Previewing Euro 2012 qualifying
Euro 2012 qualifying picks up again this weekend, as most countries -- for better or worse -- can now begin to see the finish line. We've dialed up ESPN's Soccer Power Index and simulated the remainder of the tournament 10,000 times to see how each country stands in its quest to reach the final tournament next summer. You can watch Euro 2012 qualifying here on ESPN3. (And for our look at the U.S.-versus-Costa Rica friendly, go here.)
The qualifying process for the Euros is a bit convoluted, but the most important goal for all squads should be winning their group. This is the only way to guarantee a spot in the final tournament. Second-place teams are all still alive (one qualifies automatically). Third-place finishers or worse are all eliminated.
Of the nine qualifying groups, two winners are already essentially decided. Germany -- a 99.97 percent favorite to win Group A -- can clinch its spot in the final tournament with a win at home against Austria. SPI pegs Germany as an 89 percent favorite to do just that.
In Group I, Spain is also inches from clinching its group. It won 9,999 of 10,000 simulations we ran, the most for any group favorite. A Czech Republic loss or draw at Scotland on Friday coupled with a Spain win at home against Liechtenstein on Tuesday would seal it for La Furia Roja.
Italy, the Netherlands, England and France are also heavy favorites in their respective groups, each having at least an 89 percent chance of winning.
Despite trailing Greece by one point, Croatia looks to be in good shape entering its last four qualifying matches. Thanks in no small part to its sizable advantage in overall SPI ratings -- Croatia is 12th in the world according to SPI, while Greece is 48th -- the Blazers win a little more than four out of five Group F simulations. Croatia has two home matches left with one road fixture against group minnows Malta. Greece plays three out of its last four on the road and has already faced Malta twice.
Group B and Group H each have a three-way tie atop their respective tables. Russia is favored to win Group B as it plays three of its remaining four matches at home, including two against last-place Andorra and next-to-last place Macedonia. Group H is the most wide-open, with Portugal (51 percent), Norway (31 percent) and Denmark (18 percent) each having a legitimate chance at automatic qualification.
We will know a lot more about all nine groups after the dust settles Tuesday night.