The recent friendly matches in Europe have provided as many questions as they have answers as we look towards the imminent European Championship this summer. Teams that produced an impressive result one day, contrived to stumble the next.
In what was a busy week of matches across Europe, the nation that was our highest ranked going in to this week – Poland – has reinforced its credentials with two wins, against Serbia and Finland. While it is true to say that neither of those opponents are particularly tough currently – neither have qualified for Euro 2016 – the fact remains that Poland are consistently producing the goods at the moment.
Whether or not they can keep this impressive form going into what looks to be a rather tough group this summer is an intriguing question. But their current form would suggest they may be the “surprise” team in the Euros – a surprise in terms of the general popular impressions of who the best sides are.
I’m not stating that I think Poland will go on to reach the sharp end of the Euros this summer, or go on to lift the trophy (although there is precedent in the European Championship of a so-called lesser team going all the way – Greece 2004, Denmark 1992, Czechoslovakia 1976) but the fact remains that Poland are currently the form team in Europe.
Another outsider worth a look based on recent form are Turkey. With two wins against decent, of not stellar, opposition in the last week – 2-1 victories at home to Sweden and away to Austria – Turkey are clambering their way higher up our rankings and are currently listed as the 7th European team. It would be fair to say that this appears slightly off when compared to general perception. Turkey haven’t appeared at a tournament finals since Euro 2008 and only qualified this time around by virtue of finishing third in their group – ahead of the Dutch – and having the best record of all third placed finishers.
But the timescale taken into account for more recent form – the last eighteen months – includes a strong run of results in the latter stages of qualifying as well as their recent good results. Could they be another dark horse hitting solid form at just the right time, or will they flatter to deceive come the summer?
France and Others
The hosts of this year’s Euros, France, are also showing fine form at just the right time. They were impressive in beating the Netherlands and Russia last week to reinforce their credentials and to nudge themselves up a notch or two in the WGF rankings. Given their home advantage, our predictor would actually now rank France marginally the highest of all the European nations when the home weighting is taken into account.
Some other nations had more mixed fortunes. England were impressive in their come-from-behind win over Germany only to suffer in the same way in losing to the Netherlands a few days later. Meanwhile Germany bounced back from that loss to thrash a distinctly underwhelming Italy 4-1 in Munich. Italy currently languish in 34th place on the WGF ranking, amongst the likes of Wales, Hungary and Albania. This form would suggest they will struggle in Euro 2016 the same way they did in the World Cup two years ago, and given the lack of too many stars of the quality of prior campaigns in the Azzurri ranks, that may be the case.
The Finals draw hasn’t been too unkind to them, however, and whether their struggles will continue when they face Belgium, Ireland and Sweden in the summer is a fascinating question. No matter what the statistics say, there is always that nagging feeling that Italy, for all their troubles during qualifying, will find a way to get it right when it matters.