Part two in the series - ladies first, natch.
Under-21 European Championships – Israel 2013
The second qualifying tournament coming to a close in October (12th and 16th) involves slightly more risk than the three berths yet to be decided for the Women’s Euro in Sweden – everybody has to play-off. After a qualifying group round that kicked off in March 2011, and could mean that some players at the finals are pushing 30, ten group winners and four best runners-up are thrown into an all-or-nothing two-legged play-off to determine who will join hosts Israel in the finals.
Having ten qualifying groups but only two groups at the tournament seems a little odd, but given what’s going on with the CAN qualifying at the minute, perhaps this isn’t so bad. The seedings for the playoffs are more arguable, as these are based on coefficients generated from performances getting to and at the 2009 and 2011 tournaments, as well as the currently qualifying campaign, which given the age-limit on the competition, may not be massively representative.
However – the seeded teams were the seven group winners with the highest coefficients: Spain, Czech Republic, England, Netherlands, Germany, Italy and France. Unseeded – the other group winners Sweden, Russia and Serbia and the best runners-up Switzerland, Denmark, Slovakia and Norway. There is of course one anomaly in that unseeded Switzerland at 34.034 are ranked higher than France and Italy in the seeded pot, but it wouldn’t be a coefficient system without something peculiarhappening.
Overall the group stage featured fewer ridiculous results than the women’s qualifying; there are minnows, of course, but of a more traditional sort – San Marino, Andorra, the Faroe Islands, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg. More surprising wooden spoons went to Iceland (3 pts), Latvia (2) and Estonia (1), but overall things were pretty recognisable and nobody got to double figures, the biggest hammerings being a couple of 8-0s (Czech Republic v Andorra, and Germany over San Marino) and the funnest-looking match an epic Denmark 6 – 5 FYROM. How hosts Israel will fit into this is unclear – as the U21 coefficients are only calculated for the playoff contenders, they don’t have a specific ranking, but the senior team is 75th in the current overall FIFA rankings, so…
For the home nations, Wales were shaded into 4th in Group 3 by Montenegro in not a very tricky group, Northern Ireland tanked a bit in Group 4, only one point above the Faroe Islands in last place, and Scotland were runners-up to the Netherlands in Group 10 but didn’t make the cut. The Republic of Ireland put a decent shift in, coming third after Italy and Turkey, and above Hungary. England, described rather dourly as “perennial qualifiers“ on the official website, won Group 8 finishing ahead of Norway (also through), Belgium, Azerbaijan and the aforementioned Iceland.
The play-off draw threw up some tasty-looking ties:
- Spain (holders) v Denmark
- Italy v Sweden *
- Czech Republic v Russia *
- Slovakia v Netherlands
- Germany v Switzerland
- England v Serbia *
- France v Norway
*ties involving two group winners
England’s matches against Serbia should be tight affairs, as both have a good record in the competition. Germany v Switzerland should also be a good match, their rankings almost the same; Germany only dropped two points in the group stage (a 4-4 draw with Bosnia Herzogovina in the last match, when they presumably had a bit of a rest), but Switzerland were in a group with defending champions Spain, losing to them 3-0 then drawing 0-0 in the home game – although they also drew 0-0 with Estonia in their opening match (the Estonian's only point…).
The play-off approach for everybody means there is still an air of uncertainty over the tournament, with several matches too close to call. My undoubtedly unsuccessful accumulator would be: Spain, Italy, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Switzerland, Serbia (probably on penalties) and France. The finals will be held in Israel from 5-18 June 2013.
For a good round-up of the French team’s qualification and chances, see this article from Coffee House Football: http://lepetitcarremagique.wordpress.com/2012/09/24/les-bleus-bright-young-stars/