Euro 2016 draw: Biggest winners and losers

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Looking over this morning’s draw for Euro 2016 qualifying, the groups were spread pretty thin, just like UEFA wants it.

However, the road to France in two years’ time is much easier for some than it is for others.

Let’s take a look at who made out the easiest and most difficult.


Spain: The defending European champions were not surprisingly handed a fantastically easy road to qualification, and they will barely need to break a sweat.  Their group consists of Luxembourg, Macedonia, Belarus, Slovakia, and Ukraine.  Out of that group, only Ukraine qualified for Euro 2012, and they did so automatically as the hosts. They ended up with just three group-stage points. Expect no trouble for the Spaniards whatsoever.

-Germany: Shockingly (not really), another top team has an easy route.  With just Gibraltar, Georgia, Scotland, Poland, and the Republic of Ireland in their way, it will be shades of 2012 qualification where they finished with nearly double the points total of anyone else in their group.


-Sweden: After last round’s impressive qualification run, beating out Hungary and nearly keeping pace with the Netherlands at the top of their qualification group, the Swedes bowed out meekly in the group stage of Euro 2012.  Now, they will have another fight on their hands, drawing Russia and Austria along with Montenegro, Liechtenstein, and Moldova.

-Netherlands: Euro 2012 qualification was kind to the Netherlands, as they earned their group’s top spot ahead of Sweden, Hungary, and Finland. Now, they’ll have to do it up against the Czech Republic and Turkey, both Euro 2012 knockout qualifiers and impressively so.  Turkey finished second ahead of Belgium last time around before falling in the playoff, while the Czech Republic made it all the way to the knockout rounds. The Dutch will have their work cut out for them.

LINEUPS: Tim Howard starts for USMNT against Costa Rica

SALVADOR, BRAZIL - JULY 01:  Tim Howard of the United States gestures during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Round of 16 match between Belgium and the United States at Arena Fonte Nova on July 1, 2014 in Salvador, Brazil.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
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The United States takes on Costa Rica in a friendly tonight at Red Bull Arena, as the USMNT must put the Mexico match behind them and focus on the upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

The biggest inclusion in tonight’s starting XI is that of Tim Howard in goal, marking his return to the national side after taking a self-imposed sabbatical. It will be Howard’s first appearance for the USMNT since his legendary performance against Belgium in the 2014 World Cup.

Klinsmann has chosen to go with a 4-4-2 tonight, and Geoff Cameron remains the only starter in the back-line from the Mexico match. He’ll partner with Michael Orozco in the center of defense, with Brad Evans and Tim Ream on the outsides.

[ MORE: Fabian Johnson sent home from USMNT after fall-out with Klinsmann ]

In the midfield, Klinsmann has put some speed on the wings through the likes of DeAndre Yedlin and recent call-up Brek Shea. Danny Williams joins Jermaine Jones as the central midfielders.

Up top, Jozy Altidore will play alongside Gyasi Zardes, who returns to his more comfortable position as forward.

Cristiano Ronaldo wins record fourth European Golden Boot

MADRID, SPAIN - OCTOBER 13:  Real Madrid football player Cristiano Ronaldo poses with his four Golden Boot Awards as maximun goal scorer of European leagues at The Westin Palace Hotel on October 13, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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Cristiano Ronaldo has added another trophy to the collection, winning his fourth Golden Boot as Europe’s top scorer for the 2014-15 season.

The award accounts for goals in league play only, which means the Champions League and domestic tournaments are not included. In La Liga, Ronaldo scored 48 goals in 35 appearances.

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Ronaldo first won the award after the 2007-08 season with Manchester United, and has now added three more with Real Madrid in 2010-11, 2013-14, and 2014-15.

With his fourth win, Ronaldo moves ahead of Lionel Messi as the only player to win the award four times. Messi has won three, while eight players have won two.

Below is a post from Ronaldo’s Facebook page reflecting on the award:

What a special moment in my professional life!

Winning four Golden Boots is a privilege for me and I’ll keep challenging myself because I want to do better every time and I want to keep chasing for more records.

I have to thank everyone in Real Madrid that made this possible and we want to keep winning more titles and more trophies. Thank you everyone.

Ronaldo alone scored more goals in La Liga play last season than 14 clubs did, which shows how prolific his season was. The only player to score more than 48 league goals in a European season was Messi, who scored 50 in 2011-12.

[ EURO 2016: A look at the 20 teams that have qualified for France ]

While it was a successful year for Ronaldo personally, it was a very disappointing campaign for Real Madrid, who fired manager Carlo Ancelotti after finishing the season without a trophy.