The qualifiers of the UEFA Euro 2016 tournament, due to happen in June of 2016, have wrapped up. We’ve seen the Netherlands crash out of the tournament before it even started, and some new faces who will be playing on the big stage.
But the qualifiers aren’t over yet. We still have the playoffs to go.
8 teams, 4 spots. Each tie will be played over 2 legs, winner based off of aggregate will go through. So, who will go through? I’ll take you game-by-game and talk about some key players/factors within each tie.
Norway vs. Hungary
This draw might be the least glamorous. Hungary, who have not been world-beaters to say the least, have already exceeded expectations. On the other hand, Norway also haven’t been their best yet show some excitement. The Norwegians are lead by the Norwich City man Alexander Tettey, but do also carry the young Real Madrid star Martin Odegaard.
MLS fans will be delighted to see Sporting Kansas City striker Krisztian Nemeth get the nod to start. It’s great to see an international player (not from the major countries) based in the United States get some high-level action. The Hungarians have a great player in Balazs Dzsudzsak, who will provide a spark in the midst of nothing.
Prediction: I doubt there will be many goals in the two legs. So be ready for a low scoring affair if you tune in to one of the games.
First Leg: Norway 1-1 Hungary
Second Leg: Hungary 1-1 Norway
Norway go through on penalties.
Bosnia and Herzegovina vs. Republic of Ireland
This should be an interesting one. Bosnia, after an impressive 2014 World Cup qualifying run, flopped (in my opinion) at the World Cup. They then went on to get off to a bad start in the EURO 2016 qualifiers and seemed to be done for. However, the Bosnians really got it together and made a great comeback to get to the playoffs. They are lead by Roma pair Miralem Pjanic and Edin Dzeko, with some other great players such as Asmir Begovic and Muhamed Besic. Also, keep an eye for young striker Armin Hodzic. He has really done well at Dinamo Zagreb.
Ireland do have some answers to the Bosnian force. Seamus Coleman will be pivotal to the Irish defense, but the Irish midfielders need to step up in order to stop Dzeko and co. Also, the strike force of Robbie Keane and Shane Long need to step up and get at least one away goal for the Irish to really have a chance.
Prediction: I am a fan of this Bosnian team. Their unsuccess in the 2014 World Cup made people believe they aren’t that good, but if the pieces fall together this team could really be a dark horse come June 2016. However, I think Ireland have a big advantage in that they have the second leg at home. When their team clicks, it could mean trouble for some. It’ll definitely be close.
First Leg: Bosnia 2-1 Ireland
Second Leg: Ireland 1-0 Bosnia
Ukraine vs. Slovenia
My first reaction was clearly Ukraine will go through. But after looking at the squads, maybe the Slovenians could make it interesting. The Slovenian national team have a great goal-keeper in Samir Handanovic (and not a bad back up in Jan Oblak), but also have a great winger, Kevin Kampl.
But the Ukrainians have an answer.
Yevhen Konoplyanka is a player that caught the eye of many top clubs before he moved to Sevilla. He’s done very well at his new club, but he is also joined by Andriy Yarmolenko, also being looked at by many top clubs. Yevhen Seleznyov also is a good striker to have, and Andriy Pyatov (man, they really have lots of different first names don’t they) is a solid goalkeeper.
Prediction: Although Slovenia do have some good names on paper, I think Ukraine will go through on a very slim margin. Yarmolenko and Konoplyanka are exciting players to watch, and hopefully we will see them in France, but I’d be confident in saying Handanovic will keep Slovenia in the game(s).
First Leg: Ukraine 1-0 Slovenia
Second Leg: Slovenia 2-1 Ukraine
Ukraine go through on away goals.
Sweden vs. Denmark
Okay, we have our highlight game out of the four playoff ties. Not only is it set up to be the most exciting, it is also (personally) the toughest to decide who will go through.
Let’s begin by talking about the Swedish national team. Of course, they are lead by an amazing striker in Zlatan Ibrahimovic. And the soccer world can agree- They wouldn’t mind watching him on the main stage. Ibrahimovic has been rumored to potentially make a move to the states, but right now he is focused on leading his country to the promised land. They also have a solid holding-midfielder in Kim Kallstrom. But many forget Sweden’s U-21 team won the EURO U-21 this previous Summer. John Guidetti is a great, young striker who if he fulfills his potential will be a great player for Sweden.
Denmark is a team that has more players in each part of the field. Kasper Schmeichel has been a part of the great season Leicester City is having. Daniel Agger and Jannik Vestegaard highlight their defense, while Christian Eriksen is the most notable player on the entire squad. The Tottenham midfielder will look to cause havoc among the Swedish defense. I know I mentioned Sweden had good youngsters, but Denmark isn’t too shabby themselves. Pierre Hojbjerg is the star youngster to come out of Denmark, but they also have Viktor Fischer and Yussuf Poulsen who have a great amount of potential.
Prediction: Although I really, really, really want to see Zlatan in the EUROs, I think Denmark is more well-rounded than the Swedes. Maybe Zlatan and friends will prove me wrong, but Denmark could be another candidate on the topic of dark horse teams.
First Leg: Sweden 2-1 Denmark
Second Leg: Denmark 3-1 Sweden
These were some tough games to predict. I don’t see any tie where one team runs away with it, and that’s a great sign. I am looking forward to tuning in to some of these games. But, with the tournament expansion to 24 teams, we really are in for a treat come this Summer.
I write about the beautiful game. From the smallest islands to the biggest teams, it all will be covered.