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New coaches under scrutiny

UEFA Euro 2016

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When EURO qualification action starts up again over the weekend after an almost four-month break, more than half a dozen coaches will be making their competitive debut in their new roles. Thanks to the new format with a 24-participant finals in France, the chance of a place at the 2016 European Championship is making many an impatient football association boss turn to desperate measures. Even Gibraltar, the smallest of the football minnows, has sacked its head coach Allen Bulla – even after performing respectably when losing 4-0 to world champions Germany. Georgia, who face the World Cup winners on Sunday, are also hoping for new impulses. Now under the guidance of the former Frankfurt central defender Kachaber Zchadadse, they, in contrast to recent matches, will be looking to make goal-scoring chances harder to come by for Mario Götze and co.

Germany won their last game against Georgia 2-0 in Rostock in October 2006. Mike Hanke (9) is seen here battling with Zurab Khizanishviili (13). (Photo: GES/Augenklick)


It’s highly likely the comings and goings in the dugouts around Europe will continue after the fifth game in the qualifying tournament. One man under immense pressure is Guus Hiddink. After placing third at the World Cup, his star-studded Netherlands side has at times performed embarrassingly in the encounters against Italy, Czech Republic, Iceland and Mexico. So much so that the “Elftal” is languishing in third in the Group A table. The gap to the Czech Republic at the top of the table is already six points. A win in Saturday’s game in Amsterdam against Turkey, who have also got off to a weak start (four points from four games), is a must as both the Czech Republic (against Latvia) and second-placed Iceland (against Kazakhstan) have easy matches.

After the Netherlands’ poor start to EURO 2016 qualifying, coach Guus Hiddink is under pressure as is his team. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Dutch however have been hit by an injury to Arjen Robben who has been in sensational form recently. He tore an abdominal muscle in Bayern Munich’s 2-0 home defeat against Borussia Mönchengladbach on Sunday (22 March).

The Dutch and Hiddink under pressure

Hiddink has admitted to making mistakes. Talking before their first game in 2015, he said he had underestimated the after-effects of the World Cup, and the independence of his players. Having indicated that he had been prepared to resign in November last year, the star coach is now intent on remaining in his post even if they suffered another setback against Turkey – if that is he is allowed to. An opposition has already formed within the country’s association, the KNVB.

Bayer Leverkusen’s Hakan Calhanoglu is expected to return to the Turkish national team for the first time since the “Pistol Affair” in October 2013. (Photo: GES/Augenklick)

There’s also an explosive situation in the Turkish camp and it down more to the squad selections. National coach Fatih Terim nominated Leverkusen’s Hakan Calhanoglu and Ömer Toprak together with the former Hamburg player Gökhan Töre for the first time since October 2013 when a friend of Töre’s threatened the Bayer duo with a firearm in a hotel room. Calhanoglu has not played for the national team since. Toprak however declined the invitation.

Title-holders Spain can also not afford to slip up in the game against Ukraine. Both teams are on nine points and the loser will almost lose sight of the leaders Slovakia (12 points) who play Luxembourg.

Not only the Group C constellation is an irritation for the proud Spanish – for the first time since 2007, the 2012 World Cup winner is no longer world ranked in the Top 10.


Not only the Group C constellation is an irritation for the proud Spanish – for the first time since 2007, the 2012 World Cup winner is no longer world ranked in the Top 10.

Austria on course for EURO 2016

Till now, EURO qualifying has seen the not-so-renowned football nations come to the fore. In the “German” Group D, Poland leads the way on 10 points and is aiming to consolidate their position by beating Ireland in Dublin. The fact that Saturday’s top Group B game will be between Israel (9 points) and Wales (8 points) is also something that takes some getting used to.

And there’s Austria too. The EURO 2008 co-host has not qualified on the pitch for a major tournament since 1998 but is on course for a Euro Championships berth with 10 points at the top of Group G. And the team that includes Bayern star David Alaba – he is one of 11 squad members on the books of German clubs – also intend to stay on track in the game against outsiders Liechtenstein.

Martin Harnik (left) battling with the Russian Dimitri Kombarov. The 1-0 win in November 2014 has put Austria firmly on course for a EURO 2016 berth. (Photo: Getty Images)


Neighbours Switzerland has even called up a dozen players from the Bundesliga for their game against Estonia. The Alpine nation will be looking to secure second place in Group E as England, who take on Lithuania, are almost out of sight on 12 points.

Thing are however completely different in Greece where the situation on the pitch for the 2004 European champions is as similarly bleak as the financial predicament. After securing only one point from four games and an embarrassing defeat at the hands of the Faroe Islands, it is hoped the 70-year old Uruguayan coach Sergio Markarian, the successor to the luckless Claudio Ranieri, can turn things around. It won’t be easy as a tough game is awaiting the Greeks in Hungary (7 points) where Pal Dardai is in charge. In contrast to many of his colleagues, the 39-year cannot complain of too much leisure time at the moment as he also is at the helm at the Bundesliga club Hertha Berlin.