The last four spots for Euro 2016 are on the line as the qualification playoffs start on Thursday. Eight of the third-placed teams have been pitted against each other.
Getting through to Euro 2016 would be huge for all these nations, and here is a preview of the upcoming matchups.
Norway – Hungary:
Norway finished third in Group H behind Italy and Croatia. The Norwegians were able to beat Croatia at home 2-0, but besides that result it was a clear difference of class between the top two nations and the rest of the group. Alexander Tettey leads the team in scoring with three goals in nine game. The Norwich City player will have to play a big part if the Norwegians are to overcome the Hungarians.
Hungary were in the race to come out of Group F as the best overall third-placed nation for a long time, but ultimately fell short as Northern Ireland and Romania took the two direct spots to the tournament and Turkey went through as the best third-placed team. Just like Norway, Hungary had some troubles scoring during the group stage. Norway scored 13 goals in 10 games, and Hungary scored 11. Daniel Bode and Krisztian Nemeth were joint top scorers with two goals each.
The first leg of the matchup is being played at the Ullevaal Stadium in Oslo on Thursday. Look for Hungary to sit back and try to hit Norway on the counterattack and try to get one of those important away goals. Balazs Dzsudzsak will be the key player for the Hungarians. The Bursaspor winger is very creative on the ball and will be the creative force for Hungary when they go forward. They are without central defender Roland Juhasz in the first game as he’s suspended.
11/12: Norway – Hungary
11/15: Hungary – Norway
Bosnia and Herzegovina – Ireland:
The Bosnians finished third in Group B behind Belgium and Wales, but they have a lot of potential match-winners as they go up against Ireland. They got draws against both belgium and Wales during the qualifiers, as well as a 2-0 win at home over Wales. With players like Edin Dzeko, Asmir Begovic and Miralem Pjanic the Bosnians will fancy their chances. Dzeko scored seven goals in seven matches.
Ireland ended up behind Germany and Poland in Group D. They stood up well against Germany, getting a draw on the road and a 1-0 win at home against the World Cup winners. LA Galaxy striker and captain Robbie Keane lead the team with five goals in nine games.
The Irish will be a tough nut to crack for the Bosnians, and it will be a battle in midfield with several tough and physical players on both sides. Bosnia might have a slight edge in Dzeko can stay in form and keep scoring goals.
11/13: Bosnia and Herzegovina – Ireland
11/16: Ireland – Bosnia and Herzegovina
Ukraine – Slovenia
Ukraine played a great defensive game throughout the qualifiers, only allowing four goals in 10 games. But it wasn’t enough as they finished behind Spain and Slovakia in Group C. They finished the group stage by playing 0-0 on the road against Slovakia and lost 1-0 at home to Spain. Andriy Yarmolenko lead the Ukrainians in goalscoring, as he finished with four goals in 10 games. Artem Kravets had three goals in six appearances.
Slovenia scored four more goals (18) than Ukraine, but they also allowed 11 in 10 games. The Slovenians finished behind England and Switzerland in Group E. Milivoje Novakovic lead the team in scoring with six goals in seven games. Two evenly matched teams go to battle in this one, and the away goal rule might very well end up playing a factor.
11/14: Ukraine – Slovenia
11/17: Slovenia – Ukraine
Sweden – Denmark
A Scandinavian derby where both teams will want to put a beating on their rival and advance to Euro 2016. Denmark has gotten the better of Sweden in recent meetings, but an in-form Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be a lot to handle for the Danish defenders.
Sweden finished third in Group G behind Austria and Russia. They did accumulate 18 points in 10 games, two less than second-placed Russia. Ibrahimovic lead the Swedes in scoring with eight goals in eight games. He will be the key for Sweden if they are to advance against a solid Danish side that has some big threats of their own. There’s been a lot of fan anger toward national team manager Erik Hamren for his selection and tactics throughout these qualifiers, and if the Swedes would lose he will most likely get sacked. There are some concerns for Sweden in the middle of the pitch as both Albin Ekdal and Pontus Wernbloom will miss the games due to injury.
The Danes finished behind Portugal and Albania in Group I. They scored eight goals in eight games while allowing five. Their big striker Nicklas Bendtner has been out of form and has had a difficult time getting minutes for his club side Wolfsburg. One player that the Danes will be hoping for to have a big impact is Tottenham midfielder Christian Eriksen. Eriksen is great on set pieces and is considered to be one of the best free kick takers in the Premier League.
These games already have a huge prize at stake, but it will be even sweeter for the team going through from this fixture as it will be on the expense of a fierce rival.
11/14: Sweden – Denmark
11/17: Denmark – Sweden
*Games are being broadcasted on ESPN and FOX Sports.