Joachim Loew was not alone with his irritation. Other coaches were hit much harder after the fourth round of the qualification for the 2016 UEFA European Championship. The defeats cost three colleagues their job, they had to leave. “The revolt among the midget nations”, involving teams considered without any chance of qualifying for the Europeans, marked the events.
After all the previous honours and awards, Gibraltar, the footballing minnow representing Great Britain’s crown colony with just 29,000 inhabitants, had thwarted the German World Cup champions’ scheduled goal feast. The just marginally larger San Marino achieved their first point after 61 defeats in a row when they drew 0-0 with Estonia. Liechtenstein, the third-smallest UEFA member with 37,000 inhabitants, defeated Moldova 1-0 and celebrated their first away victory in a competitive match since October 2004.
But the Faeroe Islands landed the biggest coup. The team from the sheep islands beat 2004 European champions Greece 1-0 away, and brought about the biggest sporting day for the 50,000 islanders in the North Atlantic since the legendary 1-0 against Austria 24 years ago. A victory, however, that brought consequences for the humiliated opponents. After just a few months at the helm the end of coach Claudio Ranieri’s term was sealed. Greece, haplessly ousted by Costa Rica in the knock-out round at the World Cup last summer, are bottom of the table in Group F with just one point from four matches.
The Greek Association’s chairman Giorgos Sarris admitted that it was a very unfortunate decision to have signed this coach. Giovanni Trapattoni, 75, is tipped as a possible successor, but he would have to achieve miracles to reach a fourth successive participation in the European Championship. Romania (10 points) and Northern Ireland (9), who changed places after the Carpathians’ 2-0 win in their head-to-head match, are far ahead.
Ranieri was not the only coach to lose his job. The former Moenchengladbach coach Dick Advocaat retired as Serbian national coach after the 3-1 loss to Denmark. The Dutchman doesn’t see any chance in Group I for qualifying for the Europeans with just one point from three matches and the cancelled scandal-ridden match against Albania. But Portugal (6) now hold the best cards behind Denmark (7) – thanks, needless to say, to Cristiano Ronaldo. The World’s Footballer of the Year scored the winning goal for the 1-0 against Armenia and set another record. With 23, he has now scored the most goals in the European Championship competition.
The third coach to be sacked was Georgia’s Temur Ketsbaia, who led the team for the last time during the 4-0 defeat by Poland. His successor will have to face Germany in the next competitive match on March 29, 2015, when the thrilling battle for championship places continues in Group D. For with their 1-0 win of the Scots against Ireland, the Bravehearts’ first home win over their rivals for more than 53 years, the best four teams have drawn even closer.
After the trio of Ranieri, Advocaat and Ketsbaia also Safet Susic from Bosnia (0-3 in Israel) lost his job. Guus Hiddink can continue his work, because a convincing Dutch 6-0 win over Latvia gave the veteran coach some respite, following the “total chaos” beforehand, as the newspaper De Volkskrant wrote. In a poll by the Telegraaf 80 percent of the readers wanted a new Bondscoach after four defeats in five matches. Among others, Hiddink owes it to the outstanding Bayern star Arjen Robben, who scored twice, as did Schalke’s Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. Nevertheless the situation for Holland (6 points) in Group A remains dodgy. The Czech Republic (12) are clearly on track for the Europeans after their 2-1 win against Iceland (9).
The chit-chat about a crisis has fallen silent for now after defending European champions Spain celebrated a convincing 3-0 victory over Belarus. The team coached by Vicente del Bosque hold second place in Group C before the winter break, behind Slovakia who achieved their fourth win in their fourth match by defeating Macedonia 2-0. England, the re-strengthened motherland of football, also have not dropped a point, beating Slovenia 3-1 in Group E. It proved a special evening for striker Wayne Rooney, who earned his 100th cap and celebrated by scoring the 1-1 equaliser from the penalty spot. The “Three Lions” have a six-point advantage over a trio, headed by Switzerland thanks to a 4-0 defeat of Lithuania.
England may start to plan for the EURO in France, as can Austria. The team coached by Marcel Koller consolidated their top spot in Group G with a 1-0 win over Russia.
With a four-point advantage over Sweden, their second ticket to the European Championship after 2008, when the Austrians automatically qualified as co-hosts, seems to be ensured. But the job of highly-paid coach Fabio Capello appears endangered in Russia, the hosts of the next World Cup finals.
In the top match of the weekend, Italy and Croatia drew 1-1. The incidents in the stands will possibly have consequences, however. The match had to be interrupted several times because pyrotechnic articles were thrown. Both teams lead the table in Group H. But Group B shows a surprising picture, with Israel top with nine points after a 3-0 win against World Cup participants Bosnia-Herzegovina. Outsiders Wales (8) are second, remaining undefeated once again with a goalless draw with Belgium.