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UEFA 2016 Qualifiers: Match Day 5

       The fifth match day is right around the corner, just waiting for hopes of punching a ticket to France to get closer or be dashed. Anything can happen after the halfway point, and it will be a great sprint to the finish. 

-------------------------------------------------------------GROUP A---------------------------------------------------
      All three games for Group A will take place on March 28th, which features Kazakhstan (1 Point) hosting Iceland (9 Points), Czech Republic (12 Points) hosting Latvia (2 Points) and Netherlands (6 Points) hosting Turkey (4 Points). One should expect Iceland and the Czech Republic with comfortable victories over the bottom two sides of the group, further improving a guaranteed ticket to France. I say the Czech's take it 2-1 while Iceland sneaks out a 1-0 victory.

      However, the Netherland-Turkey game will be a key factor for both sides, assuming the other two results go as expected. A loss for the Turkish side will drop them to five points behind the third seed, which would lead to a playoff appearance, and eight behind a guaranteed second place finish. Both sides are coming off solid victories as Turkey held off Kazakhstan 3-1 at home while Le Oranje demolished the Latvians, 6-nil. I like the Dutch here, especially at home, by a 2-1 margin.

----------------------------------------------------GROUP B-----------------------------------------------------------------
      Quite easily, one of the most surprising groups so far, as expected winners, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Belgium are in fourth and fifth respectively. It is a great chance for BiH (2 Points) as they visit the Andorra (0 Points), Israel (9 Points) hosts Wales (8 Points) and Belgium (5 Points) hosts Cyprus (6 Points). It should be noted that Israel and Belgium also have a match in hand on the rest of the group. Bosnia should take Andorra apart by a margin of 3-nil with ease, in the only game that is easy to predict, thrusting them back into play for a top 3 finish.

       Despite a game in hand, Israel can not afford many slip ups as they host Garreth Bale and a Welsh side coming off a scoreless draw in Belgium. I like the Welsh pulling an upset here by a 1-nil scoreline. Cyprus has been surprising, as of this point, with a victory in Bosnia and one goal losses to Israel and Wales, but Belgium should be coming in with full motivation and take the game by a margin of 3-1. 
----------------------------------------------------------GROUP C-----------------------------------------------------------------
       The top three is all but set, only thing left to be seen is which sides get a guaranteed slot, and which team will end up in the home and home aggregate playoff series. Macedonia (3 Points) hosts Belarus (1 Point), Slovakia (12 Points) hosts Luxembourg (1 Point) and Spain (9 Points) hosts Ukraine (9 Points). Slovakia should demolish Luxembourg by ease, a margin of 4-0 sounds about right. While Macedonia wins it 1-0. 

       Spain's match-up with Ukraine may go a long ways about deciding which of the two sides gets a guaranteed ticket, and which one will need two additional games to prove their worth. Through four games, Ukraine's defense has been stout, allowing only a single tally in a one loss match versus the group leaders, while Spain has netted 13 to lead the group. The offense will be too much to overcome on the road, as Spain will notch a 3-1 victory and give themselves a little breathing room for the second slot, and maintain pace with Slovakia.
--------------------------------------------------------GROUP D--------------------------------------------------------------------
      Top four teams separated by three points, with a surprising Polish (10 Points) side leading the way into an important match day as the host the Republic of Ireland (7 Points). Ambitions of winning the group, the Poles need to come out strong to hold off an Irish side that wasn't very happy about the 1-nil loss suffered in Scotland during match day four. A match that should have all of the attention in the group will finish in a draw with each side netting one.
   
      Georgia (3 Points) hosting Germany (7 Points) should be a victory for the visiting side, it's only the margin that is to be decided. The Georgian's have been playing respective on defense, and that should hold the Germans to two goals, while being shut out themselves. Scotland (7 Points) hosting Gibraltar (0 Points) should be a blow out, as the UEFA newcomers have allowed 21 goals without netting one. The Scottish take it 3-nil.
---------------------------------------------------------GROUP E---------------------------------------------------------------------------
      England has the top slot all but wrapped up, but the battle for the second and third slots are up for grabs, as four nations are separated by just two points, leaving every game huge for each side. England (12 Points) will host Lithuania (6 Points), in a match that the Lithuanians need to keep pace in the group. That won't matter for the English, who take it 2-1. Slovenia (6 Points) hosts San Marino (1 Point) will be a drubbing, as the Slovenians take it 4-0. 

