Gareth Bale, Kevin de Bruyne, and Eden Hazard the Stars of Euro Qualifying Group B
On paper, Group B of the Euro 2016 qualifiers never seemed like one of the must-watch contests in the qualifying competition. The group had its share of good teams—Belgium and Wales are each currently ranked in FIFA’s global top 10. However, the draw for the group was odd, with Bosnia and Herzegovina being the pot one draw, despite having never reached a European Championship tournament in the past. As a result, Group B didn’t have a heavyweight team like Spain, England, Germany, or Italy to draw a lot of eyes, and was more or less regarded as one of the ‘less interesting’ groups in the competition. But what a mistake that was, the stars of Euro qualifying group B Bale, de Bruyne and Hazard elevated the group to one of the must watches of the competition.
While it’s true that Group B didn’t produce one of the most buzz-worthy team performances of the qualifying competition—like England’s 10-game winning streak in Group E. However, Group B did yield a handful of impressive individual player performances that are worth discussing. After all, it’s possible that a few of the standouts from Group B could be the stars of next year’s European Championship.
One of the most notable players from Group B, rather surprisingly, did come from Bosnia and Herzegovina. 29-year-old striker Edin Dzeko tallied seven goals in 10 fixtures, leading his team to an impressive goal total of 17. Had the Bosnia soccer squad had a better defensive side (they conceded 12 goals), they might have edged out Wales to take second place. As is, Dzeko is one of the players to watch in the playoffs, to see if his strength as an offensive star can carry his team to a surprising last-minute qualification.
Group B’s other star players, meanwhile, will all be on the football pitch next summer in France. For Wales, Gareth Bale also scored seven goals, while Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard led Belgium’s robust offense with five apiece. Belgium’s Marouane Fellaini and Dries Martens were impressive, too, tallying four and three goals, respectively.
Bale, Hazard, and de Bruyne are all players to watch at Euro 2016 since any one of them could be a potential star of the tournament. Despite that Bale hasn’t played much this fall at Real Madrid—he was out for the second half of September with a calf injury—he’s still one of the best players in the world, and Euro 2016 could be his best chance to prove that fact on an international level.
Hazard and de Bruyne, meanwhile, will benefit from a surprisingly deep Belgian offense that has now exceeded expectations at both the 2014 World Cup and the Euro 2016 qualifiers. Belgium scored an impressive 24 goals en route to their Group B win, a count that puts them in the top five, offensively, of all the teams in the qualifying competition. Only Poland (33) and England (31) scored more goals while both Germany and Switzerland also ended up at 24.
The Golden Boot
Could there be a Golden Boot contender among Group B’s standout stars? If there is, Bale, Hazard, and de Bruyne seem like the most likely contenders. To do so, though, they’d have to top Poland’s Robert Lewandowski, who scored a remarkable 13 goals during the qualifiers.
Then again, the top scorers in the qualifiers don’t always go on to be the top scorers at Euro. In 2012, the Netherlands’ Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scored 12 goals in the qualifying competition, but zero in the actual European Championship. The Golden Boot ultimately went to Spain’s Fernando Torres, who was one of six players at Euro 2012 to score three times.
Bottom line, it’s tough to predict how the top players from the Euro 2016 qualifiers will perform in the much more competitive atmosphere of the actual tournament. However, you can root for a dynamite performance from Bale, Hazard, or de Bruyne with a Wales football scarf or Belgium shirt 2014 – 2015 from Soccer Box! Pick out a memento of your favorite football team, then link up with Soccer Box on social media to let us know who you think will be the start of next year’s European Championship! You can find us on Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr and other popular social networking platforms.