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Bobby McMahon

Bobby McMahon

You can see me on Soccer Central most Mondays and Thursdays on Rogers Sportsnet in Canada. I write a regular column for and and frequently guest on various podcasts and radio shows.


European Qualifying Mostly Predictable and It Will Only Get Worse

Written by on September 5, 2011 | 14 Comments »
Posted in European Championship, General

Just as a gulf has formed and grown between the very top clubs and the rest,  the same seems true on the international scene.

With only three rounds of play in qualifying for the 2012 European Championships remaining a sense of drama regarding the group winners at least, is sadly lacking.

Germany (group A) became the first qualifier on Friday. Italy (group C), Netherlands (group E), England (group G) and Spain (group I) seem certain to follow – some as early as Tuesday.

Russia (group B) and France (group D) are in the driving seats despite losing at home to Slovakia and Belarus in the early stages. Both will take significant strides if they can defeat Ireland and Romania tomorrow. Slovakia and Bosnia Herzegovina would then be the only countries left to shake loose.

Group F is likely to be decided in October when Croatia travels to play Greece. The only possible threat is from Israel and that will require an Israel win over Croatia on Tuesday and an extraordinary series of other results to upset the Greece/Croatia apple-cart.

That leaves us with Group H which remains the best hope for a true 3-country race for two spots from now until qualifying wraps up in October. Portugal and Norway have both played six games and have 13 points; Denmark three points fewer and on fewer game played.

Denmark would however, appear to hold an edge. They are home to Norway on Tuesday and Portugal has to travel to play in Copenhagen in the final round of play. It might even come down to a tie breaker with head-to-head the first criteria.

“1. Higher number of points obtained in the group matches played among the teams in question

2. Superior goal difference from the group matches played among the teams in question

3. Higher number of goals scored in the group matches played among the teams in question

4. Higher number of goals scored away from home in the group matches played among the teams in question

5. If, after applying criteria 1) to 4) to several teams, two or more teams still have an equal ranking, the criteria 1) to 4) will be reapplied to determine the ranking of these teams. If this procedure does not lead to a decision, criteria 6) and 7) will apply –

6. Results of all group matches:

(1) Superior goal difference

(2) Higher number of goals scored

(3) Higher number of goals scored away from home

(4) Fair play conduct

7. Drawing of lots”

As it stands Portugal edges ahead in a Denmark, Norway tie breaker with 6 points from 3 games; Norway has 4 points from 3 games; Denmark has just one point from 2 away matches.

There is also one second place finisher that is going to automatically qualify. The best second place finisher (groups with six teams will have the result against the country finishing last expunged) moves on and avoids the play off nightmare.

Things can change quickly based on who finishes bottom of the six country groups but at the moment the eventual runner-up from group E (probably Sweden, possibly Hungary) might have a points total that is difficult to beat.

Of course any sense of excitement or upset is not going to increase come Euro 2016. In five years time we will have the host nation France joined by 23 other countries as the number of countries qualifying will increase by 50%.

Word is that the nine qualifying groups will remain with the top two finishers along with the best third place finisher moving on. The remaining eight third place finishers will play off for the remaining four spots.

The chance of a big established country missing out will be reduced to almost zero.

How long till we see the top countries fielding under-21 teams in a macabre mimicking of top clubs cruising through the Champions League  group stage?

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14 responses to “European Qualifying Mostly Predictable and It Will Only Get Worse”

  1. Gus Keri says:

    I like #5 on the tie breaker order. It clears thing up very nicely.

    In regard to the expansion to 24 teams, there are always two sides to every story.

    One side is the fact that the middle of the pack are getting very good and deserve a place in the finals. For example, Russia, Ireland and Slovakia are all good teams this time around and Euro will lose one or two of them. Same goes for few other groups.

    The other side of the story is every few years the improvement of the second tier teams threatens one of the big teams that draw a lot of interest in the finals. This is not good for the popularity and the economics of the Euro and UEFA.

    Imagine a final without England for example. How many people will lose interest? And how much money will UEFA lose?
    It seems each time a major drawing power, in particular England, get threatened, UEFA and FIFA resort to expanding the field.

    Next will be a World Cup with 40 teams.

  2. John Bladen says:

    Gus, we don’t have to imagine it (2008)!

