Mike Gibbons

Mike Gibbons is an aspiring young journalist from the UK who has followed the World Cup with passion from an early age. He will share his views about the past, present and future of this event.

Mail Mike

Read earlier columns

European Championship Qualifying - The Story So Far

    It's not that far away you know. In a mere 482 days as I write (and yes I've accounted for the fact 2008 is a leap year) the European Championships will kick off in Austria and Switzerland. With the recent election for the UEFA Presidency the tournament has been much in the news - we should at this point say congratulations to Michel Platini, although his (vote-grabbing off smaller federations) stance of taking on the G14 and making reductions to the number of entrants into the Champions League for the bigger countries has about as much chance of success as a sheet of paper blocking the path of a wrecking ball.

    Both Platini and Johansson have made encouraging noises about expanding the European Championships to 24 teams. This I think would be a disaster for a tournament that is perfectly balanced at present - sixteen teams is the right number and produces a high quality first round, just three years ago the Finals in Portugal gave us the hosts against Spain, a renewal of the rivalry between the Netherlands and Germany, France versus England and best of all that epic in Aveiro between the Czech Republic and the aforementioned Dutch, probably the best international match I've ever seen. This, remember, is before we even get to the drama of the knockout stages.

    If we also take into account Euro 2000, the best international tournament in my football watching lifetime, then although it's heresy to say it on a World Cup website this is the highest quality competition going in international football and it really doesn't need to be messed with. The theory is that both Platini and Johansson used the idea (originally put forth by Scotland, who have only ever qualified for the Championships twice) to curry favour with and win votes from the smaller federations in UEFA, and let's hope that is the case. Asides from diluting the quality of the football by admitting eight welterweight teams of modest ambition I'm sure we all remember the 24-team World Cups of 1982-1994 and the logistical nightmare of getting it to the knockout phase, whereby a Uruguayan Aussie Rules team could make the last sixteen in 1986 by bludgeoning their way to two draws and a defeat, conceding seven and scoring only twice.

    Economics will out I guess, and this ludicrous idea will probably see the light of day, maybe as early as the 2012 Championships mooted to be in Italy. Until then we should enjoy the Championships in 2008 that are slowly but surely creeping their way into our sights. The co-hosts certainly should, as Austria have never qualified for the European Championships and will be making their first appearance at any tournament since France 98. The Swiss made one token appearance in England in 1996, holding the hosts to a draw before losing to the Netherlands and Scotland.

    So who will be joining them for the big jamboree in central Europe? There are fourteen places up for grabs, and roughly a third of the way through qualifying, this is where we stand.


    This is the big one - not because the stakes are high, more for the scale of the group itself with an idiotic eight teams fighting for two places. That means fourteen games for every team, the longest qualifying haul in European history, a big slog with plenty of time for recovery although Belgium may have blown it already. They drew with Kazahkstan and lost to Poland at home in the autumn, coupled with an away defeat to Serbia means they are staring down the barrel of failing to qualify for back-to-back international tournaments for the first time since the Seventies.

    Finland are the surprise package so far, topping the group and unbeaten in five games including a win in Poland and a draw at home with group favourites Portugal. With games in hand it still looks set up for Portugal to come through and qualify with some ease from this group, although a surprise defeat in Poland in October has given the Poles hope that they can make up for their abysmal showing in Germany last year. Serbia, now independent of Montenegro, were statistically the worst team in the World Cup but are ticking along nicely with three wins and a draw.

1.Finland 5 3 2 0 7- 2 11 2.Serbia 4 3 1 0 6- 1 10 3.Poland 5 3 1 1 6- 5 10 4.Portugal 4 2 1 1 8- 3 7 5.Belgium 5 2 1 2 4- 2 7 6.Kazakhstan 5 0 2 3 1- 7 2 7.Armenia 4 0 1 3 0- 5 1 8.Azerbaijan 4 0 1 3 1- 8 1

    This group has been all about the resurrection of Scotland so far - having beaten the Faeroe Islands and Lithuania they surpassed themselves in October with a 1-0 win over World Cup finalists France. The euphoria has since been checked with a defeat to the Ukraine and Walter Smith, the manager behind the transformation, leaving his post to manage Glasgow Rangers.

    France and Italy resumed hostilities in September with France gaining a modicum of revenge for their Berlin heartbreak with a 3-1 win in Paris. Italy have had a turbulent time since their triumph last July, with their domestic league imploding as a competition amidst corruption and violence and the national team having teething trouble under new manager Roberto Donadoni. Interestingly the Italians also struggled after winning the World Cup in 1982, winning only one game in a doomed attempt to qualify for Euro 84. Despite their poor start a repeat is unlikely and a pair of routine wins over the Ukraine and Georgia have put them back in the picture.

