The State of Euro 2016 Qualifying Group C
In the qualifying competition for the 2016 UEFA European Championship, arguably no group has afforded us with more surprises and unexpected team performances than Euro 2016 Qualifying Group C. (Group C consists of Spain, Slovakia, Ukraine, Belarus, Macedonia, and Luxembourg.) Predictions for the group were somewhat up in the air from very early on, largely because Spain’s poor performance at last year’s World Cup gave soccer experts pause in predicting the two-time consecutive Euro champions as the favorites for the group.
Now, six games into the qualifying competition, Spain are doing better for themselves than many might have feared following their early World Cup elimination. However, the biggest story of Group C has to be Slovakia, who is just one of two teams in the entire qualifying competition that have won all six of their qualifying matches so far.
Slovakia’s Impressive Run
Indeed, of the 53 teams currently vying for Euro 2016 qualification, only Slovakia and England can claim the impressive record of six wins, zero draws, and zero losses.
Granted, most of the Slovakian national team’s victories have not been huge, high-scoring fixtures: the soccer squad’s biggest win was a 3-0 triumph over Luxembourg, and the Spanish team actually has the higher goal difference in Group C, but Slovakia’s surprising consistency cannot be overstated at this point. They even beat Spain head-to-head, defeating the reigning European Champions 2-1 in an October home game.
The Slovakian side’s winning streak has been something of a shock, given the country’s track record in international competitions. The football squad has never qualified for a European Championship before. They’ve also never won more than five of their football games in a single qualifying competition before, and here they are, winning their first six in a row.
In fact, at this point in time, the Slovakians are guaranteed a top three spot in Group C, which means that they will at very least reach the qualification playoffs. Based on their momentum and the status of the rest of the teams in Group C, though, it’s safe to bet on the Slovakian soccer squad finishing in the top two here.
Spain: Waiting in the Wings
Slovakia’s race to a first-place finish, though, could very feasibly be spoiled by Spain. While the Slovakian squad is one of two teams in the qualifying competition to have won all six of their matches so far, Spain is a member of a just slightly less exclusive group. They’ve won five of their six games, putting them in the second tier alongside Austria and Iceland.
The Spaniards have also been winning most of their games more decisively than the Slovakians have. In their first qualifying match—a September 2014 game against Macedonia—players donned the Spain home jersey 2014 – 2015 for a resounding 5-1 victory. Since then, they’ve beaten Luxembourg 4-0 and Belarus 3-0, for a total group goal tally of 15. That puts the Red Fury at +12 in terms of goal difference—two points ahead of Slovakia’s +10.
Because of those goal difference statistics, the upcoming September 5th battle between Spain and Slovakia will likely prove to be one of the more pivotal matches in the entire qualifying competition. If Spain win, they’ll tie Slovakia in group points (18) and effectively usurp the lead thanks to goal difference. (The Spanish side will have the home field advantage this time around.) If Spain lose, then there will be pretty much nothing that can stop Slovakia from reaching their first European Championship.
The Rest of the Field
In all honesty, it seems nothing will stop the Slovakian national football team either way. The rest of the field in Group C is admittedly thin, with only Ukraine (at 12 points) a potential spoiler for the top two teams. Belarus, Macedonia, and Luxembourg all have fewer than five points apiece, and aren’t likely to be factors in the final months of the qualifying competition.
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