In his posting yesterday, John commented on the fate of the Great Britain team and noted that they are not strong enough to cause any surprises. In fact, the entire qualifying stage has been rather predictable, with the strongest teams dutifully having already ensured their participation in December, together with hosts Denmark and Norway. Several teams are totally without a chance, and the reality is that there simply are not 28 competive teams to make the 7 groups interesting. And it is hard to get excited about a situation where more or less 10 teams have 'smooth sailing' and the only concern is about the remaining 3-4 places.
[u]Seven teams are already through: Croatia, France, Germany, Hungary, Montenegro, Russia and Spain[/u]. While Switzerland mathematically still has a chance, most experts would say that it would take a miracle for them to keep Romania or Ukraina out. Serbia and Slovenia are heavy favorites to advance from their groups. The Netherlands team is currently ahead of FYR Macedonia in their group, but they will have a tough time defending that position. Sweden should have an edge against the Czech Republic, by virtue of having clearly won the away game. And then, finally, we have the toughest battle in the group where Iceland won by 4 goals at home against Austria. This means that Iceland needs to prevent the hosts from winning by a larger margin when they go to Austria in late May.
Switching gears, more immediately we have the Champions League semi-finals coming up the next two weekends. The draw caused us to have two interesting battles among neighbors and rivals: Viborg (DEN) – Larvik (NOR) and Gyor (HUN) – Valcea (ROU). Judging from comments in the media, Larvik are perhaps the favorites in the Nordic matchup, but this just might the Viborg's chance to pull off a victory before Larvik appears to come with an even stronger team next season. Valcea has the advantage of playing the second game at home, but it is not at all clear that this is a sufficient edge between two teams that seem very evenly matched. We are certainly looking forward to the broadcasts of these exciting games!