Do we really need 24 countries to play in the European Championships?

Do we really need 24 countries to play in the European Championships?  I don’t think so.  I know that the whole world falls in love with soccer every 4 years when the World Cup is played, but I have always felt that the European Championships were a better tournament and tougher to win.  Think about what the knockout stages have looked like in recent history.  In the 2012 quarterfinals, you had Spain vs. France and England vs. Italy.  These led to semi-finals of Portugal vs. Spain and Germany vs. Italy.  In 2008, you had Portugal vs. Germany and Spain vs. Italy.  With 16 teams and the majority of them coming from the top 30 teams in the world, you got mouthwatering matches.  You saw the best teams in the world face off with other top nations and fantastic tactical battles.  My big fear is the with 24 teams, the field will be water downed.  There will be less of a chance of getting a group like this: Netherlands, Italy, Romania, and France.  It will be interesting to see this play out over the next two years, but let’s hope that we still get mouthwatering matches and not a quarterfinal of Cyprus or Albania vs. Germany.  Yes.  Right now, Cyprus and Albania are in a place that they would play a home and away match to qualify for the tournament.

This leads to the results of the week.  First we should start by listing an interesting group of 9 teams: Czech Republic, Israel, Slovakia, Poland, England, Romania, Austria, Croatia, and Denmark.  For those of you wondering, those are your group leaders in the qualifying tables.  Read those names again and you will see how oddly these matches have gone.

In Group A, Netherlands got back on track with a huge 6-0 win.  If you get a chance, watch both of Arjen Robben’s goals. WOW and WOW.  Their win puts them in third place behind the Czech Republic and Iceland.

Group B might be the biggest shock of all of the groups.  With both Belgium and Bosnia right now on the outside  looking in, Israel and Wales are in the top 2 spots. Wales got a huge result in Belgium with a 0-0 draw to keep them 3 points ahead of Belgium.  Cyprus sits in 3rd after scoring 5 past Andorra.

Group D has Poland and Germany in the top two spots after two great performances from both teams.  Germany only managed 4 against Gibraltar, so kudos to Gib for keeping it at 4.  PS, how far will Manuel Neuer get up the pitch this year?  Will he have a touch in the opponent’s 6 yard box??? Scotland is the best 3rd place team after their 1-0 victory over Ireland.

Group F is fascinating.  Romania is on top with 10 points.  Then it gets crazy.  Northern Ireland is in 2nd place with 9 points and Hungary is in third place with 7 points.  However, the result of the weekend was the Faroe Islands winning 1-0 in Athens over Greece.  Greece is currently 18th according to the FIFA rankings.  Can you guess what the Faroe Islands is ranked??  Let me help you out…187th.  What a great result for them and a shocking upset.

The craziest match of the weekend had to happen in Milan.  Croatia and Italy faced off for the top spot in Group H.  In the second half, fans starting hurling flairs onto the pitch.  They came flying in from the Croatian fans and landed on the pitch.  The match was suspended for a while, but Italy was able to hold on for a point to keep the two teams even on ten points.

While there is still a ton of time left in the qualifying rounds, the start has been quite enteratiningand it should be even more interesting as we get closer to see what new nations qualify for the tournament.

GOAL OF THE WEEK…In the middle of Spain vs. Belarus, Isco scored a fantastic goal.  If you have not seen this goal yet, I highly recommend looking it up on youtube or vine as it is very special.  He is a brilliant young midfielder and it will be interesting to see how he continues to grow if he keeps scoring like that.

There are a bunch of International friendly matches this week with 22 games on Tuesday.  Some big ones of note are…

Ronaldo vs. Messi (the top two players in the world)

Scotland vs. England,  the battle of Britain!!

Spain vs. Germany – The last two World Champions

Ireland vs. USA – I mean USA! USA!

There is African Nations Cup qualifying but I will talk more about that when the African Nations Cup starts in January of 2015

Lastly, the Balon d’Or shortlist came out a couple weeks ago and it was very fascinating to see who was on the list, but to me more interesting was who was not.  The big omission to me was Luis Suarez of Barcelona, and formerly of Liverpool.  I do not know how many of you watched last season, but he was arguably the best player in the world…until he decided to bite someone at the World Cup.  Now don’t get me wrong, I do not agree with biting someone and he was punished and should have been, but that does not mean he is still not one of the 32 best players in the world.  If he did not bite someone, he would be in Zurich for the award ceremony as a top 3 finisher.  He should have been on the shortlist for the award.  I don’t think he should win this award, but he should have made the shortlist.  Case and point, look at Liverpool without him.  The award should, and most likely will, go to Ronaldo.  He led Real Madrid to la Decima.  That’s enough to win you this trophy.  I would like to see Neuer be in the final three, but that won’t happen since he plays in goal.  It will probably be Ronaldo, Messi, and a German Bayern Munich player.  My money would be on  Müller or Götze.

Last note, Diego Simeone should win the Coach of the Year.  I don’t think any of the other ten names should even be realistically considered, except for Ancelotti, but what Simeone did last season was remarkable.

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