    It’s true that many of the ‘middle’ group of nations in UEFA are improving. It’s a matter of opinion whether any nation “deserves” to be at a finals tournament, though. The only true casualty of going back to 16 teams would be money into the coffers of UEFA and it’s member nations. Ultimately, that’s what matters to the powers that be.

    Frankly, the present world cup format included (last time) at least three teams that had no business being in the final (ranked 80th or lower, as I recall) tournament. They were there for reasons of “population representation” only (well, and money, the omnipresent factor). Why would we think that this will not lead to (rational) calls from the Croatia & Russias of the footballing world, who can rightly claim they were far better sides than probably ten of the nations that were admitted to the world cup?

    As I recall, the field for Euro 2012 was expanded to 24 before England had failed to qualify for Euro 2008, so I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to suggest it is because any one nation has been excluded. It’s about more group games and more tv/spectator revenue, Competition is a very distant third, if not lower.

  3. John Bladen says:


    With every change UEFA makes, it seems less and less likely that a well organized and hard trying “small” nation will make it into the tournament, despite the expanded field. That’s no accident, I’m sure.

    I see from my satellite provider that I could purchase England v Wales this week for a mere $30. I’m sure the games v Macedonia or Faroe Islands (in past years) would be similarly priced. Fat chance.

    Until we stop eagerly paying for such contrived displays, there’s no reason for UEFA to stop trying to sell them to us.

  4. Gus Keri says:


    More TV revenues and more spectators are important but even those have tendency to favor certain teams.

    In UCL, English clubs gets much more TV money than any other teams from a lesser leagues.

    The same thing happens with national teams. England games are more money generating games than the likes of Slovakia or Slovenia and keeping England in the finals is very important to UEFA.

    Things don’t have to happen in direct result. It is not necessary that England failure to qualify results directly in expansion. But the UEFA and FIFA can sense these things coming from the trouble during the qualifications.

    Here are some facts:

    England didn’t qualify to WC 1974 and 1978. They expanded to 24 in 1982.
    England didn’t qualify to WC in 1994. They expanded to 32 in 1998.
    England didn’t qualify to Euro 2008. They will expand to 24 in 2016.

  5. Gus Keri says:

    ACN 2012:

    I read in BBC Africa about Cameroon chances to qualify to ACN 2012:

    “But the Indomitable Lions banged in five goals in the second half – including a brace from Eric Choupa-Moting – to take them to 8 points in the table.
    That means they still have a chance of going through as one of the best runners-up – but it is a slim one.”

    It is surprising to me that an important site for African soccer like this one doesn’t do their math.

    Mathematically, Cameroon has been eliminated.

    Senegal won the group and Cameroon can’t finish better than second.

    The rule is that the results against the bottom team will be substracted when deciding the best runner ups because there is a group of 3 teams only (group 6)

    Cameroon will lose 6 points (had two wins against bottom team Mauritius) and leave them with only 2 points. If they win their last game, they will have 5 points maximum.

    There are two groups that guarantee the runner ups with at least 6 points.

    Group 3:
    Zambia with 12 points and Libya with 11 points. Regadless who finish 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th, the runner up will have at least 6 points (Zambia) or 7 points (Libya)

    Group 9:
    Ghana and Sudan each have 13 points, and regardless who finish 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th, the runner up will have at least 7 points.

    We already have two runner ups that have more points than Cameroon will have even if they win their last game. And only two best runner ups qualify.

    Conclusion: Cameroon, the 4 times winner, join Egypt, the 7 times winner, on the outside. they are eliminated mathematically.

    Other past winners which were eliminated are:
    DR Congo (twice winner), Congo (once) and Ethiopia (once)

    Past winners which are still alive but not qualified yet are:
    Ghana (4 times), Nigeria (twice), Sudan (once), Morocco (once), Algeria (once), South Africa (once) and Tunisia (once).

    Ivory coast which already comfirmed its place in the finals has won it once before also.

    Other qualified teams are:
    Senegal, Burkina Faso, Botswana and hosts Gabon and Equalorial Guinea.

  6. Gus – great catch.

  7. John Bladen says:

    Gus, are you saying it is a direct result or not? You can’t have it both ways… either it is or it isn’t.

