Wednesday October 7th, 2015

There are coaches fighting to keep their jobs and big names in danger of missing out on a place at the 24-team European Championship next summer in France. While a number of teams–both surprises and perennial powers–have already cemented their places at Euro 2016, it's crunch time for the rest of the qualifying field, which has two games remaining to secure a favorable position.

The Netherlands' continued failure has been one of the top stories of the qualification effort, and the Dutch–top-three finishers in each of the last two World Cups–are in an unenviable spot entering their final two games. They're not alone in feeling the heat, though.

Ahead of the final fixture window featuring group games for Euro 2016 qualification, and the penultimate international break of the year, here are the individuals under pressure:

Pressure Power Rankings
Who's facing heat entering final group games of Euro 2016 qualifying?
  • 10

    10Kostas Tsanas
    Greece manager
    No top seed has ever performed as poorly as Greece in this campaign: it is rooted at the bottom of Group F with no wins from eight games–and that includes two defeats to the Faroe Islands (ranked 85 in the world).
     
    It is now on its third coach after Claudio Ranieri and Sergio Markarian came and went, with caretaker boss Tsanas giving himself a chance of getting the post full-time with a 1-0 to Finland and a creditable 0-0 draw in Romania, ranked 13.
     
    Greece faces group leader Northern Ireland and then Hungary this week; a few decent results and the job could be his. If he wants it, that is…
     

  • 9

    9Edin Dzeko
    Bosnia & Herzegovina forward
    Bosnia needs to close a two-point gap on Israel to finish in third place but has two tricky games: against group leader Wales, which is one point away from automatic qualification, and Cyprus.
     
    Mo Besic and Senad Lulic are out injured and all the focus has been on whether talismanic striker Dzeko will join them. He missed Roma’s last game with a knee injury and their coach Rudi Garcia has demanded he only play if he is 100% fit. Bosnia boss Mehmed Bazdarevic may have a different view.

  • 8

    8Robert Lewandowski
    Poland forward
    Pressure? For Lewandowski? Well, yes, because his country needs him. Europe's in-form player leads the Poland front line in every way: He has 19 goals in 13 games this season, 12 in his last four appearances, and a Euro 2016 qualifying-best 10 tallies, two more than his nearest challenger, Bayern teammate Thomas Muller.
     
    He should add to his tally in games against Scotland and Ireland, but the more important fact is that Poland needs four points to make it to France. With Arkadiusz Milik providing the assists–no player has created more goals than the Ajax man's five in qualifying–then Lewy should continue his purple patch, something Poland desperately needs.
     

  • 7

    ANTONIO CONTe
    Italy manager
    Qualification is as good as assured for Italy, but Conte will want to keep the top spot in the group: that could come down to Tuesday’s final game against second-placed Norway, which is two points back.
     
    The pity for the coach is that one of the players of Serie A so far this season, Napoli playmaker Lorenzo Insigne, withdrew Wednesday with a knee injury. Insigne has been involved in eight of Napoli’s 16 goals this season, and Conte saw him get a standing ovation from Milan fans after Napoli’s 4-0 domination at the San Siro. Giacomo Bonaventura will step in.

  • 6

    6Jan Kozak
    Slovakia manager
    Slovakia is on the verge of qualification, and Kozak does not want to blow it now. He needs his team to beat either Belarus or Luxembourg, and then the team is in France; but a wobble last month, losing to Spain and drawing with Ukraine, has added to the nerves.
     
    If Slovakia can repeat last year's form, then it will be coasting: it won its first six qualifiers, including a famous 2-1 home win over European champion Spain. Kozak has built the team around the young spine of the side that reached the 2010 World Cup last 16–Marek Hamsik, Juraj Kucka, Martin Skrtel and Jan Durica are all still playing–and added the likes of Tomas Hubocan and Norbert Gyomber in defense and Robert Mak up front. This should be a week to celebrate for Kozak, but there's work to be done.
     

  • 5

    5Leonid Slutsky
    Russia manager
    Slutsky put the national team back on track with vital wins over Sweden and Liechtenstein last month, in part by dropping some of predecessor Fabio Capello's favored players from his first squad.
     
    With games against Moldova and Montenegro ahead, which Russia needs to win to remain two points clear of Sweden, he has recalled Capello favorites Viktor Faizulin, Dmitry Tarasov and Alexander Samedov. If the CSKA coach can qualify this team for France, then he could well to stay in charge for the 2018 World Cup, which Russia hosts. Not bad for a guy whose playing career ended at 19 when he fractured his knee falling out of a tree while trying to rescue a neighbor's cat.
     
    "When I look back at what happened, it was no great loss to Russian football to be deprived of Slutsky the player," he said.

  • 4

    4Gordon Strachan
    Scotland manager
    It always comes back to Georgia. Last month Scotland blew its best chance of reaching a playoff spot after losing 1-0 in Georgia, while Ireland, now four points clear, beat the Georgians 1-0 in Dublin. That leaves Strachan’s side needing to beat Poland Thursday and hoping Ireland loses to Germany and fails to beat Poland away.
     
    “We know it’s a tough ask,” said Strachan’s assistant coach Stuart McCall, “but we have to focus only on what we can do and not worry about the other teams.”
     
    It’s not made easier by the suspension of James Morrison and Charlie Mulgrew’s injury. It was always going to be a tough group but the personable Strachan wanted second place, so fourth could be a real disappointment.
     

  • 3

    3Nicola Rizzoli
    Referee, Albania vs. Serbia
    This week, Albania could qualify for its first major tournament, but football won’t be the only focus when it plays Serbia. The last time they played the fixture was abandoned after a drone with a flag featuring a black Albanian eagle, a map of Greater Albania and the date Albania won independence from the Ottomans in 1912 was flown over the pitch and incited a riot and a diplomatic incident. Serbia was docked three points and forfeited the game.
     
    This fixture will be played in front of an empty stadium but Rizzoli’s job will be to keep the players composed as well. UEFA claimed the two nations were not kept apart in the draw (as some countries, like Armenia/Azerbaijan are) because they have never been directly at war. This could well change for the next Euro campaign.

  • 2

    2Spain Fans
    The Pique conflict
    Spain plays Luxembourg in Logrono Friday and for once the focus is not on the result–which should be a comfortable home win–but on the behavior of local fans, who have been urged not to boo Gerard Pique.
     
    The Barcelona defender has been on the receiving end of fans’ jeers and whistles in recent home games against Costa Rica and Slovakia, because he mocked Real Madrid after Barcelona’s successful season last year and continues to support Catalan independence. And he has made no apology for either. Barcelona coach Luis Enrique called the fans’ reaction “pathetic.” 
     
    The Spanish federation has now switched the venue of England’s November friendly in Spain from Madrid’s Bernabeu Stadium to a potentially more friendly atmosphere in Alicante. Journalist Pio Garcia, writing in Logrono’s local paper La Rioja, has urged fans to get behind Pique. “Let’s show that Logrono can be an example to everyone, and prove that, contrary to the view of many bigoted nationalists, Spain, this old and weary nation, still has good people,” he wrote. He has started the hashtag #AplaudamosaPique: Let’s applaud Pique.
     

  • 1

    1Danny Blind
    Netherlands manager
    The Dutch are unlikely to qualify for Euro 2016–they need to beat Kazakhstan and Czech Repubic and hope Turkey loses to the Czechs and Iceland, and that's just to make the playoffs–and it’s been a tough situation for Blind, who started the campaign as Guus Hiddink’s assistant.
     
    Much has been written about Holland’s failings, and there are many, but they all come back to the lack of talent between 27 and 31.
     
    “Dutch coaches somehow cannot transform phenomenal young talents into mature senior players,” bemoaned Henk Spaan, editor of Hard Gras. “The Netherlands must reinvent its football like Germany did after its disastrous early 2000s.”
     
    Blind lost his first two games in charge, at home to Iceland and 3-0 in Turkey, and though he was earmarked to lead the campaign for the 2018 World Cup, two more poor results could end his spell in the dugout before it really even begins.

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