With the expansion from a 16-team format to a 24-team format for Euro 2016, you’d think there would be no margin for error for the game’s more talented countries in Europe in terms of qualifying for next year’s tournament in France. However, as we’ve seen at the halfway point for qualification, there can be plenty of room to not be able to deliver on expectations. While some countries appear to be certainties to qualify on paper, it’s become clearer and clearer that it doesn’t necessarily translate to results on the pitch. Because of that, we’ll be looking at 10 countries who, at this stage in the game, could easily fail to reach the tournament by the time qualifying has come and gone.
Although some of these teams are currently third in their qualifying group, their odds of making it to the tournament would – with the exception of the third-place team with the most points, who would then qualify automatically – hinge on if they win their two-leg playoff with any of the other third-place finishers. In the case of other teams on this list, they’re currently sitting toward the bottom of their group, disappointingly short of the automatic qualification place people expected them to be in (and still do). Whether it’s bad coaching, underwhelming performances on the pitch, or just pure bad luck, these teams aren’t exactly making other more powerful countries shake in their boots like they’ve been capable of sometimes doing in the past.
Whatever happens, it’ll be interesting to see if these countries will pick themselves up and regain the place in their group that they theoretically should’ve had all along, or if they will continue to fall apart and miss out on a place at next summer’s showpiece event for European football. Here are those 10 countries.
After making their maiden appearance at the 2014 World Cup last summer, Bosnia-Herzegovina were expected to finish just below Belgium in Group B, even if they crashed out of their group at last summer’s tournament. With players like Edin Dzeko and Miralem Pjanic among their ranks, who would have thought otherwise? Unfortunately, they went winless in their first four matches, including losses against Cyprus and Israel, and manager Safet Susic got the axe as a result. They do have one win under their belt under new manager Mehmed Bazdarevic, but against minnows Andorra. With Israel and Wales producing good results so far, qualifying may be a mountain to climb.
Who’d have thought it? After they made it somewhat unexpectedly to the round of 16 in last summer’s World Cup, Greece were expected to be the winners of a very weak Group F, where the next biggest threat is arguably Romania. However, they’ve done exactly the opposite, not having won a single game in their first five, including a shameful 1-0 loss to the Faroe Islands. This loss proved to be the catalyst for the sacking of Claudio Ranieri as manager after just four matches in charge, and Uruguayan coach Sergio Markarian is now faced with having to make up for lost time.
There have been times where Montenegro makes it so close to qualifying for their first major tournament since separating from Serbia, but end up falling just short. There is no better example of this than when Montenegro finished behind England in their qualifying group for Euro 2012 before losing to the Czech Republic in the playoff. This time, Stevan Jovetic, Mirko Vucinic and co might not even get a chance to make it back to that stage of qualifying, considering they’re sitting fourth in a strong Group G with Austria, Sweden and Russia all ahead of them. At the moment, they may be lucky that two of their next three qualifiers are against Liechtenstein and Moldova.
Nobody would’ve predicted this at the beginning of qualifying. Third place in a qualifying group would be an achievement for a less-heralded footballing nation, but for the Netherlands, it’s pretty embarrassing. With Guus Hiddink now very much under the gun, the Oranje will have to make up for a record that includes two losses in their first five qualifiers, as they now sit behind the Czech Republic and Iceland. For the 2014 World Cup third-place finishers, the second half of their qualifying campaign will be a true test of their resilience, despite the fact that their best players are arguably aging.
The team that was inexplicably ranked 12th in the world when the qualifying groups for the 2014 World Cup were announced still have yet to qualify for a major tournament since Euro 2000, and they’ve gone into free fall since then, at least in terms of ranking – they’re currently 70th in the world. They do, however, sit third behind Croatia and Italy in Group H, with Bulgaria the only team below them that could really threaten their odds of making it to the playoff round. However, the Norwegian team isn’t known for being a world-beater despite their previous high ranking, and they likely won’t make either of the two nations above them lose sleep at night.
5 Republic of Ireland
The fact that they’re in a group with Germany, Poland and Scotland is a tricky proposition to begin with, but the Republic of Ireland sit in fourth below all three of those countries halfway through their qualifying campaign, and now have some serious ground to make up if they want to make it to their second straight Euro tournament. Admittedly, their leader and arguably still best player is aging LA Galaxy striker Robbie Keane, and there’s nobody in the pipeline who could one day replicate what he’s done for the Green Army over the course of his international career. Regardless, failure to even make the playoff round will be a disappointment.
Unlike Group G leaders Austria and Sweden, Russia have a loss within their first five games, suffered through a 1-0 loss to the Austrians while acting as the visiting team. They’ve still got more a better goal differential than Sweden – a team that boasts arguably one of the best strikers in the world even for his age in the form of Zlatan Ibrahimovic – but one of their wins was a 3-0 result handed to them after their game against Montenegro was abandoned. They’ve got a talented enough bunch of players under Fabio Capello, but the 2018 World Cup hosts will need to prove they can actually win games in this group, especially since their next two fixtures are against the group leaders.
This is a classic case of having a very talented group of players who play for some of Europe’s biggest clubs, but not being able to have that group of players gel as a team. Despite having players like Branislav Ivanovic, Nemanja Matic, Dusan Tadic, Lazar Markovic and many other solid footballers in their arsenal, results from their qualifying campaign have been underwhelming to say the least. The team only has one point in their group despite being awarded a 3-0 victory against Albania, as they were deducted three points for their fans invading the ground to attack some Albanian players. Because of that, they’ll have quite a task on their hands even making the playoff round in a small group including Portugal and Denmark.
Okay, so even if Switzerland simply make the playoff round from Group E, it might not be such a bad thing. However, a team ranked 12th in the world should, by all accounts, be ahead of a team like the 48th-ranked Slovenia, who sit ahead of them based on the fact that Slovenia beat them 1-0 in October. This is despite the fact that Switzerland have a superior goal difference, and it’ll be up to a team featuring Xherdan Shaqiri, Gokhan Inler and the exciting teenager Breel Embolo to make up the difference and automatically qualify for next year’s tournament in France.
Led by players like Arda Turan, Selcuk Inan and Hakan Calhanoglu, this Turkish team should be quite a bit better than it actually is. Unfortunately, they’re ranked 52nd in the world, and their luck in this year’s qualifying campaign is reflective of that: with only one win and two losses against Iceland and the Czech Republic, Turkey are fourth in their qualifying group with only five points to their name. There’s quite a lot of ground to make up, but if they do make it, expect them to possibly make serious noise: they finished third at the 2002 World Cup and in the semifinals at Euro 2008.