    In my view, they are expanding the tournament for money and tv exposure. If they thought they could get away with 40 teams (or 36) in the WC right now, they would do it.

    It does cost them “money” when England fails to qualify, just as it does when the USA, Russia, France, Italy or Mexico fail to qualify.

  8. Gus Keri says:


    What I am saying is that the failure of England to qualify is an “indirect” cause of the expansion.

    It’s not like the board sit down and say “Oh my God. England failed to qualify, Let’s expand”

    You can use it as an indicator to when expansion will take place.

    The struggle by top drawing teams like England serves as a trigger factor. If UEFA and FIFA want to keep the money coming, they have to make sure they are in the finals.

    This also happens in other confederation. Bin Hammam went out of his way, and upset few, to make sure that the minnow India qualify to the Asian cup because of its TV drawing power.

  9. Roberto Manita says:

    Personally, I rather like the fact that the Euros will expand to 24 teams in 2016. Maybe now Hungary will finally qualify for a major tourny since the days when Moses was a gaffer. The same can be said for other nations that are having troubles qualifying these days, but who I’d personally like to see on a regular basis, such as Scotland and Ireland.

  10. Roberto Manita says:


    Forget about paying $30 to catch England v Wales. Be stingy like me, or Arsene, and watch Italy v Slovenia on Setanta which is free until September 13th. Parsimonious Arsenal fans gotta look out for one another 😉

  11. Ed Gomes says:

    What sport organization/owners fail to realize is that more isn’t always better.

    In the US just take a look at baseball. Their 162 game schedule gets destroyed once the NFL begins. They lose out on tv and stadium revenue, especially since its a regional game. They would fair better in cutting back on the amount of games. Possible making races tighter and more demand for seats.

    Even the NFL is looking at an 18 game schedule. They forget that the appeal of the NFL is how imporatant every game is. If anything start the season earlier and finish later, on Presidents weekend.

    FIFA and UEFA just figure that they would add additional TV revenue from the new qualifying countries, so it’s all good. The problem is that people from the “bigger” teams/nations will dismiss those matches anyway. FIFA will be able to gauge the tv broadcasters for a while, but that too will diminish.
    It is quite incredible how an organization like FIFA that has a strangle hold on a huge product, can continuasly screw things up.

    More isn’t always better.
    Just take a look at La Liga. They are in a very delicate situation. even with the desparity in TV revenue, La Liga needs Real and Barca to be great. The problem is that so many other teams are suffering, and want a piece of the action. If Real and Barca take a hit, will it really help La Liga? I doubt it very much.

  12. John Bladen says:

    Roberto: Thanks! Yes, I’ve been watching as much setanta as I can this month. It’s actually good value for money, it’s just that if I buy it I know I’ll spend 24 hours/wk watching football instead of the 6-8 I do now. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that in principle… but it does tend to damage other aspects of work/life…

    Gus: Fair point, and I agree that they do always look for opportunities to expand (particularly when major nations lose out). I just wish they’d do it more slowly. There’s no practical reason why the Euros couldn’t go to 20 teams before jumping to 24, whether through four groups of five or five groups of four.

  13. Gus Keri says:

    Euro 2012:

    Someone is doing the math.

    Here what said:

    “The Netherlands are assured of qualification after winning all eight games. Even so, first place is not secure yet with Sweden six points behind, but whatever happens in the final set of matches, the Netherlands would finish as best runners-up at worst”

    This is absolutely accurate.

    Just like Cameroon was, mathematically, eliminated from ACN 2012, Netherlands has, mathematically, qualified to the finals of Euro 2012.

    Now, the pundit can be confident in saying that Netherlands, Spain, Italy and Germany have qualified and joined hosts Poland and Ukraine.

    Actually, seeing what happened in WC 2010 qualification, Holland and Spain had agains perfect records so far and Germany and Italy again are undefeated.
    Could we be looking at the semifinals line up for the Euro 2012? Three of these teams made it to the semifinals of WC 2010 in SA.

  14. Jeffrey King says:

    Personally, I have no problem with the rich getting richer. If lesser football nations (or clubs) want to compete, then they should step up their development programs. All I care about is seeing beautiful football. Let the giants tear at each other’s throats in the finals. As for Cinderellas, there will always be teams that come out of nowhere to compete. It is the nature of sport.

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