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March 31, 2019

Copa America and Euro in sight for the football elite

Sports

March 31, 2019

The two most illustrious continental tournaments in international football – Copa America and the UEFA European Football Championship – are approaching, which means that it’s time for the sports elite sides to gear up for international silverware. This is especially true for those sides which experienced lows in last year’s FIFA World Cup in Russia, as their continental tournaments provide them the opportunity to make amends. The past fortnight gave us a glimpse of what wemight expect in the Copa America this summer, and how the qualification for Euro 2020 is shaping up. Euro qualifying With the UEFA Nations League adding another international competition, the qualification for Euro 2020 has been divided into five double- match slots in March, June, September, October and November 2019. 55 teams have been divided into 10 groups – five groups with five teams and the other with six each. Top two teams from each group qualify for Euro 2020, with four other places up for grabs via playoffs for the 24-team tournament. Group A has England on top with two wins, followed by Bulgaria with 2 points, Kosovo and Montenegro with 1 each and Czech Republic without any point after their solitary game. England would be expected to top this group, with perhaps Bulgaria and Czech Republic vying for the second slot. Group B has Ukraine on top with 4 points from two games and Luxembourg second with 3 points.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal are third with 2 points, having drawn both games. Serbia are fourth with a single point and Lithuania not off themark following their only game. Defending European Champions Portugal are the fancied side in this group, but they would have their work cut out to finish in the top two.Group C has European heavyweights Netherlands and Germany, both of whom are currently behind Northern Ireland who have 6 points from their two games. Germany edged out the Netherlands in a 3-2 thriller with a last minute winner fromNico Schulz at the Amsterdam Arena. That leaves both sides on 3 points, with Germany having only played one game, and the Netherlands two. Estonia and Belarus are currently without any points at the fourth and fifth slot in the group. Group D is expected to be a three-way tussle between Ireland (6 points), Switzerland (4 points) and Denmark (1 points), with the latter having only played one match. Gibraltar and Georgia aren’t off the mark in the pool. Group E features World Cup runners-up Croatia currently in a four-way tie with Slovakia, Wales, and Hungary. The Welsh side, however, have only one match compared to the other three having played their two contests. Azerbaijan are without any points after their only match.

Group F has Spain looking to make amends for a disappointing World Cup. They are top with 6 points, followed by Sweden and Romania with 4 and 3 points respectively, who should be fighting for the second slot. Malta too have 3 points in the pool, followed by 1 for Norway and none for the Faroe Islands so far. Group G is expectedly dominated by Poland, who are currently on 6 points after two games. Israel and North Macedonia both have 4 points each with Slovenia on 2. Austria and Latvia are yet to open their accounts. Group H features World Champions France, who are expected to run away with the pool. They should be followed by Turkey, who like the French currently have two wins from two. Albania and World Cup surprise Iceland have 3 points each, with Andorra andMoldova on zero. Group I has World Cup bronze medalists Belgium unsurprisingly on the top with 6 points from two matches. They are followed by four teams on 3 points each: Cyprus, Russia, Kazakhstan and Scotland. San Marino have lost both their matches.

Group J is led by Italy, whose failure to qualify for the World Cup last year was the headline news in the lead-up to the event. They are followed by Greece and Bosnia- Herzegovina on four points each and Finland on three points. Armenia and Liechtenstein haven’t won any of their two matches each. Copa America months away The Copa America will be played this year from June 14 to July 7. From next year onwards it would be played alongside the Euro Championships every four years. Chile are the two-time defending champions for this year’s Copa America. The draw for the tournament was made in January, with Qatar and Japan – the Asian finalists – the two invited teams in addition to the 10 South American sides. Group A features Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela and Peru. Group B has Argentina, Colombia, Paraguay and Qatar. And Group C has drawn together Uruguay, Ecuador, Japan and Chile.

\The top two sides from each pool will directly qualify for the quarterfinals, while the three third-placed sides will formanother three-teamgroup, the top two from which will qualify for the qualifying slots. With neither Brazil nor Argentina having won any international silverware for since the two contested the 2007 Copa America final – which Brazil won – the two sides are expected to look to right their wrongs of recent years, especially after disappointing World Cup campaigns for both. That would pit Lionel Messi and Neymar Jr against one another, both of whom are seeking international silverware. On current form, however, Brazil have the edge over Argentina. In fact, Uruguay look better placed than the Argentinians as well. Even so, the Copa America tournaments this year and in 2020might be the last opportunities for Messi to win the continental title, which Argentina haven’t won since 1993, having lost four of the past five finals from 2004 to 2016.