Euro 2016 Qualifying Group I: Assessing the State of the Qualifying Competition’s Smallest Group
Group I is the odd man out in the Euro 2016 Qualifying Competition. Where the other eight qualification groups are all comprised of six teams apiece, Group I only has five. That makes it a less competitive spot in some ways: after all, the top two teams still qualify, and the third-place team still has a shot at the wildcard spot. In other ways, though, the five-team structure of Euro 2016 Qualifying Group I presents its own challenges: with fewer squads to play, there are also fewer fixtures on the schedule, which means less time for each soccer team to find a strong footing and establish an advantage.
The Current Standings
Not that the truncated qualifying campaign has hurt Portugal or Denmark—the group’s top two countries. With five games played, Portugal is leading the charge in Group I, with four wins, one loss, and a point total of 12. Denmark is just two points back, with three wins, one draw, and one loss.
At this point, Portugal is guaranteed at least a third-place spot in the group. Cristiano Ronaldo has gotten the team to that point more or less by himself, scoring five of the side’s seven goals. He’s not the top scorer in the qualifying competition right now: eight other football players have hit the five-goal mark, while Poland’s Robert Lewandowski (seven goals) and England’s Danny Welbeck (six) are the top scorers of the competition.
Still, Ronaldo’s tally is significant. The Portuguese captain has won his team three qualifying games singlehandedly. In an October 14th bout against Denmark, he donned the Portugal away jersey 2015 – 2016 and scored a last-minute goal (at 90+5) to give his side a win instead of 0-0 draw; a month later, he scored Portugal’s lone goal in an at-home win against Armenia; and on June 13th, he scored three more goals against Armenia en route to a 3-2 away win.
In fact, the only other Portuguese players who have scored at all throughout the Euro 2016 qualifying competition are Monaco’s Ricardo Carvalho and Real Madrid’s Fabio Coentrao—both of whom landed their solitary points in a 2-1 home win against Serbia.
The Portuguese soccer side lost their only match in the first week of the qualifiers, in an uncharacteristically weak showing against Albania. They were defeated 0-1.
Denmark and Albania
Thanks to that win, Albania is sticking around as a potential dark horse contender for one of the Group I qualifying slots. Right now, they have seven points in the standings—three behind Denmark and five off the Portuguese leaders. The wrinkle is that Albania have played one fewer game than the other football squads in Group I. (Thanks to the odd number of teams, the Albanians didn’t get a match in June.)
Albania will have an opportunity to balance the scales on September 4th, when they face Denmark in an away fixture. Since Portugal will be the team sitting out of the September 4th fixtures, the Danish side will be looking to seize the opportunity and take control of Group I. A victory over Albania would be doubly useful for Denmark, as it would put them on top of the group while also hindering Albania’s chances at leaping into second place. (The last time the two teams played, in October, they tied 1-1.)
Portugal’s next match will also be against the Albanians. On September 7th, Ronaldo and company will pull on the Portugal away jersey 2015 – 2016 for a rematch against the one Group I team that’s beaten them. Freed from the shackles of first-game jitters, will Portugal be able to tighten their grasp on a Euro 2016 qualification at the match? Or will they be upset once more by an unlikely rival?
As for Serbia and Armenia, they are little more than obstacles at this point. Each squad only has one point in the standings, and has no mathematical chance of finishing in the top two. Either country could still feasibly sneak into third place, but it’s unlikely at this point. Ultimately, Group I will be a battle between Portugal, Denmark, and Albania.
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