Euro qualifying at its midpoint: Predicting the 19 automatic qualifiers

1 Comment

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

[ MORE: International roundup – MLS No. 1 pick scores 1st for Canada ]

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

[ MORE: Altidore apologizes for red card ]

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.

10-man Red Bulls hold off Atlanta United at home

New York Red Bulls
Leave a comment

Atlanta United’s five-game winning streak went up in smoke as the New York Red Bulls pulled off an incredible 1-0 victory.

Playing down a man for around 65 minutes, the Red Bulls shutout Atlanta United’s high powered offense in front of 18,495 fans at Red Bull Arena. Tom Barlow, in just his second appearance with the Red Bulls, scored the game-winning goal in the 65th minute off a header at the far post, one that left U.S. Men’s National Team goalkeeper Brad Guzan rooted to his line.

[READ: Pep: Domestic Treble harder than UCL]

Tim Parker was shown a straight red card in controversial fashion, after grabbing Josef Martinez’s left arm with Martinez in front of him just outside the box. Martinez was clearly pulled back but continued running and eventually got a shot off that Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles parried away.

Referee Robert Sbiga then decided to call the play back and award Atlanta United a free kick outside the box. After what seemed to be consultation with his assistants, Sbiga then showed Parker a straight red card, likely for denial of a clear goal scoring opportunity (DOGSO) while Martinez was through on goal.

The outcome is a massive one for the Red Bulls. It’s been a rough season, with the loss of both Jesse Marsch and Tyler Adams and the poor form of Bradley Wright-Phillips up top. Wright-Phillips was out on Sunday and another attacker Andreas Ivan, went off with an injury in the first half as he was about to be substituted off anyways following the red card.

Alejandro Romero Gamarra, Kaku, has made his feelings known that he wants (or wanted) to leave the club. His form hasn’t been stellar this season either.

Meanwhile, Atlanta’s finally found its way back into the win column and is looking more like the juggernaut from last season, especially with five-straight shutout wins. It’s all back to zero today though, with the defeat at the Red Bulls on a perfect grass pitch up a man.

Mbappe hints he could leave PSG

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kylian Mbappe accepted his award as the Ligue 1 MVP, dedicated it to Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, and then mentioned he could be off soon to another club.

Wait, what?

Yes, following Mbappe accepting his award, the French star and World Cup winner stated he hoped he could continue his career at PSG but left open the possibility of moving to another club that allows him to take the next steps in his career.

[READ: Kompany to join Anderlecht as player-manager]

“This is a very important moment for me, I arrive at a first or second turn of my career,” Mbappe said, via L’equipe. “I’ve discovered a lot of things here, I feel that maybe it’s time to have more responsibility. I hope it may be at Paris Saint-Germain, it would be with great pleasure, or perhaps elsewhere for a new project.”

Mbappe later clarified his comments, stating he was looking for more responsibility. “If it’s at PSG, that’s good. If it is elsewhere, it will be elsewhere for a new challenge.

“For me, it was time to say it. I am someone whole: when I say something, I think it. For me, it was the right time to say it. That’s it, I said it!”

It’s unclear why exactly Mbappe used this moment to put some pressure on PSG. Perhaps its to remind them that the club needs to be successful in its transfer endeavors this summer, so it can compete deep into the UEFA Champions League. With Neymar injured and a central midfield ravaged by injuries, PSG capitulated and somehow fell to Manchester United in the Champions League Round of 16, grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory.

There’s no reason why PSG can’t dominate the Champions League like it does Ligue 1, especially with the attacking trident of Mbappe, Neymar and Edinson Cavani. But of course, against better competition, the inferiority in mentality and in talent along the backline has started to show.

So, where could Mbappe go? There’s very few places that could effectively match both his salary and his competitive goals. It’s the usual suspects, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and perhaps Manchester City, should they be interested in it. More recently, while Man City has spent big, it’s been on signing multiple players on $50 million transfers, as opposed to one player on a $200 million transfer, for example.

It’s unlikely, but an intriguing option would be Liverpool. If the club somehow came up with the funds, imagine Mbappe playing alongside Sadio Mane and Mo Salah, with Roberto Firmino coming in to spell either of the three over the course of the season. Mbappe would likely make up that one-point difference between Liverpool and Man City, and if that’s what it takes for Liverpool to finally win the title, it could be worth the initial massive investment.

Messi finishes season leading La Liga in goals, assists, and more

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Lionel Messi turns 32 this summer, and after more than a dozen years of first team soccer, playing more than 50 games a season, the old man’s still got it.

The Argentine star, playing his first season in almost a decade without direct competition from Cristiano Ronaldo, scored twice as Barcelona tied Eibar, 2-2. The two goals gave him 34 for the season, by far the most by any player in the league, and his 50th in all competitions.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Messi also led La Liga this season with 13 assists, 136 shots, 85 shots on target and 70 through balls. In terms of successful dribbles, Messi’s 132 fell seven short of Celta Vigo’s Sofiane Boufal.

Messi’s 34 goals gave him his sixth Pichichi, the trophy given to the league’s leading scorer. Messi is now tied with legendary Telmo Zarra for the all-time record of most Pichichi’s, and Messi is now three ahead of Ronaldo.

As if Messi wasn’t already a legendary player, the man seems to be showing no signs of slowing down. It may have helped that he skipped matches with Argentina after the 2018 World Cup this past fall, keeping him fresh for Barcelona. Even so, the man looks as good, if not better, with age.

Messi already holds the record for most goals in league history, and at this rate, he’ll set it to a level that will be almost impossible to reach. While he’s going to be remembered for his incredible control on the ball, it doesn’t hurt that he’s been incredibly productive during his career, including in 2018-2019. Barcelona won the league title with ease and the club made the UEFA Champions League semifinal. If for some better defending, Messi could be contesting for another Champions League title.

Nani scores twice as Orlando City thrashes FC Cincinnati

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Nani may not be the star he once was while he played for Manchester United, but he’s still making a powerful impact in MLS.

The Portuguese international scored his sixth and seventh goals of the season as Orlando City ran circles expansion side FC Cincinnati, winning 5-1. Along with Nani, Tesho Akindele scored a brace and Dom Dwyer came off the bench and scored a header in the win.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Aside from having a chance to record a big win over a struggling side, Orlando City may have been ultra motivated on Sunday. Orlando City manager James O’Connor has history with FC Cincinnati from his time at Louisville City, with intense rivalry matches taking place as well as arguments between O’Connor and former FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch on the sidelines.

FC Cincinnati actually went up early with a Darren Mattocks finish past Brian Rowe, but it didn’t take long for Orlando City to respond. Akindele fired home from 20-yards out in the 37th minute to make it 1-1. Early in the second half, Nani scored on a penalty kick rebound to make it 2-1 to the hosts, and then he added a second off a cross from the right to blast the game wide open.

With the win, Orlando City moved just one point outside of a playoff place, while Cincinnati remains in the basement of the Eastern Conference. However, Orlando City has a difficult road ahead, with matches against the LA Galaxy, Montreal Impact and D.C. United to come.