these two teams was the 3-2 win for Germany in the European Championships 2008. Philip Lahm’s last minute won the match to put the Germans in the final. Guus Hiddink has been successful for all the national teams he has managed, and never failed to qualify for a tournament with them, and once again a team of his are in a great position to advance. Germany have never won in Turkey, so that’s another incentive for an away win here. Both of these teams play open attractive football, and Germany may want to play a more youthful team, so I am hoping for goals in this match.