Always a source for great drama and sometimes even good ol’ quality soccer matches (though not often), the Euro 2012 playoff draw was made today, with eight nations split into two groups of four, the ranked and the not. The outcome? Ireland got the best of the draw, pulling Estonia out of the hat. Turkey and Croatia provide the highest potential for fireworks. Portugal and Bosnia will do over their 2010 World Cup playoff qualifier, which Portugal won, while the Czech Republic get the small yet very very difficult Montenegro to face.
The first legs will be hosted by the un-ranked sides (Turkey, Estonia, Czech Republic and Bosnia) on November 11 and 12. The deciders will all be on November 15, hosted by the ranked sides – Croatia, Ireland, Montenegro and Portugal.
Ireland – Estonia
For the Irish, this is a chance to make their first appearance in a big tournament since the 2002 World Cup and only their second Euro, their only one back in 1988. Coached by Giovanni Trapattoni, they finished second behind Russia in Group B, going undefeated in their away matches but failing to beat both Russia and Slovakia at home. Robbie Keane scored 5 goals during the qualifying campaign. For Estonia, this will be a shot for a first at anything. Coached by Tarmo Ruutli, this was the first time they were ever even remotely close to qualifying. Konstantin Vassiljev who plays his club football in Russia scored 5 goals during the campaign.
Despite the Irish obviously feeling big favorites against the Estonians, I read a wonderful headline in one of the papers today saying – Estonia are pretty happy to get Ireland, too.
Croatia – Turkey
Finishing a disappointing second in the depressing Group F, Croatia finished well ahead of Israel but couldn’t beat Greece, drawing at home and losing 2-0 away. The Croatians are hoping to make this a third consecutive Euro, making the quarter finals last time in 2008. Niko Kranjcar topped the Croatian (and joint in the group) scorers with 4 goals. Slaven Bilic probably had his final qualifying campaign with the national team. Turkey, coached by Guus Hiddink, maybe losing his famous magic touch, have nothing to complain about, finishing second to Germany, maybe the best in the world today, while finishing ahead of Belgium and Austria. They reached the Euro Semi Finals in 2008. Arda Turan of Atletico Madrid was their top scorer with 4 goals.
Expect the magic touch of Guus to work again in the playoffs, despite the anything can happen vibe.
Portugal – Bosnia
From needing only a draw, Portugal barely made it through the group, finishing with the same amount of points (16) like no.3, Norway, having the better goal difference. Their failure at Copenhagen, despite the Cristiano Ronaldo wonder goal, might have repercussions on this clash. On the other hand, they beat Bosnia two years ago without Ronaldo. Shouldn’t be a problem this time? Ronaldo was their top scorer with 5 goals. Safet Susic‘s side nearly beat France in Paris, but conceded and got their deserved, second spot. The side looks better than they did two years ago – more tactically balanced, while still, Edin Dzeko’s form remains the biggest key. His four goals was the best from Bosnia.
I’m all for surprises, and I’ll wager on Bosnia finally reaching a major tournament. They’re ready.
Montenegro – Czech Republic
With a population of just over 600,000, Montenegro almost knocked out England, drawing with Capello’s side twice. Coached by Branko Brnovic, this will be one tough nut to crack, finishing ahead of Switzerland and Bulgaria in the qualifying group. Their games aren’t loads of fun to watch (only 14 total goals in eight matches), but they hardly lose, especially at home. The Czech Republic, coached by Michal Bilek, finished behind Spain, understandably, hoping to make it a fifth consecutive Euro for them. Michal Kadlec, who plays for Leverkusen, led their scorers with 4 goals.
Montenegro. For being the tiny nation that could, and for the fact that I don’t see the Czech’s still trying to adjust to life post – Pavel Nedved, winning in Podgorica.