So, now that the Euro Qualifiers are 4 games into their 10 game campaign, here's an in depth look at the big stories, group by group. Today we're having a look at Group A, a moderately difficult and competitive group that includes the likes of the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, and an Iceland side that was 1 tie away from their first ever World Cup last Spring.
1st Place - Czech Republic
The Czechs win over the Netherlands to start the campaign was an impressive one, and their recent win over Iceland just last weekend a confirmation of this squad's ability to qualify for the tournament in France. They have decent personnel like Petr Cech and Rosicky can help carry the squad with their experience in playing the big names in Europe week in and week out. They've had to navigate some other teams playing them particularly tough in their wins on the road in Turkey 2-1 & Kazakhstan 4-2, but their unbeaten run to open the campaign is well deserving of the top spot in the group.
2nd Place - Iceland
Iceland have a good side, and one that almost saw them make the World Cup this past summer (they lost in a play-off with Croatia). The side's 2-0 win at home to the Netherlands was impressive, and they were by far the better side in that match. Their 2-1 loss on the road a tough loss to take, particularly with the Netherlands having just re-found their form it seems. The Sigurddson brothers will help carry the squad, much as they have at home and this team, if they can beat the Dutch again and maybe take a point from the Czechs, could possibly qualify automatically. They would be a good candidate for the 3rd place play-off though.
3rd Place - Netherlands
The Dutch's 6-0 thumping of Latvia last weekend showed how the Orange might have finally found their groove again. van Persie is a world class centre forward and the likes of Robben will help them as well. For the Dutch not to win the group would be a surprise, but the Czech's 6 point lead, while not insurmountable, certainly would be if the Dutch drop all 3 points at home to the central Europeans in the return fixture. In the end they should be expected to automatically qualify by finishing 1st or 2nd.
4th Place - Turkey
2002 seems a long time ago, and in football it is very much so. The side has not been up to par, and the Turkish domestic league has not really taken off in terms of standards (Galatasaray was once good enough to to make the last 16 of the Champions League). Turkey will probably be the first side out, but could snatch the play-off spot if Iceland lose their form. They are 5 points out from Iceland and they will surely not catch the Dutch in 3rd.
5th Place - Latvia
Latvia are minnows here. Latvia, if they were to have any chance of qualifying, would have to shoot for 3rd place and hope they could take 12 points from 12 away from both Kazakhstan & Turkey. They would then need maybe another 3 points somewhere. The draws against Turkey and Kazakhstan have left them 4 points adrift of the Netherlands already, 7 adrift of Iceland. Latvia have never been a powerful footballing nation, and it will be another qualifying campaign without a trip to the finals.
6th Place - Kazakhstan
While not expected to compete for a spot in the finals, Kazakhstan I would have thought could have done better. Their club teams have once tasted Champions League football, including the 4th round of qualifying there, but the sport has yet to really make its establishment in the country off of it.