In Through the Back Door: European Championship Play-Offs

By Dan Williamson

Twitter: @winkveron

Too soon for Odegaard

The 16-year-old wonderkid, snapped up by Real Madrid last summer, was thrust into a vital game away to Hungary, after having been an unused substitute in the first leg. The Norwegians, trailing 1-0 after the first leg defeat in Oslo, were hoping he could turn the tide in their favour. However, the unfashionable yet efficient Hungarians ran out 2-1 winners on the night, 3-1 on aggregrate, booking their place at their first finals in thirty years.

More than just luck

Whenever the Republic of Ireland succeed it is accompanied with the tired and lazy cliche “the luck of the Irish”. However, there was far more than luck to their success in this qualifying campaign. A solid defence and a great team spirit, engendered by manager Martin O’Neill, saw them through the play offs in a tough tie against the fancied Bosnian’s. Despite the focus on tactics and technology in modern-day football, the impact of a likeable man-manager such as O’Neill cannot be underestimated. The Irish got a great result, and an away goal, in the first leg before a Jon Walters inspired 2-0 victory in Dublin sealed the deal. Walters doesn’t get the credit he deserves but is an effective player at Premier League, and now international, level.

Zlatan’s last stand

Despite dominating the play, the Danes somehow managed to lose the first leg 2-1 to their Scandinavian rivals, albeit with an away goal which could prove crucial. As always, Zlatan Ibrahimovic was the centre of attention scoring the winning goal from the penalty spot. He brought an excellent save out of Kasper Schmeichel following a free kick he dubiously won himself, and could possibly have seen red following a flailing elbow. He’ll be almost 35 by the time the tournament concludes, and it could be the last chance to shine at a major finals for a player who is arguably Sweden’s greatest of all time. The second leg takes place tonight.

In tonight’s other game, Slovenia host the Ukraine hoping to turn over a 2-0 deficit from the first leg

The draw for the group stages of the European Championships will take place on December 12th.

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