The qualifiers for the 2012 European Championships resume this weekend, with some crucial clashes for some of the continent’s strongest sides. Whilst England face Wales in a crunch Group G clash, and Denmark look to overcome rivals Norway in order to leapfrog Portugal in Group H, some of the other groups have thrown up a few intriguing matches in the next seven days.
So here are the top three match-ups that you will not want to miss:
3. Hungary v Netherlands – 25 March
These two nations are set to meet in two crunch qualifiers on March 25 and 29, with the former definitely looming as the most crucial of all the Group E fixtures. The Netherlands are undoubtedly one of the favourites for the tournament, and with one of the strongest squads in European football, it’s no surprise why. They have won all four of their qualifiers so far, including a crushing 4-1 win over Sweden. With three points separating them at the summit from Hungary though, both of their upcoming meetings will be crucial to booking their spot in the finals.
With a solid mix of youth and experience, the Hungarians have been one of the surprise packages in the qualifying rounds thus far. While it may be unlikely, a victory against the Dutch at home will see Hungary join them atop of the group, with five matches still to play. If they were to be defeated in both of their upcoming fixtures with the Dutch however, they can all but kiss away their chances of playing in next year’s finals.
2. Slovenia v Italy – 25 March
The 2006 world champions can all but assure themselves of progression to the finals with victory over their Slovenian hosts, who currently trail them in Group C by three points. Victory will see the Italians extend that to six, and with just five rounds of qualifying remaining after this one, the Azzurri will be well on their way to booking their tickets to Poland and the Ukraine. Italy will play three of those five matches at home, whilst they will travel to Serbia and minnows Faroe Islands in the other two.
Despite being without Daniele De Rossi and Mario Balotelli for the clash, Cesare Prandelli should be targeting maximum points in this one, against a side that were humbled by Northern Ireland at home in late 2010. However, the Slovenians were very convincing in the final home qualifier of 2010, accounting for the Faroes 5-1. Knowing that three points will see them join the Azzurri atop of the group, should provide them with enough motivation to take the game on, rather than sit back and play for a draw, making it an entertaining spectacle.
1. Spain v Czech Republic – 25 March
Unsurprisingly the reigning world champions have a perfect record of three wins from three matches thus far, with victories over Scotland, Lithuania and Liechtenstein respectively. To be fair to the first two of those opponents however, Spain were made very hard to work for the three points, something that should inspire the Czechs this week.
Whilst they undoubtedly are coming up against the best international side in the world, this young and fast improving Czech side should take some confidence into this match. With a few injury concerns amongst the Spanish ranks, and a recent heavy workload for some of their stars at Barcelona and Real Madrid, the visitors could come away with at least a point from this one, if they play their cards right. Whilst their chances may be slim, this is probably the time of year that you want to be competing against the world’s best.
Be sure to follow me on twitter: twitter.com/adriandelmonte