The Congress Hall of the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw, Poland held the draw for UEFA Euro 2012 on Sunday afternoon, and while there is no clear consensus about a “group of death” among the nine groups, Spain’s group would not be considered in contention for that infamous moniker.
Spain was chosen in one of the three groups that contains five national teams, so their qualifying campaign will consist of two less games than the teams that were selected in the six groups that had six teams. Second, the schedule for these fixtures will be negotiated in Madrid on February 18 and 19. The international calendar for the next two years will be comprised of twelve dates for these matches to be played, so for four of these dates, Spain will either play a friendly or not play at all.
As for the competition that the Spanish national team will face in Group I, Spain should and will be heavy favorites to qualify for Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine as group winners. The four teams with whom they will square off did not qualify for World Cup 2010, and none of those teams finished higher than third in their World Cup qualifying groups. These European national teams are as follows: Czech Republic, Scotland, Lithuania, and Liechtenstein.
The Czech Republic provides the only significant threat in this group to dislodge Spain from its perch at this moment. Considering their results from the past two years, however, internal strife within the team has spilled onto the pitch with their inconsistent play. Three coaches during the two-year World Cup campaign and a scandal that led captain Tomáš Ujfaluši to retire from international football have hampered the Czech Republic’s efforts to move beyond the first round of the major international tournaments.
Scotland remains the perennial bridesmaid, as their last four qualifying campaigns for the World Cup and the European Championships combined included three third-place finishes in their groups as well as a second-place, where they lost in a playoff to the Netherlands 6-1 on aggregate for Euro 2004. The disastrous reign of George Burley, which included the Barry Ferguson – Allan McGregor late-night drinking scandal and a measly three wins out of fourteen, forced the Scottish FA to make an immediate change, giving the services to now-former Dundee United manager Craig Levein.
Lithuania has steadily improved since their birth from the fall of the Soviet Union and has managed to achieve positive results against some of the top national teams in Europe. Although they finished in the lower halves of their groups in their last couple of qualifying campaigns, European teams do not see Lithuania as a pushover by any means. Many La Liga fans will recognize Lithuania’s versatile defender/midfielder Marius Stankevicius, on loan to Sevilla from Sampdoria, but other players such as FC Dinamo Moskva midfielder Edgaras Cesnauskis and Livorno striker Tomas Danilevicius, Lithuania’s all-time leading scorer, ensure the starting eleven depth that Lithuania needs in order to compete for second place in the group.
The Liechtenstein national team will be the cellar-dwellers of this group, as they have finished last in their groups in every single World Cup and European Championship qualifiers. A majority of the current squad falls under the age of twenty-five, but the leadership comes from Liechtenstein best and most famous player ever, Mario Frick. At age thirty-five, he has not made any declarations about retiring from the team, so for the foreseeable future, he will nurture this young and talented team, including midfielder Martin Büchel and the little lightning bug David Hasler, the attacking midfielder/striker who has caught the eyes of several top European teams. While they will not threaten to compete for the top two spots in the group, do not be surprised if they pull off a shock result during these next two years.
As in life, nothing should be taken for granted, but if Spain plays the way to which they are accustomed from the last four years, they should clinch the group with matches to spare. While the likes of Carles Puyol, Xavi Hernández, Joan Capdevila, and Marcos Senna will be heading into their mid-thirties by 2012, most of the current Spanish guard will still be in their twenties, and rising stars Iker Muniain, Javi Martinez, César Azpilicueta, Sergio Canales, etc. will have two more years to mature into the quality players that their talent indicates. Whomever the manager of this team will be during the Euro 2012 campaign (mostly likely Vicente del Bosque will stay on for another two years), he will be blessed with a team with chemistry and talent that surpasses any national team in Europe.