Euro 2012 Qualifiers: The Ones To Watch
I must admit that there was a time, not so very long ago, when I used to feel a creeping sense of boredom during international breaks.
In my heart of hearts I knew that I should be grateful for the fact that football was available for easy consumption at all, but after many-a-year of increasing saturation, the lull in coverage was borderline tortuous for an addict like me and the sheer paucity of games being played meant that the fortnights quickly began to drag like a millstone around the neck.
The reason? I, like many others of my generation, have had it too easy for too long.
My growing disinterest didn’t stem from any particular lack of quality, far from it, there just wasn’t enough for a man with an appetite as gargantuan as mine – and the fact that any given lay-off was usually peppered with a couple of heart-breakingly underwhelming England performances hardly served to sweeten the proceedings.
My problem was that I was being overly myopic, and perhaps a little xenophobic in my outlook. I was only really concerned with the result of, and games that had a direct bearing on, England’s result – which was not a terribly efficient way to approach the schedule, given my intrinsic disdain for the national side at the time.
If you think about it, there is actually shed loads of football being played over the two or three relevant dates (e.g. there will be 45 separate Euro 2012 qualifiers played between October 8th-12th, with one further fixture played on the 17th) and whereas, to the uninterested, Latvia vs Georgia may not sound like it has the makings of a classic on paper, it may well turn out to be a cracking little game of football.
It is with this renewed sense of Euro-friendly optimism that I have selected a few of the upcoming qualifying games that may be worth keeping an eye on.
First up is Germany vs Turkey, Group A on Oct 8th:
This will be the first time the two countries (who currently occupy the top two positions in the Group A table) have met since the now-infamous ‘blackout’ game, i.e. the scintillating Euro 2008 semi-final that saw the Germans eventually run out as 3-2 winners.
Due to problems with the broadcasting feed, most of the world missed Germany striker Miroslav Klose score to make it 2-1 and many also missed full-back Phillip Lahm scoring the winner that took Die Mannschaft through to the final.
Germany’s youth-orientated rejuvenation has attracted many plaudits and Turkey have become a much more drilled outfit under current coach ‘Golden’ Guus Hiddink, though I’m sure that, if Hamit Altintop were to break rank and reproduce the sublime volleyed goal he netted against Kazakhstan in their previous game, no one would hold it against him.
Portugal will be striving to kick-start their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign having started tentatively, taking just one solitary point from their opening two games (being held 4-4 at home by Cyprus) and parting company with their coach Carlos Queiroz.
The two sides have come up against each other on a fairly regular basis over the past couple of years, having been drawn together in the same 2010 World Cup qualifying group – both eventually reaching the finals, though with varying degrees of comfort. Denmark were always in control of their qualification campaign and secured their their place at the finals reasonably early, meanwhile Portugal started poorly and were left to qualify for South Africa via the play-offs.
A shambolic World Cup campaign ensured that France’s worst (and, paradoxically, longest-serving) manager Raymond Domenech left Les Bleus under a rather bottom-heavy cloud in the summer, but his successor Laurent Blanc is showing signs of steadily transforming his remodelled side from the laughing stock of European football back to something resembling a footballing collective.
Blanc inherited a team in ruins and, by starting his competitive reign with a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Belarus, it seemed that they may be beyond repair. However, a 2-0 victory over dark-horses Bosnia and Herzegovina in their next game has allowed the faintest titters of positivity to begin to surface again – although whether France can maintain their momentum remains to be seen.
Slovakia and Ireland have been grouped together for the second bout of qualifying campaigns in a row, so they should be more than familiar with each other. Both countries are currently sitting pretty as unbeaten joint-leaders at the top of the Group B pile.
England vs Montenegro, Group G on Oct 12th:
England manager Fabio Capello has thrown in his customary curveballs when it comes to his squad selection, with troubled striker Wayne Rooney included alongside Bolton captain Kevin Davies in the attacking ranks, World Cup bollock-dropper-in-chief Robert Green restored and a couple of critically out-of-form players also thrown into the mix for good measure. The question is, will the Italian’s unconventional picks pay off?