EURO 2024 qualifying: Scotland and Belgium almost over the line
After an intense international break for all European teams, there remain only four matchdays to go in the race to qualify for next summer’s EURO 2024 in Germany.
For some, Euro 2024 qualification is a point away and for others, it is a dream that has come to an end; so what has happened during the international break and who is still in contention to go all the way?
In the last matchday, Norway won 2-1 against Georgia, resulting in Scotland having to wait until October to officially qualify for the tournament.
Scotland are one of three teams on maximum points and they require just two points to go through. The Tartan Army are away to Spain in their lone fixture in October, and if Norway drop a single point, Scotland will make it.
Spain hammered Cyprus 6-0 in the other fixture as they sit second – six points behind the Scots – and the aforementioned Norway and Georgia can still topple Spain, although their game in hand should count for a lot.
Four teams in Group A have the luxury of a play-off spot to contend; with Scotland, Spain and Georgia guaranteed to be in the play-offs whilst Cyprus could be in with a chance.
Spain, across their two fixtures in this international break, have scored a whopping 13 goals (Georgia 1-7 Spain and Spain 6-0 Cyprus).
EURO 2024 favourites France are in pole position to qualify for the tournament and are in strong form, not even conceding a single goal yet, and their star striker Kylian Mbappe has four goals so far.
France won against the Republic of Ireland in matchday five, before sitting out the most recent fixtures and have a healthy six-point advantage over 2010 World Cup finalists Netherlands.
The Netherlands will feel good about their chances as they have a game in hand on the teams, and sit second on nine points with Greece third on the same number.
Greece will host the Netherlands in a crucial match in October, and if Greece were to lose, it would more than likely relegate them to the play-offs in the Nations League to qualify.
For the Republic of Ireland – who lost at home to the Netherlands 2-1 – and Gibraltar, it looks like the end of their chances. Ireland will have to beat both Greece and the Netherlands to have a chance and Gibraltar sit on zero points.
It looks like it will be going down to the final fixtures in Group C, as three teams are level on seven points in the battle for second place so far.
Italy’s 2-1 win over Ukraine and North Macedonia’s 2-0 win over Malta ensures that Italy, Ukraine and North Macedonia are equal heading into October.
England may be leading the group currently, and should qualify as things stand, but their recent 1-1 draw against Ukraine has left more questions than answers.
Ukraine and North Macedonia play a crucial fixture in October followed by England against Italy a few days later, and the Three Lions could qualify with two games to spare if results go their way.
Italy are assured of a Play-Off spot and Malta are already eliminated.
Wins for Croatia and Wales, both away, means that Group D is wide open as three points separates the four sides battling for the top two.
A narrow 1-0 win against Armenia sends Croatia top on goal difference ahead of Turkey, and Wales’ win against Latvia puts them back into contention.
Croatia and Turkey play a vital game against one another in October and every one of those four sides could feel like they can qualify.
Latvia, however, can no longer qualify after remaining pointless after five games.
Both of the top teams boast a play-off spot should they fail to progress, but it is likely Croatia will top the group; so it could be a battle between Turkey, Armenia and Wales for second place.
Group E is a tight affair, with Albania’s home win against Poland making sure they are top at the end of the September international break.
The other fixture in matchday six was a 1-0 away win for Moldova over the Faroe Islands.
The Faroe Islands are out of contention to qualify directly, but do have an outside chance of featuring in the play-offs; whilst Czech Republic are in a good position to qualify as they are second with a game in hand.
Poland will feel disappointed, as despite having Robert Lewandowski, six points from five games makes for a poor return but all four teams have a chance of qualifying.
An interesting statistic to note is that none of the four teams can qualify via the play-offs so the last matches will go down to the wire.
Belgium’s 5-0 win over Estonia has seen Romelu Lukaku go top of the goal-scoring rankings – with eight goals to his name – and it is Belgium who top the group ahead of Austria.
Austria’s away win over Sweden by a 3-1 score line has left the Swedes on the verge of elimination, with both Belgium and Austria requiring a win to progress out of the group.
On October 13th, both the leaders play one another, and three days later Austria travel to Azerbaijan and Belgium host Sweden, so it is very likely that both will join Germany at the EUROs next summer.
Estonia, on the other hand, have an outside chance of making the play-offs and Azerbaijan will be eliminated if they drop any points or the leaders gain a point.
Serbia and Montenegro earned valuable wins in their last matches as a mixed international break has thrown the group into uncertainty.
Montenegro drew their first match of the break, but obtained the most points in the four-day span and sit third behind Hungary and Serbia.
Serbia’s home loss to Hungary may prove crucial as Hungary now have a game in hand on their rivals.
Bulgaria and Lithuania sit on two points and play each other next, meaning the loser will be out of luck whilst a draw eliminates both teams.
To add to the drama, Hungary host Serbia at the same time, so the next international break will make or break each nation’s chance to move on.
One-point separates four teams and with four matches to go, Slovenia and Denmark occupy the qualification spots ahead of Finland and surprise package Kazakhstan.
Ranked 104th in the world, Kazakhstan won at home against Northern Ireland – completing a double over the national side – and will feel that they can defy the odds to make their first European Championships.
Denmark have the second-top goal scorer in qualifying so far – Rasmus Højlund – propelling them into second thanks to his six goals.
Slovenia will feel confident after their convincing win against San Marino, ahead of what is expected to be a defining October for the four nations as all four go against each other.
Kazakhstan also has the benefit of a play-off spot, should they fail in the final stages of Group H.
As for Northern Ireland, they will need to hope for a series of unlikely results to stay in the hunt, but it looks extremely unlikely for the nation that shocked Europe to reach EURO 2016.
San Marino sit bottom, goalless and with no chance of progressing to their first tournament.
Romania and Kosovo played out a controversial game after Kosovo players walked off after a banner was shown stating that “Kosovo is Serbia”.
Romania won that match 2-0 and stayed in second place. However, the incident has overshadowed football proceedings.
Switzerland’s 3-0 win over Andorra means the group leaders have a three-point buffer on Israel after their 1-0 over Belarus.
While all teams could potentially still qualify, only Switzerland, Romania and Israel have realistic chances of finishing in the top two, and Israel is the only nation with a play-off place in the bag.
Israel host Switzerland in the next matchday which, should the Swiss lose, would make an uncomfortable reading going into the crunch time in qualifying.
It is only a matter of time until Portugal are confirmed as one of the teams heading to Germany – with their maximum points tally and 24 goals to zero conceded showcasing the dominance.
Cristiano Ronaldo has scored five goals, Bruno Fernandes with four and Bernardo Silva has three, as the three players combine for half of Portugal’s total so far. Fernandes also tops the assists charts with five.
Their 9-0 win over Luxembourg is a scary reminder to the rest of the elite and it looks like second place is between Slovakia and Luxembourg.
Luxembourg have surprised the group by beating the likes of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Iceland, but sit three points behind Slovakia – who are widely tipped to seal second place.
Both Bosnia and Herzegovina and Iceland remain in the running, but will need Slovakia to slip up in their last games. However, the former has the benefit of a play-off spot come March.
After the groups have been completed – where 20 teams will qualify – 12 teams will compete in the play-offs, determined by their standings within the Nations League.
By the end of March 2024, we will have the 23 teams joining Germany in next summer’s European Championships.
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