     Switzerland (6 Points) hosts Estonia (4 Points). Coming off a disappointing draw with San Marino, Estonia needs to get back on track if they wish to make another playoff appearance, if not a guaranteed ticket. Though, Switzerland won't be making the task easy, as they have French aspirations of their own. Switzerland sneaks out a 1-nil victory. 
-----------------------------------------------------GROUP F-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      A lot of sorting out is remaining in this group, as the Greeks (1 Point) are in last place, despite being the team from Pot 1. They'll visit Hungary (7 Points), and will need to take all three points if they have any aspirations of climbing up to the top three. Having scored just once, I can't fathom seeing the Greeks surpass that margin in one match, as they'll have to settle for a 1-1 draw, remaining six points out of the third slot.

     Northern Ireland (9 Points) will host Finland (4 Points) will face off, as the Finns will attempt to capitalize on the Hungarians only notching a point versus Greece and climbing closer to the third slot. A game that will end in a dramatic 3-3 draw will round out the top 10 plays of the day. Romania (10 Points) will host the Faroe Islands (3 Points) and further extend their lead in the group with a 2-nil victory.
-----------------------------------------------------GROUP G----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
     Austria is holding the top spot with 10 points, and a road trip to Liechtenstein (4 Points) should be a narrow 1-nil victory to help them remain atop and get to France. Moldova (1 Point) gets to hold Zlatan and the Swedes (6 Points) and will end the game with a shocking 0-0 draw. 

    Montenegro (5 Points) gets to host Russia (5 Points), as the two are currently deadlocked for the third slot, though, a winner here, as long as the Moldovans upset the Swedes, will thrust them into the second slot and guaranteed to go to the Euro's. Russia takes it 2-nil here, after an early score gives them a lead, and a finish in the 88th minute, as the offensively stagnant Montenegrins throw everybody ahead to attack.
-----------------------------------------------GROUP H-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
     Three teams separated by a single point for the guaranteed slots, will have two key games to keep an eye on. Croatia (10 Points) hosting Norway (9 Points) may be the seesaw battle for one of the two guaranteed slots, and one has to favor the Croatians, who have, after all, scored 10 times and given up one. However, games are not played on paper, and Norway needs to come in upset minded. Though, the offense does leave a lot to be desired, an early score will be enough to salvage a 1-1 draw.

      Bulgaria (4 Points) gets to host Italy (10 Points) in a key match if the Bulgarians want to keep realistic hope of sneaking into the third slot. After an impressive 2014 qualifying cycle, the Bulgarians have greatly struggled, coming off a home draw versus Malta, points are at a premium and can not be dropped. Italy, however, is Italy, and will use this as a coming out party, dropping 3 on the Bulgarian defense in a shut out victory. The final match has Azerbaijan (0 Points) hosting Malta (1 Point), which should end in a scoreless draw, though, Michael Mifsud is Michael Mifsud.
--------------------------------------------GROUP I----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
     Denmark is leading the group with 10 points, but will have a qualification bye, as Group I is relegated to only five nations. A friendly with the French is in the horizon for the Danes, however. Portugal (6 Points) will host Serbia (1 Point) as Albania (4 Points) will host Armenia (1 Point) and the group will be intense to watch.

     Coming off a very narrow 1-nil home victory to the Armenians, Portugal needs all three here, though, the Serbs will not make it easy. Controversy caused the game versus the Albanians to be called early, where the Serbs were awarded a 3-nil victory, though, were penalized three points, negating the forfeit win. The Serbs come out firing here, and escape with a 3-1 victory.

     As touched on, Albania was hit hard in the goal differential category, and potentially lost three points, though, with the way the game was going, would have most likely ended up as a draw. Hosting an Armenia side that has been on the bad end of some bad luck (Marcos Pizzelli getting his spot kick and rebound attempt blocked versus Serbia, the defensive lapse giving the Portuguese the lone goal)  will be looking to turn things around. Getting Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Yura Movsisyan healthy will also be a boost, en route to a 2-1 victory. 


 

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