Euro 2016’s Three Cinderellas

Another leg of Euro 2016 qualifying is about to begin. The change in format has allowed for the typically weaker squads to actually have a chance to qualify for the finals. So far, there have been 3 very distinct Cinderella nations who have risen to the top of their groups, despite unfavorable histories. It just so happens that the 3 nations are the respective leaders in groups A, B, and C.

Iceland, Wales, and Slovakia have never qualified for the Euro final tournament. In fact, the group has a combined 2 appearances at the World Cup. Slovakia made a shock appearance in 2010, even advancing out of their group. The only other appearance at a major tournament was Wales at the 1958 World Cup, which was only afforded to them because Belgium refused to play in the confederation play-off. Wales did exceed expectations by advancing out of their group, which is quite the accomplishment without legitimately qualifying.

This new style has resulted in not one, but three Cinderellas. Lets check out the teams to see if their glass slipper will fit, or if the clock will strike midnight on their qualifying chances.

Iceland

Iceland celebrate in Euro 2016 qualifier

Image: Reuters

Group A’s leader is the detached nation Iceland. With a population of around 325,000, the nation has never had much success in football, although there has been a real upswing in the last decade. During World Cup 2014 qualifying, the nation finished 2nd in their group, advancing them to the playoff stage. While they lost to Croatia, this was a big step for the country on the national stage.

They have continued their good play, particularly at home, to garner 15 points thus far in Euro qualifying. These 15 points aren’t only from the scrubs of the group either. They have beaten Turkey, Netherlands, and the Czech Republic at home. Their lone loss in the group was to the Czech Republic in Plzen. With 4 matches remaining, they have 2 of those at home against minnows Latvia and Kazakhstan. They have a 5 point cushion on 3rd place, while 8 points will assure them of a top 2 spot in the group. So long as the team picks up 3 points in their remaining matches, they will be guaranteed at least a playoff spot.

This week Iceland have 2 matches. The first is a road test in the Netherlands, which should be very tough. The Dutch are 3rd in the group, and will definitely be gunning for 3 points. The second match of the week is a home tilt against Kazakhstan. The Kazak’s have only a single point from Latvia to their name, so Iceland should be able to grab a win. They are done playing the 2nd place Czech Republic, which will make scoreboard watching an important part of this group.

Glass Slipper Meter: Cloudy Glass Slipper. Iceland have built a solid lead in the group. If they can get 6 points from their remaining matchups with Latvia and Kazakhstan, I think they go through. The Netherlands would have to make an incredible push to drop the Icelanders. Cheers to the first Euro qualifying for Iceland.

Wales

Gareth Bale for Wales

This next cycle is likely Wales’ best shot at qualifying for both of the major tournaments. They have a golden generation of players with Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey, Ben Davies, and Ashley Williams. Wales is a part of the UK, with around 3 million people living in the country. This has not stopped their rise in football though, with the latest FIFA rankings having them in 9th, their highest ever. That is up from their 117th spot 4 years ago.

While other parts of the UK have had success in the international football community, Wales have not. As mentioned before, their only appearance at a major tournament was due to Belgium refusing to play in a play-off. That seems to have changed, as Wales are only one spot behind England in the Top 10. Now we only have to see if the Welsh can live up to the ranking and qualify for their first major tournament without help.

Wales top Group B with a solid 14 points. They have a 3 point cushion over Belgium, and 5 point cushion over Israel and Cyprus. That is right, Cyprus. They have home matches remaining against Israel and the already eliminated Andorra. Their away matches remaining are in Cyprus and Bosnia & Herzegovina. Both matches against Belgium are out of the way, leaving the 4 weakest squads to gain points.

As expected, Gareth Bale has put a nation’s hopes on his back. His 5 goals in qualifying are tied for the group lead, while almost singlehandedly getting 3 wins and 9 points. All signs look positive for the Welsh, which should set off celebration.

Glass Slipper Meter: Clear Glass Slipper. It would take some really weird results for Wales to miss Euro 2016, but then again, this group has Cyprus with 9 points. Anything could happen, but Wales has Gareth Bale.

Slovakia

Slovakia in Euro 2016 qualifier

Getty Images

They had a shock appearance and performance at the 2010 World Cup, but other than that, the nation has been relatively out of sight. The country was a part of Czechoslovakia until 1992, so they haven’t been around for that long. This nation of 5.5 million is looking for their first Euro appearance, and they have a fast track to that goal.

Slovakia got a really good draw in Group C. Spain is the only real giant, and the rest of the teams are manageable. The Slovaks are perfect in the group, with 6 wins and 18 points. They have a 3 point lead over Spain, and a 6 point cushion over the Ukraine. They do have a remaining road tilt against Spain, but the other 3 matches are against Belarus, Ukraine, and Luxembourg, with the Luxembourg match being at home.

7 points from the remaining 4 matches would guarantee their spot at Euro 2016. The Slovaks have already secured at least 3rd place, with playoffs being the worst the country can do at this point. That is a pretty good situation to be in.

Glass Slipper Meter: Pure Glass Slipper. It would take a monumental letdown for Slovakia not to qualify for Euro 2016.

 

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About the author: Dominic Habjan

 

I am a contributor to SoccerPro’s blogs, and truly enjoy writing about the World’s Game. I support Sporting KC, US National Team, and Slovenian National Team. I follow the Premier League but don’t necessarily have a favorite club. I am an avid sports fan, but prefer college to professional leagues in every sport with exception to soccer. I love the Mizzou Tigers, KC Royals, and KC Chiefs. Outside sports I enjoy movies, music, and musical theatre.

Website: https://www.soccerpro.com

 

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