European Championship qualifiers aren’t usually at the top of a football fan’s watch list. Every four years we tune in to watch the same teams qualify for the finals after strolling through games against teams that are usually of a substantially lower quality. However, 2015 didn’t go quite as expected for many, and it made the year a whole lot more exciting as a result.
The title of 2015’s biggest winners must therefore go to those sides that managed to defy the odds by qualifying for the Euro 2016 finals by producing wins over European heavyweights such as The Netherlands, Belgium and Portugal. As a result, Euro 2016 will include five countries that have never appeared in the final stage of the tournament – more than ever before since the tournament’s creation in 1960.
If results are anything to go by, England are the team to beat. Roy Hodgson’s side secured victories in their six European qualifiers throughout 2015, meaning they finished the qualifying phase as the only side to win all ten of their matches. The Three Lions have only lost one game in 2015 – a 2-0 away defeat to Spain back in November.
Vincente del Bosque’s Spain side have also had a fantastic year after their disappointing display at the 2014 World Cup, having tasted defeat just once as they clashed with world champions Germany. Del Bosque has done well to bed in a number of new faces ahead of next year’s tournament, with the likes of Koke, Alvaro Morata and, most notably, Paco Alcácer all since earning themselves a bigger role in the side. It will be interesting to see how they cope next summer, but 2015 has been a good year for a Spain side that appears to be on the mend.
Unsurprisingly, the biggest loser title goes The Netherlands, as their hopes of building on a third place finish at the 2014 World Cup were brought to a sudden end. The side went into 2015 having suffering two defeats in their first four qualifiers, and it only got worse as time went on. Five defeats in ten matches against lowly opposition in Czech Republic, Turkey, Iceland, Kazakhstan and Latvia was enough to see Danny Blind’s side crash out of their group in fourth place, five points off of third placed Turkey.
Although, the year was even worse for Greece, as they became the first top seeded team to finish bottom of their qualifying group in the tournament’s history. Claudio Ranieri was relieved of his duties as head coach entering 2015, but replacement Michael Skibbe failed to improve results, managing just one win throughout 2015 – a qualifier victory over Hungary when their exit from the tournament had already been confirmed. Their embarrassing performance included defeats to minnows such as Northern Ireland and the Faroe Islands.
Football is an unpredictable game, and the teams that have been performing this year, as well as those that have failed to, are unlikely to be those that were expected to going into 2015. 2016 is likely to be as unpredictable as ever, but given the level of quality that 2015 has provided, it looks to be an exciting year for European football.
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