1.Scotland 4 3 0 1 9- 3 9 2.France 4 3 0 1 11- 2 9 3.Italy 4 2 1 1 7- 5 7 4.Ukraine 3 2 0 1 5- 4 6 5.Lithuania 3 1 1 1 3- 3 4 6.Georgia 4 1 0 3 9- 9 3 7.Faroe Islands 4 0 0 4 0-18 0

    Welcome to what is essentially the South-Eastern Europe qualifying zone - plus Norway. This group is headed by those cheery, good-natured rivals Greece and Turkey, each having racked up an impeccable three wins out of three so far. They meet in Athens in March to decide the group leadership at this early juncture, shinpads would be a good idea. Turkey thus far have been playing there home matches in Frankfurt by way of punishment for the Wild West scenes against the Swiss last year.

    Greece of course are the incumbent champions of Europe after their spectacular run in Portugal four years ago. One point to note here is that should they qualify they will automatically be seeded, as will the hosts Austria and Switzerland, leaving only one seed required for the remaining group, likely to be Italy or France. When the draw happens there will be some very dangerous sharks in the water and a group - perhaps two groups - of death are virtually assured. Which is just the way we like it.

    This is all conjecture of course and Norway will have a say in who goes where as they are currently snapping at the heels of the group leaders. They lost in Bulgaria in October but had already recorded a 4-1 win away in Hungary, highlighting their credentials and also how far from grace the country that spawned Puskas, Kocsics and Albert has fallen in the last twenty years. Bosnia/Herzegovina came within a whisker of the play-offs for the last World Cup but have collapsed early on here with heavy home defeats to Hungary (1-3) and Greece (0-4).

1.Turkey 3 3 0 0 8- 0 9 2.Greece 3 3 0 0 6- 0 9 3.Norway 3 2 0 1 6- 2 6 4.Bosnia-Herzeg. 4 1 1 2 8-11 4 5.Malta 3 1 0 2 4- 8 3 6.Hungary 4 1 0 3 5- 8 3 7.Moldova 4 0 1 3 2-10 1

    This group is crazy. It's riding round Europe on a unicycle in a green wig and a big red nose whilst throwing custard pies in the face of all who watch.

    Take away this doggy bag from a veritable smorgasbord of mad results - Slovakia walloped Cyprus 6-1 in Bratislava in September, only to be outdone by Germany four days later when they put thirteen (yes, thirteen) past San Marino. Expected victories obviously, but not by those margins. Slovakia followed up their good start by losing 0-3 to the Czechs, thumping Wales 5-1 in Cardiff and then losing 1-4 at home to Germany.

    In October the Irish slumped to their worst ever defeat by going down 2-5 in Cyprus. Their boss Steve Staunton looked certain to be sacked but improbably four days later nicked a home draw with the Czechs, who had warmed up for the game by blasting San Marino for seven goals in Liberec. And the Cypriots? Well they went and lost 1-3 in Cardiff in October but bounced back in November to draw in their home match with Germany. Brilliant, illogical madness.

    So after an amazing 65 goals in 13 games (putting my amateur statistician hat on that's an average of five goals per game - what is this, the 1954 World Cup?), and despite these huge scorelines Germany and the Czech Republic predictably lead the way. Joachim Leow is in effect carrying on the good work of Klinsmann and the Czechs as yet show no signs of missing the retired Pavel Nedved. It looks highly unlikely that either Slovakia, Wales or the Republic of Ireland can get it together for long enough to stop either making the short trip to Austria/Switzerland.

NB: Since writing this originally the Republic of Ireland have narrowly won on a freezing night in San Marino with a winning goal four minutes into injury time. Oh dear oh dear oh dear.

1.Germany 4 3 1 0 19- 2 10 2.Czech Republic 4 3 1 0 13- 2 10 3.Ireland 5 2 1 2 10- 8 7 4.Slovakia 4 2 0 2 12- 9 6 5.Cyprus 4 1 1 2 8-12 4 6.Wales 3 1 0 2 5- 8 3 7.San Marino 4 0 0 4 1-27 0

    So, what did you think of England in the World Cup? Limited? Dismal? Shocking? Well my friends, unbelievably they have become even worse since June. It started predictably enough - new regime, big win over Andorra, scrappy win in Macedonia, the 'we'll win because we're England' hubris back with venom - and then an awful home draw with Macedonia that they should have lost followed immediately by a lame surrender in Croatia where they were thrashed two-nil and the realisation that this could be a sub-Keegan England regime comes horribly to the fore.

    They won't, but the Football Association should take the can for this, as by appointing Steve McClaren - who is guilty of nothing more than ambition but realistically embodies everything that was wrong in Germany - when all they had to do was hang on a few weeks for Luis Felipe Scolari (you know, the bloke who always gets to the last weekend of an international tournament), they may well pay a heavy price, especially with that billion pound Wembley shaped albatross looming over their heads.

