Euro 2016 qualifiers are happening this week and there have been some pretty big upsets already. Slovakia beat Spain, Poland beat Germany and Iceland beat Netherlands. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t mean crap now that qualification is so outrageously easy for the top teams.
Starting with the 2016 qualifiers, qualification expanded from 16 to 24 teams out of 54 nations. This means that 45 percent of these countries will qualify. And that includes countries like Gibraltar, Faroe Islands and San Marino, who are going to be lucky just to score a goal, much less even get close to advancing to the tournament.
In this tournament, there are nine groups and the top two teams automatically advance. The third place teams get placed together where the top third place team advances while the other eight play in a home-and-home for the final four spots.
At one time, it was an achievement just to qualify for the Euro’s. In 1992, the final year where only eight teams qualified, 23 percent of nations involved advanced to the tournament. When the field expanded to 16 in 1996, after the fall of the Soviet Union, 33 percent of nations involved advanced. At 45 percent for 2016, qualifying is so watered down now that the top teams can qualify while being half asleep and really makes qualifying like a formality.
Looking at these groups more closely, unless a top European team is completely inept, they are still going to easily advance. For example, Netherlands is in Group A and it seems as if they’re doing the worst so far among the top European teams. After three of ten games, they are in third place with three points, behind undefeated Iceland and Czech Republic with nine points.
Considering the top two teams automatically advance, the Netherlands are still in the drivers seat. The final three teams are Latvia, Kazakhstan and Turkey so they should be cannon fodder for the other three teams. That leaves Iceland, Czech Republic and Netherlands. Two of the Netherlands three games were away against Iceland and the Czech Republic and the Dutch lost both.
The Netherlands’ toughest part of the schedule is over with so they’re still good to beat at least one of them. And in the off chance they don’t finish in the top two, they still have the fall back option of being third.
Another group to look at is Group E. England is in this group and boy is it an easy group. They’re paired with Slovenia, Lithuania, Estonia, Switzerland and San Marino. Except for Switzerland, who is England’s only real threat, England is a lock for advancing to the Euro’s. It could be ten players plus me every game and England should still easily advance.
So why are these top teams losing? It could be because teams like Spain, Germany and the Netherlands are treating these games like friendlies and are just focusing on not getting hurt because they know they’re advancing anyway. There’s no incentive to win the group or finish runner up, all you need is a top three spot.
So while it’s fascinating to see Poland upset the World Cup champions in a “competitive” match, it really is just a glorified friendly because we all know in the end, Germany will still be playing in France in 2016. And when that time comes, the real world champs will come out.