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The Grateful Eight: Eight more teams book tickets to Euro 2016
Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, “The Hateful Eight” won’t be released in theaters until December, but one only has to look as far as the latest Euro 2016 qualification matches to find the grateful eight nations to have booked their tickets to France in the final game week. They’ll join fourteen other European nations to duke it out for the trophy and the winner will also join 2014 World Cup champions Germany and 2018 World Cup hosts Russia in the 2017 Confederations Cup, marking the first time three nations from the same confederation have competed in the tournament. Richard Lewis analysis the final eight sides to have kept that dream alive today by sealing qualification to Euro 2016:
Main Man: Hamdi Salihi
Rising Star: Elseid Hysaj
Manager: Gianni De Biasi
Captain: Lorik Cana
How they are shaping up: For the good or for the bad, Albania add to a multitude of smaller nations such as Wales, Northern Ireland and Iceland to have booked their place into a newly expanded Euro 2016. Albania noticeably lack big names, and while captain Lorik Cana played for Sunderland in the Premier League many dawns ago, few Albanian players ply their trade in Europe’s major five leagues.
Albania’s player pool is subject to many stars deciding to represent Belgium or Switzerland, though that could change as Gianni De Biasi’s side to begin mix it with the big boys (it might be even further restricted if FIFA recognize Kosovo). However, Albania managed scrape by in a fairly competitive qualifying group containing Portugal, Serbia, and Denmark and should they make it out of the group stages next summer with a favorable group, they’d beyond their wildest expectations.
Main Man: Vlad Chiriches
Rising Star: Constantin Budescu
Manager: Anghel Lordanescu
Captain: Razvan Rat
How they are shaping up: Romania booked their ticket to France as one of only four teams to go unbeaten throughout qualifying, although they oddly still finished behind Northern Ireland in Group F with five wins and five draws. Of the teams headed to France, only Albania allowed fewer goals than Anghel Lordanescu’s side, yet Romania’s record of only two goals allowed made up for their lack of goals.
However, twenty-six-year-old Constantin Budescu might just be able to add a few goals here and there for the team having scored twice against Faroe Islands (however much that says) in his third international cap. Former Tottenham Hotspur defender Vlad Chiriches has also resurrected his career since bench-sitting at White Hart Lane and you won’t be able to following the Romanian team in France with out seeing Razvan Rat headlines and puns. Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal often refers to the “rat race” that is the Premier League and likewise, Romania could face a “rat race” to get out of the group stages next summer.
Main Man: Thomas Muller
Rising Star: Mario Gotze
Manager: Joachim Low
Captain: Bastian Schweinsteiger
How they are shaping up: Philipp Lahm and Miroslav Klose both retired after victory at the 2014 World Cup last summer and Germany have indeed hit some bumps along their qualifying campaign, eventually topping an easy group by just one point.
In fact, second placed Poland scored nine more goals than Germany and Thomas Muller is now the main goal threat for Joachim Low’s side, with Mario Gotze, Marco Reus and Max Kruse completing a young and vibrant forward line. This fresh-faced team will look to avenge their semifinal exit at the hands of Italy at Euro 2012 and might add some interesting storylines along the way should they face England (even better, or worse for England fans if it went to penalties) or France.
Main Man: Robert Lewandowski
Rising Star: Arkadiusz Milik
Manager: Adam Nawalka
Captain: Robert Lewandowski
How they are shaping up: Portugal has Cristiano Ronaldo, you say? Small cake. Poland have Robert Lewandowski to lead them to victory. The Bayern Munich start striker captains the Polish national team and has maintained his blazing run of form over the international break, scoring three times in two international games over the past week to book Poland’s place in France.
The Poles are hardly world-beaters but managed to beat Germany and score a lot of goals on their road to Euro qualification. This past week, they drew 2-2 with Scotland and beat the Republic of Ireland 2-1. Aisde from Lewandowski, young Ajax attacker Arkadiusz Milik has also looked dangerous up front during qualification and the Poles will be eager to avenge their poor group stage exit on their home soil at Euro 2012.
