Euro 2016's Fallen Giants

Getty Images

A few teams have found Euro 2016 Qualifying to be a step too far, with results not coming their way. Why is this, and could we have expected it? We look at three international sides for whom this tournament has proved to be far more difficult than was imagined.

Netherlands

The Netherlands have reached three World Cup finals since that first, glorious parade of skills in 1974, when the Johans, Cruyff and Neeskens, were part of a team that tore apart all opposition until defeat in the final against West Germany. The 2014 World Cup under Louis van Gaal saw a pragmatic approach pay off, as the team reached the semi-finals, losing to Argentina on penalties.

Most observers expected Guus Hiddink to take the legacy left by van Gaal, and a collection of renowned if aging players, and take the "Oranje" to the next level, winning Euro 2016, or at least coming close. Instead, Hiddink brought in a tactical switch back to traditional possession football that did not suit the players available to him. He was sacked and replaced by Danny Blind, one of the great Ajax team that won the Champions League in 1995, but a coach only at the Amsterdam club prior to Holland.

This strategy of refreshing things by bringing in a manager with a big name but little experience had worked, to an extent, under the coaching of Marco van Basten, however the former Milan great had a youthful team and excellent support staff - two things denied Blind.

After the Netherlands' latest defeat, a 3-0 reverse against Turkey (a team without genuine stars, save for Barcelona's Arda Turan), one of the greatest nations in international football finds itself in fourth place in its group and without much chance of qualifying.

The reasons for Holland's failure can be spread to many places. However, it is unarguable that the decline set in motion in parallel with the collapse in form suffered by Robin van Persie at Manchester United. The striker had been the driving force in Sir Alex Ferguson's final title in 2013, but van Gaal sold his old friend to Fenerbahce, not trusting his form or fitness.

Wesley Schneijder has tried to rekindle his form of five years ago playing in a deeper role at Galatasaray, but looks off the pace at international level. Meanwhile, emerging talent like Blind's son Daley and Giorginio Wijnaldum are certainly good enough, but do not have the matches under their belts to spark a revival through force of will.

Serbia

After a World Cup many felt Serbia was unlucky to exit from at the group stages, having fallen foul of some questionable refereeing, hopes were high for Euro 2016 Qualifying, especially given the number of key players who were getting big-match experience in major European leagues, something which had, to a greater or lesser extent, been true since the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia.

However, alarm bells should have rung for UEFA and for Serbia when the draw was announced, and bitter rival Albania was placed in the same group as Serbia. Ethnic Albanians make up the majority of Kosovo, the subject of NATO's air-strikes on Belgrade in 1998, and a state whose independence is still not recognised by Serbia or Russia. As such, Albania and Serbia saw each other as the enemy on the football field.

UEFA has the power to keep separate any teams engaged in conflict, or not to allow games between teams where player or supporter safety is seen as potentially compromised. However it chose in this case not to use this power. Serbia's game against Albania in Belgrade was abandoned amid crowd trouble, caused by Serbian players seizing a flag of "Greater Albania" flown by a drone. This started a huge fight among players and fans.

The match was awarded to Albania, with Serbia in effect losing six points, as another three were deducted by UEFA for crowd trouble. Since then, a demoralised Serbia's only qualifying win to date has been over Armenia. While a competent young team will recover, the psychological damage caused by this qualifying tournament will take time to heal.

Greece

It's perhaps self-evident that Greece's preparations for Euro 2016 Qualifying might be less important when viewed in the light of the continuing economic struggles experienced by the proud nation. However, Greece won Euro 2004 and since then has qualified for every international tournament for which it has been eligible.

Greek national hero, Portuguese coach Fernando Santos, resigned after a difficult World Cup in 2014, and was replaced by Claudio Ranieri, a wily Italian who had coached most of the biggest clubs in his own country, plus Chelsea in England and Valencia in Spain. He seemed to be the kind of coach who would understand Greece's defensive mentality, and move the group of players forward to another qualification, even though he chose to continue living in Italy.

Instead, defeats to the eminently beatable Romania, Northern Ireland and the Faroe Islands, all at home (the Faroes picking up only the 20th win in their history as an independent state), plus a 1-1 away draw in Helsinki against Finland, meant Ranieri was booted out, with Greece bottom of the Group F table with one point.

Results under Kostas Tsanas have not improved, with a draw against Hungary preceding defeats to the Faroe Islands again, and Finland. It's been a disaster for Greece, and although the squad has talent, it is perhaps asking too much for players to be at their optimum amid government dissolution, EU bailouts and a mounting problem in the country with crowd violence in its domestic league.

Get £50 just for signing up!
Not available in your region

Share

Comments