Euro qualifying at its midpoint: Predicting the 19 automatic qualifiers

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We’ve reached the halfway point of the race to qualify for Euro 2016, and only one nation has a guarantee of participating in the tournament in France: France.

Some big-name teams have surged through their group, while others have fell behind only to right the ship heading into the stretch run.

[USMNT: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things]

Before we get into the business of predicting who will come through, let’s take a look at some winners, losers, and statistical heroes.

Biggest surprise: Northern Ireland and Wales

Biggest disappointments: Greece and Bosnia and Herzegovina

Scoring leader: Danny Welbeck, England (6 goals)

Most goals scored: Poland (16 goals)

Fewest goals allowed: tie — Romania, England, Belgium (1 goal)

As for the teams and their chances to get to France as participants in next summer’s party, there’s plenty of time to foul things up. But some have put themselves in very good positions.

The top two teams in each group will advance, while the best third-place side will also advance. The remaining third-place sides will be drawn into  playoff ties.

In Group A, the Czechs and Iceland are a point a part at the top, with the Netherlands five points back of an automatic spot. But hold on, because the Dutch get both nations they’re chasing at home. Turkey is two points back of the Netherlands for the playoff spot.

The prediction: 1) Iceland2) Czech Republic, 3) Netherlands

source: Getty Images

Group B is cluttered at the top now that Israel dropped back to back matches to Belgium and Wales. It seems the Red Devils have righted their ship, but with Bosnia & Herzegovina four points back of third and six back of second, plenty could change.

Safe prediction: 1) Belgium

Less safe: 2) Wales

Toss up: 3) Israel or Bosnia and Herzegovina

To Group C, where the top three look certain. Slovakia leads the group with 15 points, followed by Spain three back and Ukraine six back. Spain has only two home qualifiers left compared to Slovakia and Ukraine, but is also Spain.

The prediction: 1) Spain, 2) Slovakia, 3) Ukraine

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Germany feels like a safe bet to move up from its second place slot, a point behind Poland, but the next three slots are a question. Poland should be safe, but it’s likely to come down to Scotland and Ireland for the third spot. A June 13 match in Ireland could determine the whole deal, and Scotland’s remaining home matches include big tests like Poland and Germany.

The prediction: 1) Germany, 2) Poland, 3) Ireland

source: Getty Images

England is crushing the field in Group E, but its 5-0 record hasn’t guaranteed much thanks to the presence of minnows Lithuania, Estonia and San Marino. Switzerland’s home loss to England hurts, but not as much as Slovenia giving up its edge for second with a loss at Estonia. Look for a flip-flop here.

The prediction: 1) England, 2) Switzerland, 3) Slovenia

Group F has played out in unpredictable fashion, with Pot A Greece and Pot B Hungary currently out of automatic qualification spots. Greece is 10 points out of an auto spot, in fact, and can only hope to make up six points on Hungary. It’s possible, but far from likely. Now can Hungary catch either No. 1 Romania (5 point lead) or No. 2 Northern Ireland (4 point lead)? The hope may rest with Greece not reclaiming its edge, as the Greeks still have to visit the top two sides and host Hungary.

The prediction: 1) Romania, 2) Northern Ireland, 3) Hungary

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Still a bit in the balance in Group G, as Russia waits to see if it’ll get its three points for the abandonment of its match versus Montenegro. Both sides have been charged, leaving them and Liechtenstein within one point of each other in the race for third. Austria leads the group with 13 points, while Sweden is second. Das Team is going through, figuring on six from six at home against Liechtenstein and Moldova. Russia can catch Sweden if it gets all three points from the abandoned match and no punishment. I don’t see the second part happening given the Serbia/Albania mess.

The prediction: 1) Austria, 2) Sweden, 3) Russia

source: Getty ImagesGroup H looks fairly set to stay as it’s began, with Croatia cruising aside from a 1-1 draw at No. 2 Italy. The only question is whether Bulgaria can make a run at Norway. Seems unlikely.

The prediction: 1) Croatia, 2) Italy, 3) Norway

In the five-team Group I, Portugal has overcome its slow start to sit atop Denmark and Albania by two points. Yet Cristiano Ronaldo’s bunch have just one home match left in the second go-round, and it’s against No. 2 Denmark. The schedule won’t cost them an auto spot, but it will the group.

