Austria were never expected to be one of the most dominant nations involved in the qualifying competition for the 2016 European Championship. On the contrary, the Austria national football team were ranked 27th out of the 53 competitors in the qualifiers, back when the UEFA was seeding teams for the group stage draw. They were placed in pot three for the draw, which means that they were expected to finish third in their eventual group draw, Group G. Russia and Sweden were the group's pot one and pot two draws. But needless to say, in the Euro 2016 qualifiers Austria surprised everyone with their dominant performances.

Upsets and Surprises

Needless to say, Group G has proven to be a bundle of surprises over the past 13 months. First of all, Austria stunned all football pundits by not only winning the group but by going undefeated to do so. Indeed, with nine wins and one draw, Austria had the second best record of any team in the qualifiers. Only England, who won all of their games, came out of the qualifying group stage with a higher point tally.

The Austrian soccer squad had, prior to this year, never qualified for Euro via the traditional qualifying round channels. The team earned automatic qualification in 2008, when they shared hosting duties with Switzerland but have otherwise missed out on all 14 European Championships. In comparison, Russia participated in Euro in 1996, 2004, 2008, and 2012. Sweden, meanwhile, had a presence at Euro in 1992, 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012.

Austria benefited from the bottom half of Group G being made up of fairly weak teams. The group's pot four, five, and six draws were Montenegro, Moldova, and Liechtenstein, respectively. After drawing their first qualifying game with Sweden last September, the Austrians were able to build confidence with back-to-back wins against Moldova and Montenegro. Once Austria had scored an upset victory against Russia in a November 2014 fixture, it was fairly clear that the underdogs were on their way to a historic Euro qualification.

The Austria national football team continued the streak of wins and upsets into 2015. On March 27th, they started their year off with a bang, crushing Liechtenstein 5-0 in an away match. In June, they beat Russia again to reaffirm their lead in Group G, and in September, they won a 4-1 away game against Sweden to make up for their early draw against the team. Not even Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sweden's star striker, could do much about Austria's clear momentum.

The Next Steps

Ibrahimovic may not have been able to push his soccer team to a direct Euro qualification, but he's talented enough to give Sweden an edge in the playoffs. Ibrahimovic, along with Russia's Artyom Dzyuba, was the top scorer in Group G with eight goals.

Both men were outscored in the qualifiers by Poland's Robert Lewandowski (13 goals) and Germany's Sweden Home Shirt 2014 - 2015Thomas Muller (nine goals). However, since Lewandowski, Muller, and Dzyuba all play for teams that qualified for Euro 2016 directly, Ibrahimovic should easily be the top offensive footballer in the third-place playoffs. Sweden, in other words, will rely on him to keep their streak of European Championship appearances alive.

Sweden will find out about their next steps on October 18th when the UEFA announces the playoff draw. Because they were ranked sixth out of the nine third-placed teams, Sweden will go into the playoff unseeded. That means they'll have a tougher draw for their two-leg battle, but with Ibrahimovic in good health, they might just be able to manage a qualification. They'll face either Hungary, Ukraine, Norway, or Denmark.

As for Austria and Russia, both teams will have ample time to rest. Friendly matches will likely pop up here and there, but as of right now, neither Austria nor Russia have anything on the schedule until the European Championship begins next June!

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