Over the weekend, the final group matches of the qulaifying tournament for the 2004 European (football) Championships took place, while the draw for the final five play-off matches took place today.
There were few shocks over the weekend – the big upsets in the group matches had already happened in the earlier matches. However, while most of the automatic qualifiers are drawn from the usual suspects – Portugal, France, Denmark, Czech Republic, Sweden, Germany, England and Italy – there are some interesting additions with Greece, Bulgaria and Switzerland all winning their groups, edging out some strong competition on the way.
However, the ten sides that have reached the playoffs contain some of the biggest surprises, notably Latvia, who have never qualified for a major tournament and Wales, whose one and only appearance at a major championships was the 1958 World Cup. Unfortunately, the draw didn’t reward the dreams of the sporting romantics amongst us and provide us with a Latvia vs Wales face off for a place (or even a Holland vs Spain eliminator) but instead brought up this set of fixtures, amazingly without any seeding involved:
Latvia vs Turkey
Scotland vs Holland
Croatia vs Slovenia
Russia vs Wales
Spain vs Norway
(matches played over two legs in mid-November, the first side have home advantage in the first leg)
Some of us are already wondering just how many times Archie Gemmill‘s famous goal against Holland in the 1978 World Cup will be repeated in the buildup.
Of course, while the draw would seem to establish certain teams as favourites to go through, playing the games in the middle of November could make the weather an interesting participant in some of the matches – the contrast between Riga and Istanbul or Madrid and Oslo could have an effect on the results, though I can’t help wondering who will be more shocked at the weather in the Russia vs Wales tie – the cold driving rain of Cardiff could be just as hard to play in for the Russians as the Welsh will find Moscow.