Preview: Euro 2012 playoffs
The Euro 2012 qualifying playoffs are Friday and Tuesday, as home-and-home series will determine the final four berths for next summer's tournament. All eight playoff games can be seen on ESPN3. Here are notes and Soccer Power Index projections for the four matchups.
Turkey vs. Croatia
This is a rematch of their dramatic Euro 2008 quarterfinal, when Croatia's Ivan Klasnic scored an apparent winner in the 119th minute. But Turkey's Semih Senturk tied it in stoppage time of extra time, and Turkey advanced on penalty kicks. That game officially counts as a draw, so Croatia leads the series 1-0-3, including a win in the Euro 1996 Group Stage. ESPN's Soccer Power Index considers this the closest of the four matchups, as Turkey (ranked 28th) and Croatia (14th) are two of the four best teams in the playoffs. SPI gives Croatia a narrow 56.1 percent edge to advance, though Turkey is a 45 percent favorite to win the first leg, with Croatia given a 24.4 percent chance of winning that game.
Estonia vs. Ireland
After feeling robbed by a missed handball in the 2010 World Cup playoffs, Ireland faces Estonia, which SPI ranks 87th, the worst team remaining. Ireland won both previous meetings by identical 2-0 scores in 2002 World Cup qualifying. Estonia has never reached a major tournament or even a playoff, while hard-luck Ireland has lost four of its five playoffs. The Irish are well-positioned to reverse that fortune, as SPI rates Ireland a 73.0 percent favorite to earn at least a point Friday in Tallinn, and a 73.9 percent favorite reach its second European championship, first since 1988.
Czech Republic vs. Montenegro
The Czechs have split their two previous playoffs, advancing past Norway to the 2006 World Cup but falling to Belgium in 2002 World Cup playoffs. Montenegro is in its first playoff, seeking its first berth at Euros. This will be the first meeting between these countries. SPI considers the Czech Republic a 74.2 percent favorite to reach the Euros for the fifth consecutive tournament, and Montenegro has only a 6.7 percent chance of winning the first leg in Prague.
Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Portugal
Ranked fifth by SPI, Portugal is by far the best team in the playoffs, while Bosnia-Herzegovina is rated 36th. These two countries will have déjà vu, as their only previous encounter was two years ago in the 2010 World Cup playoffs. Portugal won both legs 1-0, in the only playoff that either country has ever played. Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal are the biggest favorites according to SPI, with a 79.2 percent chance to reach their fifth straight European championship, including a 48.5 percent chance to win Friday in Zenica.