The prediction: 1) Denmark, 2) Portugal, 3) Albania

And the bonus prediction for the top third-place side? Look for Slovenia to edge Ukraine and Hungary.

WATCH: Zlatan stunner answers Vela’s opener in El Trafico

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic is walking it like he talks it, not that that’s anything new.

A few days after claiming superiority over LAFC superstar Carlos Vela, Ibrahimovic and his Galaxy trailed early in El Trafico via a Vela penalty.

[ MORE: Latest on Eriksen ]

Naturally, Zlatan took it upon himself to answer the bell with his 14th goal in 17 games.

Ibrahimovic chests a long ball onto his right foot, cooking Eduard Atuesta by pushing it into position for a tremendous lash into the LAFC goal.

And if you haven’t been following LAFC’s amazing season, Atuesta’s probably been the side’s best player after Vela, who now has 20 goals in 20 games.

Wizard stuff.

Borussia Dortmund tops Liverpool 3-2 at Notre Dame

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A half-hour of the big guns wasn’t enough to get Jurgen Klopp a result against his former team.

Harry Wilson and Rhian Brewster scored for Liverpool in a 3-2 loss to Borussia Dortmund at the University of Notre Dame on Friday.

Paco Alcacer, Thomas Delaney, and Jacob Bruun Larsen scored for the Black Yellow, who led 3-1 when mass changes began with Virgil Van Dijk, Georginio Wijnaldum, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Jordan Henderson, and Andrew Robertson entering the match.

Liverpool faces Sevilla on Sunday at Fenway Park in Boston.

[ MORE: Latest on Eriksen ]

Alcacer with the ball in the box is a bad idea, and the Spaniard took advantage of Nathaniel Clyne and Joel Matip to smash home from a yard outside the six.

Wilson leveled the score before halftime, but Delaney made it 2-1 in the 53rd minute when a long diagonal ball beat the Reds line and a low pass across the box went undetected.

It was 3-1 via a clever Bruun Larsen touch to wrong foot James Milner, but Brewster brought the Reds back to within one when he converted a 75th minute penalty won by Ben Woodburn.

Liverpool was without Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, and Mohamed Salah, who are on break after deep summer tournament runs.

Eriksen offered big Spurs wages, but Atletico Madrid lurks

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Christian Eriksen may trade London for Madrid after all, but Marca claims it’ll be Real Madrid’s rivals who earn the services of Tottenham’s Danish playmaker.

Eriksen, 27, scored 10 goals with 17 assists for Spurs in all competitions last season, and was reportedly ready to spread his wings for Real Madrid.

[ MORE: Kean to Everton? ]

But pro-Real site Marca says Zinedine Zidane doesn’t want Eriksen at the Bernabeu, and that Diego Simeone feels differently… should Atletico Madrid fail at landing his prime option.

That’s James Rodriguez, who remains property of Real and that’s a problem.

So Eriksen to Atleti, helping to replace Antoine Griezmann? It’s possible.

From Marca.com:

Just last November, the London club put a 250 million euro price tag on his head, but now appear keen to move him on. The next few days will likely reveal a lot about what’s to come.

So we may get an idea of whether this report has any guts to it by next week. There could be some sense to it, but Metro claims that Spurs are offering Eriksen an “enormous” contract to keep him in North London.

Enormous means a doubling of Eriksen’s wages, and the Dane is said to be happy in England. Might Spurs hold off the finest of La Liga and Serie A after all.

Report: Everton could land Juventus’ Kean after all

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Everton could end up with one of the hottest prospects in world soccer.

Moise Kean may wind up leaving Juventus due to the club’s failure to offload fellow strikers Mario Mandzukic and Gonzalo Higuain.

And Kean, 19, was poised for a breakthrough to the first team, to the extent that Juve reportedly turned down a $33 million bid from Everton.

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The Toffees, however, may have new life due to the Higuain/Mandzukic problem, and Sky Sports Italia reports that Kean may indeed be an option for Marco Silva‘s club. He could join Michael Keane, if he’s keen.

It wouldn’t be surprising if Kean elected to leave Italy given the racial abuse he’s suffered in Serie A (Though racism is everywhere, of course).

The same report says Kean turned down a Barcelona offer because he would’ve headed on loan, while Arsenal is also said to be in the mix.

Kean scored six Serie A goals with an assist in just 13 matches for Juventus last season after scoring four times for Hellas Verona on loan.