Spain Bounce Back with Strong Euro 2016 Qualifying Performance
A year ago, it looked explicitly like the “golden age” of the Spanish national team football was over. The team had not only failed to defend their 2010 World Cup title, but they’d also performed so poorly in Brazil that they were eliminated from the 2014 World Cup after just two group stage matches. An early loss in the Euro 2016 qualifiers (a 1-2 defeat at the hands of Slovakia last October) extended the Red Fury’s struggles into another high-profile international event. Since then, though, Spain have been almost bulletproof on the soccer pitch—at least in the moments when it truly counted. The squad lost a friendly against Germany last fall and another against Euro 2016 hosts France this past March, but the Spain bounce back has resulted in the squad winning eight straight Euro qualifying matches.
The Spanish national football team ends the qualifying competition with nine wins, one draw, and 27 points. Those numbers not only give the Red Fury an easy win in Group C but also one of the best records of any team involved in the qualifiers. Could it be possible for Spain to win a third consecutive European Championship title next year in France?
The Forgotten Frontrunners
It’s easy to forget, considering Spain’s dismal performance at last year’s World Cup, but the soccer team still has de facto frontrunner status for Euro 2016. Not since 2004 has another country won a European Championship title. That year, Greece shocked the world by beating Portugal, Spain, Russia, and other more highly favored teams to win their first Euro trophy. Spain, of course, would go on to win the title in both 2008 and 2012, topping Germany and Italy, respectively, to do so.
And yet, despite the fact that Spain will be defending not one but two titles in 2016, most pundits are looking towards other teams as likely frontrunners. Germany, last year’s World Cup victors, are obviously in the mix. As are England, who won all 10 of their Euro qualifying games. And Poland, fueled by the fire of star Robert Lewandowski, are also in the conversation.
Spain’s dominant performance in the qualifying rounds proves that the football team still deserves to be talked about like a frontrunner. Out of the 53 teams involved in the Euro 2016 qualifiers, the Red Fury would rank third in point totals, after England (30) and Austria (28).
Goals Scored and Conceded
Spain were also impressive in the “goals for” and “goals against” columns. They ended the qualifying competition with a goal difference of +20, better than any other team in the tournament with the exception of England (+28) and Poland (+23).
The +20 goal difference is also notable in that it is the same exact GD that Spain had during the 2012 European Championship qualifiers. Spain were in the smaller, five-team group that year, making it difficult to measure their performances against one another. Interestingly, though, Spain actually scored more goals in their eight 2012 qualifying games than they did in 10 qualifiers for 2016. Indeed, the Spaniards scored 26 goals last time around, with David Villa leading the way with seven points. This time, the football team tallied 23 goals in total.
David Villa, of course, retired from international soccer after the 2014 World Cup. For the 2016 qualifiers, Paco Alcacer was Spain’s leading scorer instead, with five goals to his name. The 22-year-old was named a member of Spain’s national soccer squad last August, so Euro 2016 will be his first major international tournament.
What Spain may have lost offensively with Villa and a few other players (Xavi and Xabi) they seemed to have gained in defense. With Iker Casillas and David De Gea sharing the goalkeeper position, the Red Fury managed clean sheet shutouts in eight of their ten games, only allowing three goals total. Only Romania conceded fewer points (two) in the qualifiers.
Elsewhere in Group C, Slovakia edged out Ukraine to score the second-place qualifying slot. Slovakia will enjoy their first-ever appearance at the European Championship. The Ukrainian national football team, meanwhile, were one of the better third-place teams in the qualifiers, and will have a good shot of reaching Euro 2016 through the playoffs.
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