This summer is the 15th European Championships. The Championships will be held in France. The field has also been expanded for this tournament to 24 teams, up from 16. France has automatically qualified for the tourney as the hosts, and the other 23 teams will be decided based on the group stage, which wraps up in October. The top two teams from each group will advance to the tournament. The third place teams can advance to the playoffs to get in to the tournament. The best third place team will qualify automatically. Here is a quick look at the group stages and the big games left.
Iceland and the Czech Republic have clinched the top two spots in the group. This will be Iceland’s first European Championships. Turkey currently holds the third spot, but the Netherlands are close behind, trailing by just two points. Turkey still has a trip to the Czech Republic and Iceland. The Dutch meanwhile have to travel to Kazakhstan and host the Czech Republic. This could be the first time that the Dutch do not qualify for the Euros since 1984.
Wales have been one of the hottest teams in the world lately and they sit atop Group B with Belgium sitting in second. Both of those teams are guaranteed a top 3 spot. Israel sits in third but is only two points above Bosnia and Herzegovina with two matches left. Wales are on the brink of qualifying for the European Championships for the first time in their history.
Spain and Slovakia are tied atop group C, and Ukraine is just three points behind them. These three teams will finish as the top three, but in what order is the question. Next week we see Slovakia and Ukraine face off in Zilina and Spain travels to Macedonia. Then in October, Spain faces Luxembourg and travels to Ukraine, Slovakia hosts Belarus and travels to Luxembourg, meanwhile Ukraine travels to Macedonia before they host Spain.
Germany established themselves at the top of the group when they beat Poland 4-1 this week. Poland sits in second place in the group and looks set to qualify. The third place spot is down to Ireland and Scotland battling it out.
England has qualified for the tournament, as a perfect 7 for 7 in the group. Switzerland is in second and has a five-point advantage over Estonia. The battle for third will be between Estonia, Slovenia, and Lithuania. San Marino has yet to score a goal and are the only team not to have scored so far.
Group F also features another possible new entrant to the European Championships with Northern Ireland sitting atop the group. They have guaranteed at least a top 3 finish in the group. Romania sits one point behind Northern Ireland. Hungary currently is in third, three points back. Finland could also qualify but need some help.
Austria is on the brink of qualifying for their first European Championships. They did participate in 2008 when they cohosted with Switzerland. Sweden and Russia sit in the next two spots with Montenegro and Liechtenstein sitting on the outside looking in.
Italy, Norway, and Croatia are all battling it out for the top three spots in Group H. Italy has 18 points, Norway 16, and Croatia 15 points. Italy travels to Azerbaijan and hosts Norway. Norway also hosts Malta. Croatia hosts Bulgaria and travels to Malta.
Portugal, Denmark and Albania are sitting in the top 3 spots of the final group. They are all guaranteed to finish in the top 3. Portugal hosts Denmark before facing Serbia. Albania hosts Serbia and goes on the road to Armenia. Denmark has just the one game against Portugal.
There is a bit of a wait till the final rounds, but it will be fun to watch some new countries qualify for the European Championships.
Summer Transfer Window Recap
Best Transfer fit of the summer…
James’ Pick – Nathaniel Clyne – Southampton to Liverpool for 17.6 million Euros – After a superb showing for Southampton last season, he now gets an opportunity to play in the big matches. Liverpool seriously needed help at the back line and they couldn’t have done better than Clyne on the left. He will be a cornerstone there for years to come.
My pick – Edin Dzeko – Manchester City to Roma on Loan – the big striker will give Roma a new option and can be the player they need to push Juventus. He was not always a regular with City but did convert when he got the chance. He needed a new scene and this could be the perfect fit for him.
Best Free Transfer of the summer …
James’ Pick – Andre Ayew – Marseille to Swansea – In a few words…Wow. His first couple matches have done nothing but inspire Swansea fans and make every other English team question why they didn’t jump on a free transfer. Fluent up the middle with passes, see his last assist to Gomis, added with the ability to put the ball away in front of the net, he is truly the full package.
My pick – Rafael van der Vaart – Hamburg to Real Betis – He will add a dynamic ability to the midfield and can dictate the pace. While he may be a bit older now, he will be the leader in their midfield. They will need his playmaking ability and he has always been a great quality.
Most Surprising Transfer of the summer…
James’ Pick – Anthony Martial – Monaco to Manchester United for 49 million Euros – I can’t necessarily question his ability as to what he has done in the French league. He has looked strong, is young, and could very well become a true star. Many have compared him to Henry. But could ManU have used the OBSCENE amount of money to address their need at striker as well as other positions? I tend to think so…
My pick – Arturo Vidal – Juventus to Bayern Munich for 37 million Euros – The German champs poached a great midfielder from the defending Italian Champs. Vidal had a great performance at the Copa America and was rewarded with a move to the German champions.
Biggest Transfer Blunder…
James and I both feel it has to be the David De Gea saga. A transfer that seemed for sure to happen this summer went array on the final day, as the teams did not complete the paperwork. Who is to blame? Real Madrid did not get the paperwork done but did they get it in time? If you believe the rumors, then Real Madrid might not have had the money or wanted to spend the money. This was a debacle and the real loser has to be De Gea.
Biggest Waste of Money Transfer …
James’ Pick – Alvaro Negredo – Manchester City to Valencia for 30 million Euros –He did very little at Man City, though I understand he was behind Aguero…but he was hurt!! He had opportunities and I feel he completely underwhelmed. 30Mil to me for this type of player, I am not a fan of it.
My pick – Anthony Martial – Monaco to Manchester United for 49 million Euros – Monaco have to be laughing their way to the bank, as they cashed in the money on a player that had only played a full 90 minutes for Monaco 5 times. He is a very good young talent, but the most expensive teenager ever has a huge price tag to live up to.
Transfer that made no sense…
James’ Pick – Javier Hernandez – Manchester United to Bayer Leverkusen for 13 million Euros – Lots of money for a player that I truly don’t see making a big difference.
My pick – Papy Djilobodji – Nantes to Chelsea for 5.5 million Euros – A player who was left off the Chelsea roster for Champions League, which begs the question why spend the money on a center back. According to Philippe Auclair on the Guardian’s Football Weekly podcast, he is rubbish but we will see.
Team with the best summer…
James’ Pick – Roma. Smart moves, addressed needs, and early form has shown a complete success. Add in the early win over Juve and you have the team that is the early favorite to take the league.
My pick – Atletico Madrid – Hands down, the best summer for me. They strengthened all three phases of the game and were smart about their purchases. They brought back Filipe Luis from Chelsea, and added Stefan Savic to strengthen their defense. They added Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco and Bernard Mensah in the midfield. They also added Jackson Martinez and Luciano Vietto to their front line. Atleti have rearmed and are looking to challenge for the title.
We will be back to our weekly top 5 games pick ‘em on Friday.