The Euro 2016 qualifying playoff round begins tomorrow, as 8 teams battle for the final four spots in the tournament this upcoming summer in France. Here is a quick reminder of who has already qualified for the 15th edition of the European Championships: France, England Czech Republic, Iceland, Austria, Northern Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Italy, Belgium, Wales, Romania, Albania, Germany, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Croatia and Turkey. The field has been expanded this year to have 24 teams. That means that there are four spots left. Over the next 6 days, we will know who has one of those 4 spots. Each of the teams will play a home and away game with another country; winner gets the spot, loser watches from home. Here is just a quick preview of each team and the match-up for you.
Ukraine vs. Slovenia
First Leg – November 14th at Arena Lviv, Lviv, Ukraine
Second Leg – November 17th at Ljudski vrt, Maribor, Slovenia
What to know about Ukraine – Ukraine had a very good qualifying round and narrowly missed out on the second spot in Group C. They conceded just 4 goals in 10 games. They were led by Andriy Yarmolenko with his 4 goals. They are really driven by their midfield and will look for them to take charge over the two legs and be the difference.
What to know about Slovenia – Slovenia barely made it to this stage as they were tied for the fewest points of all third-place sides. That doesn’t mean that they cannot be a surprise team again this year. This could be their second ever appearance in the European Championships. They made it to the summer tournament in 2000 when they won in the playoff rounds against Ukraine. They won the first round at home then drew in Ukraine. Can they do the same this week?
Player to Watch –Yevhen Konoplyanka, this Sevilla winger is finally getting his feet set for Sevilla and has been playing some really entertaining football. He will be the difference for Ukraine and one of the most talented players on the field.
Prediction – Ukraine should have just too much talent on the field and easily advance.
Sweden vs. Denmark
First Leg – November 14th at Friends Arena, Solna, Sweden
Second Leg – November 17th at Telia Parken, Copenhagen, Denmark
What to know about Sweden – To say Sweden is not carried by Zlatan would be an understatement. The PSG man has scored more than half their goals in the qualifying rounds and will be the focal point through which they attack. Erkan Zengin did chip in with 3 goals. Sweden is at an interesting time as their best players are getting to the 30 year old mark. It will be time to see players like John Guidetti, Emil Forsberg, and Jimmy Durmaz show their quality now.
What to know about Denmark – This is the last hurrah for long time manager Morton Olson as he announced that he will retire after the campaign following 15 years in charge of Denmark. His side will be led by Christian Eriksen. The creative midfielder has been great for Tottenham this season and will look to carry his side to the summer tournament. Nicklas Bendtner was their leading scorer in the qualifying rounds with 2 goals. Denmark won this tournament in 1992 in Sweden. Can they find some more magic in Sweden to advance to the tournament?
Player to Watch – Zlatan Ibrahimovic, The big Swede has been on fire for Paris Saint-Germain and this could be his last chance at European glory. Zlatan tied for third in terms of qualifying goals with 8 goals during the qualifying matches.
Prediction – Both teams will look to be strong at the back and then have one or two players create the goal scoring chances. It might come down to who finishes the chances they are given between Zlatan and Bendtner. I am going with Sweden to advance.
Bosnia and Herzegovina vs. Republic of Ireland
First Leg – November 13th at Bilino Polje, Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Second Leg – November 16th at Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Ireland
What to know about Bosnia and Herzegovina – Bosnia has become one of the most enjoyable sides to watch in the world in recent years. They qualified for the group stage in the 2014 World Cup for their first ever tournament. The question is now can they qualify for the countries first ever European Championships? They are led by captain Edin Dzeko and goalkeeper Asmir Begovic. In the midfield they have free kick specialist in Miralem Pjanic.
What to know about Ireland – Robbie Keane has led his country back to the playoffs and hopes to get one final shot at European glory. Ireland was close to qualifying automatically when they knocked off the World Champions, Germany. They had a chance to advance if they could beat Poland on the last match day but came up just short. Keane scored 5 goals, but his teammate Shane Long probably scored the biggest goal of the round when he scored against Germany. Can they make their third European Championships?
Player to Watch – Edin Dzeko, the Bosnian striker scored 7 goals in the qualifying round and will lead the line for Bosnia Herzegovina. He will most likely have chances in the two games, and if he takes them then look for them to advance.
Prediction – Bosnia and Herzegovina should qualify for their first ever European Championships.
Norway vs. Hungary
First Leg – Ullevaal Stadion, Oslo, Norway
Second Leg – November 15th at Groupama Arena, Budapest, Hungary
What to know about Norway – They have been built by Per-Mathias Hogmo as a young talented team that is getting ready to challenge the bigger sides. They are looking to qualify for their second European Championship. They are led by Captain Per Cijan Skjelbred and Norwich City midfielder Alexander Tettey. Hogmo was in need of goals, as his side only scored 13 goals in their 10 games. The manager called in Marcus Pedersen into his side. Goals might be an issue, but Norway is an exciting team to watch. Martin Odegaard, the Real Madrid B prospect is also in the side.
What to know about Hungary – Hungary were minutes away from qualifying for their first European Championship since 1972. They have qualified for two tournaments in 1964 and 1972. In these two they finished in third and fourth place, respectively. Daniel Bode was the leading scorer for Hungary with 2 goals. One name that might sound familiar in the states is Krisztian Nemeth, as he plays for Sporting Kansas City. Nemeth also scored two goals in qualifying matches. Hungary will play a solid team game and will hope to end their tournament drought.
Player to Watch – Alexander Tetty, if Norway is to advance, then it will come down to how Tettey plays. The midfielder is given a more creative role with this Norway team and could be the difference.
Prediction – The wait for Hungary will continue as Norway will get goals from somewhere and advance.
Enjoy the games this week and I’ll be back next week to preview the games the following weekend.