Main Man: Aleksandr Kokorin
Rising Star: Denis Cheryshev
Manager: Leonid Slutsky
Captain: Roman Shirokov
How they are shaping up: Since sacking Fabio Capello, Russia have been a much improved side (haven’t we heard that before somewhere?), qualifying in second position behind Austria in Group G. Former CSKA Moscow manager Leonid Slutsky replaced Capello midway through Russia’s qualifying campaign and nicked an automatic qualification spot ahead of Sweden with four consecutive wins to close out their campaign. Football Every Day can only imagine Vladimir Putin reflecting on Russia’s qualification whilst repeatedly attempting to wipe of champagne stains after being sprayed by F1 driver Lewis Hamilton at the Olympics, then suddenly finding himself distracted by a very handsome man in the mirror.
Main Man: Marek Hamsik
Rising Star: Robert Mak
Manager: Jan Kozak
Captain: Martin Skrtel
How they are shaping up: Marek Hamsik of Serie A side Napoli lead Slovakia to their first appearance in the Euros and Premier League fans will also recognize Slovakia’s captain, Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel. Slovakia finished behind Spain in qualifying Group C after beating Luxembourg in their final qualifying match.
Main Man: Luka Modric
Rising Star: Mateo Kovacic
Manager: Ante Cacic
Captain: Darijo Srna
How they are shaping up: Croatia finished behind Italy in qualifying Group H after staying ahead of Norway despite being deducted a point for fans painting a swastika on the pitch during their match against Italy. Their two Ivans in Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic are two key performers for the Croats, who also boast Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic. Ante Cacic’s men are dark horses to make it to the quarterfinals having last appeared at that stage in 2008.
Main Man: Arda Turan
Rising Star: Hakan Calhanoglu
Manager: Fatih Terim
Captain: Arda Turan
How they are shaping up: The best third placed group finisher Turkey sealed their spot in France in dramatic fashion, knocking the Netherlands out of the tournament with a win over group runners-up Iceland. Barcelona newbie Arda Turan and Bayer Leverkusen’s Hakan Calhanoglu star for the Turks, who also boast the services of Galatasaray striker Burak Yilmaz. Turkey will be grateful for Kazakhstan, who Latvia to help them on their way to becoming the best third team in Euro qualification. Though they haven’t appeared in a World Cup since 2002, in which they finished in third place, they also made it to the semifinals in the 2008 Euros. Turkey’s star doesn’t always burn, but when it does it’s always bright.
Four more teams will join this lot and the twelve other nations to have already sealed qualification in Euro 2016, the best of eight third placed teams in the group stages (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ukraine, Republic of Ireland, Slovenia, Hungary, Sweden, Norway and Denmark) at the end of qualification playoffs. It’s all in the draw (which takes place on December 12th) and Sweden stand out as the main team to avoid. The Republic of Ireland will hope to join Northern Ireland and England in France.
Dutch Ado About Nothing!
The most notable absence from Euro 2016 is the Netherlands, who couldn’t even beat the Czech Republic to maintain hopes that Turkey might lose to Iceland (which they didn’t) and qualify for Euro 2016. The Orange Army have little to show for from qualifying and a bust-up between Robin van Persie and Memphis Depay in training only darkens the waters in which they sail.
Holland put their Blind faith in former player Danny Blind to steer them to qualification, only for Daley’s dad to lose three out of four of his first (and quite possibly last) matches in charge after replacing Guus Hiddink at the helm. Even more embarrassing for Van Persie was the fracas surrounding the own goal he scored in their 3-2 defeat to the Czech Republic today.
There was also a Greek tragedy on the final day of qualifying, as Greece finished below Faroe Islands in Group F despite winning their last game 4-3 against Hungary.
Homepage photo credit: By Tomukas - Thomas Holbach (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons