Euro 2012: Montenegro and the Minnows That Could Crash the Party
With Euro 2012 now only a year away, the qualifying groups are really starting to take shape. Most of the groups are topped currently by the usual suspects; Germany, Spain, Netherlands, Italy and France. However their are a number of smaller teams also leaving their mark in the qualifying stages.
Montenegro have been putting in some impressive performances in this competition and could prove an upset by qualifying for the tournament finals in Poland and Ukraine next year.
With that in mind, here is a list of some of the European minnows who could pull off an upset by qualifying for Euro 2012.
Record so Far: Wales (Won 1-0), Bulgaria (Won 0-1), Switzerland (Won 1-0), England (Drew 0-0)
Star Player: Mirko Vucinic
Coach: Zlatko Kranjcar
Montenegro have really put themselves on the map during this qualification campaign with a number of strong wins throughout qualifying. They sit at the top of Group G, ahead of World Cup teams England and Switzerland.
Led by Zlatko Kranjcar, the father of Tottenham star Niko, Montenegro have already beaten Wales, Bulgaria and Switzerland as well as managing to hold England to a draw.
After beating Wales 1-0 in qualifying, John Toshack handed in his resignation as Wales coach, as was the case with Stanimir Stoilov from Bulgaria soon after.
Record so Far: Iceland (Won 1-2), Portugal (Won 1-0), Cyprus (Won 1-2)
Star Player: Brede Hangeland
Coach: Egil Olsen
Norway aren't exactly minnows in football, but following a recent decline in performance, they've not managed to qualify for a tournament since Euro 2000.
When they were drawn in a group featuring World Cup entrants Portugal and Denmark, they may have realised that they could go on to qualify for Euro 2012 if they performed to the best of their ability. That seems to be exactly what they've done, having beaten Portugal already this campaign.
The country still have a while to go before they can confirm their place in Euro 2012, but a first tournament finals in 12 years could be in line for the team if they can keep their heads down and get the work done.
Record so Far: Rep. of Ireland (Lost 0-1), FYROM (Drew 2-2), Slovakia (Won 3-1), Andorra (Won 4-0)
Star Player: Sargis Hovsepyan
Coach: Vardan Minasyan
After a slow start to qualifying Armenia finally got going when they pulled a shock win against World Cup team Slovakia. The small nation then went on to record their biggest ever win over Andorra soon after.
While they have yet to face group leaders Russia, they are still sitting in 3rd position in their qualification group level on points with the Republic of Ireland. They are one position ahead of Slovakia too, after beating them 3-1.
Although the odds are still quite long on Armenia reaching Euro 2012, most fans who have picked up on their recent success will be supporting them as the underdogs, right until the finals next year.
Record so Far: France (Won 0-1), Romania (Drew 0-0), Luxembourg (Drew 0-0), Albania (Won 2-0)
Star Player: Alexander Hleb
Coach: Bernd Stange
Belarus have showed some good form at times during qualification, but have failed to put it all together so far. Having opened their campaign with a 1-0 win over World Cup headline grabbers France, they then proceeded to draw 0-0 with both Romania and Luxembourg, dropping some easier points for the team.
However, the team regained it's composure and went on to beat Albania 2-0 in the next round of matches. This has left them in second position in Group D, and despite having some tough matches still to come, it's a realistic prospect that Belarus could reach the playoffs.
The nation have never qualified for a major tournament and could finally be in line to reach their first in 2012.
Record so Far: Faroe Islands (Won 2-1), Italy (Lost 1-2), Serbia (Won 1-3), Slovenia (Lost 0-1)
Star Player: Raio Piiroja
Coach: Tarmo Ruutli
Yet another nation who have never qualified for a major tournament, Estonia are currently sitting in third place in Group C, behind Italy and Slovenia but ahead of the under performing Serbia. Despite having lost to the top two teams in the group, Estonia ran both Italy and Slovenia close in their matches.
The nation also beat World Cup entrants Serbia 3-1 in what was one of the nation's most impressive wins to date.
While they face an uphill battle still in trying to qualify for the finals of the tournament, whatever happens the nation will be excited at the progression the team has showed over the last few years, especially in this campaign.
Bosnia & Herzegovina
Record so Far: Luxembourg (Won 0-3), France (Lost 0-2), Albania (Drew 1-1)
Star Player: Edin Dzeko
Coach: Safet Susic
Bosnia & Herzegovina are currently fourth in their group, although they do have a game in hand over the nation's above them. Despite sitting outside of the qualification positions at the moment, Bosnia & Herzegovina proved just how capable they were during the World Cup 2010 qualification rounds. The country reached the playoffs, only just lost narrowly to Portugal in both legs of the tie.
They do however, sit in the same group as Belarus, who have also performed admirably for being minnows.
It is highly likely that either Belarus or Bosnia and Herzegovina will finish second in their qualification group, which will mean they have at least guarantee a playoff place. If that is the case then both sides have the capability of winning them and reaching the tournament finals.
Honourable Mention: San Marino
Obviously, there is no way San Marino will cause an upset. Their best chance of actually doing so would be to even draw a game in qualifying. In fact, even a loss by just one goal in qualifying could be classed as an upset.
Not to offend the San Marino national team, but every qualification campaign, whether it's World Cup or Euro Championships, the nation is always on the wrong side of numerous heavy defeats.
If you want to support the outsiders, then this is exactly where to look. Although they don't want to be pitied, San Marino will have drawn a lot of support simply for their very poor record in past qualification campaigns.
So far in qualifying for 2012, the team's results have been:
San Marino 0-5 Netherlands
Sweden 6-0 San Marino
Hungary 8-0 San Marino
San Marino 0-2 Moldova
Finland 8-0 San Marino
That gives them a goal difference of -29 having failed to score in qualifying so far.