    Outside of Team Showbiz Group E is shaping up to be a close one, currently headed by Croatia who followed up their win over England with a 4-3 win in Israel, aided by two goals from Eduardo da Silva. Russia began with home draws against Croatia and Israel but then beat Macedonia in Moscow and then away to Estonia. The theory that they just evaporate when they leave their own borders will be under scrutiny in 2007.

1.Croatia 4 3 1 0 13- 3 10 2.Russia 4 2 2 0 5- 1 8 3.England 4 2 1 1 6- 2 7 4.Macedonia 5 2 1 2 4- 3 7 5.Israel 4 2 1 1 9- 6 7 6.Estonia 3 0 0 3 0- 4 0 7.Andorra 4 0 0 4 1-19 0

    Whilst Group D might be the highest scoring group in qualifying, Group F is perhaps the most fascinating and has provided the most eye-catching result in qualifying so far. When Spain travelled to Belfast with a routine win over Liechtenstein already under their belts they expected to flick aside a Northern Ireland team that had four days earlier been thrashed at Windsor Park by Iceland. Shades of their David and Goliath clash in Valencia in 1982, and fantastically the result went the same way as the Irish won 3-2 with a hat-trick from David Healey, a striker who plies his trade with a team in the relegation zone of the English Championship.

    Still reeling, Spain went to Sweden in October and quite literally rolled over and were comfortably beaten 2-0, their campaign to qualify already in the balance. With nine games left there is time to turn it around and their next game in March at home to Denmark is crucial - lose that and Luis Aragones will certainly be sacked. Considering that this cantankerous old racist shouldn't be in the job anyway, I can't say I'll shed any tears.

    Northern Ireland backed up their win over Spain with an unlikely draw in Denmark and a home win over Latvia to keep their interest in this group alive for longer than most expected. The Irish and the Danes are locked on seven points in second place and Sweden have waltzed into an early lead having won all four games.

1.Sweden 4 4 0 0 8- 2 12 2.Denmark 3 2 1 0 6- 0 7 3.Northern Ireland 4 2 1 1 4- 5 7 4.Latvia 3 1 0 2 4- 2 3 5.Spain 3 1 0 2 6- 5 3 6.Iceland 4 1 0 3 4- 8 3 7.Liechtenstein 3 0 0 3 1-11 0

    The Dutch lead the way in this group, so presumably between the World Cup and the Euro qualifiers Marco Van Basten had a Eureka moment and decided that a nation with such technically gifted resources should outplay the opposition rather than try to kick the living daylights out of them. Not that it has been all plain sailing for the Dutch - scrappy one goal wins over Luxembourg and Albania have contributed to their record of three wins and one draw.

    Bulgaria and Romania are also unbeaten at the start of this group and look set for a three-way fight with the Dutch for the two available qualifying spots. They drew 2-2 on the opening match day in Constanta, two late goals from Martin Petrov securing a result for the Bulgarians who then went on to record an impressive 3-0 win at home to Slovenia.

    The Slovenians are as good as gone after a 4-2 hiding at the hands of Belarus a month later, whereas minnows Luxembourg have proved hard to beat so far, but have nevertheless been beaten three times.

1.Netherlands 4 3 1 0 7- 2 10 2.Bulgaria 4 2 2 0 7- 3 8 3.Romania 3 2 1 0 7- 3 7 4.Belarus 4 1 1 2 7-10 4 5.Slovenia 3 1 0 2 4- 7 3 6.Albania 3 0 1 2 3- 6 1 7.Luxembourg 3 0 0 3 0- 4 0



Info on how the World Cup was founded and about the trophy as well.
Detailed info on every match in every tournament.
Interesting columns about the past, present and future of the World Cup.
Every nation with appearances in the World Cup. Detailed info on every country.
Player profiles of many of the most influential players in history.
An A-Z collection of strange and different stories in World Cup history.
A big collection of various statistics and records.
Every mascot since it was introduced in 1966.
Test your knowledge about the WC. Three different levels. No prizes, just for fun.
Rankings of lots of stuff. For instance Best Goals, Best Players and Best Matches.
Our collection of links to other soccer sites with World Cup connection.
Some banners and buttons for you to link to us if you want.
A little information on who keeps this site available.
| '30 | '34 | '38 | '50 | '54 | '58 | '62 | '66 | '70 | '74 | '78 | '82 | '86 | '90 | '94 | '98 | '02 | '06 | '10 | '14 |
Copyrights © 1998- - This website is created and maintained by Jan Alsos. It is an unofficial website not affiliated or connected in any way to FIFA. All rights reserved.