Euro 2012 Playoff: Previewing All 4 Second-Leg Matchups
Going into the first leg of the Euro 2012 qualifying playoff, it was generally expected that these matchups were going to be close heading into the second leg.
However, in three of the four matchups, it appears that the winner of the first leg is destined to head to Poland and Ukraine next June to compete in Euro 2012.
But, as we all know, anything is still possible.
The main question that remains is what will happen in these four matchups?
Here are my predictions for what will happen in the second leg of the playoff and which four sides will advance to Euro 2012.
Croatia vs. Turkey
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First Leg: Turkey 0, Croatia 3
No one could have predicted Croatia defeating Turkey the way that they did in Istanbul during the first leg. Croatia were able to score early and often in the match, taking the lead in the second minute and never looking back in a 3-0 win.
Now the tie will move to the Stadion Maksimir in Zagreb. All time, Croatia have only lost twice there in 47 international matches.
To make matters even more difficult, the great Guus Hiddink has yet to defeat Croatia in regular time during his career, and Turkey have not defeated Croatia (or their predecessor Yugoslavia) without added time since 1931.
Turkey will certainly shuffle their squad for this matchup, with four players suspended. Meanwhile, Croatia will probably play a conservative match, where they won't take many chances and will have a strong defensive mindset.
I see this match ending in a 1-1 draw with Croatian advancing into Euro 2012, while Turkey will need to find a new manager for a departing Hiddink.
Montenegro vs. Czech Republic
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First Leg: Czech Republic 2, Montenegro 0
Montenegro were a surprise side to reach the playoffs due to their young age as a national side. However, their surprise run looks like it is coming to an end after falling 2-0 in Prague during the first leg.
In group qualification, Montenegro scored a total of seven goals (averaging less than one goal per match) and are now without defender Milan Pekovic in the second leg due to an accumulation of yellow cards.
Meanwhile, the Czech Republic looked potent in the first leg and will bring a road record of only one loss in away matches during qualification into Podgorica for this second leg.
Despite the great road record the Czechs displayed during qualification, I find it hard to believe that they will not clinch a spot in Euro 2012 here, especially when you see that Montenegro have drawn their last three matches at home during qualification.
I think this match will end in a 1-1 draw, with the Czech Republic advancing 3-1 on aggregate to reach Euro 2012.
Ireland vs. Estonia
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First Leg: Estonia 0, Ireland 4
This tie was viewed as the most predictable tie going into the first leg, and Ireland certainly capitalized on this belief.
A fantastic yet controversial second half proved to be enough for the Irish, who prevailed 4-0 in Estonia to bring this portion of the tie back to Dublin.
It doesn't help Estonia that not only will they be without starters Raio Piiroja and Andrei Stepanov in this leg due to red cards from the last match, but they also will have to deal with Kevin Doyle, who returns for the Irish after missing the first leg due to suspension.
History is not kind to Estonia, either. They have never defeated the Irish in any of their three meetings, and they have never been able to qualify for any major tournament in their history.
Ireland's 10-year hiatus from an international tournament will end here, with the Irish winning by a 5-0 scoreline to advance into Euro 2012 on a 9-0 aggregate scoreline.
Portugal vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina
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First Leg: Bosnia and Herzegovina 0, Portugal 0
These two sides met in the playoffs for qualification in the 2010 World Cup, and once again, this matchup will be determined in the second leg.
Portugal were unable to defeat Bosnia and Herzegovina in Zenica, and this matchup will now be determined in Lisbon.
The last time Bosnia and Herzegovina played in Lisbon, they lost 1-0 to the Portuguese in that World Cup qualification playoff.
Bosnia will be boosted by getting defenders Sasa Papac and Boris Pandza back from suspension for this match.
In the actual match, I think that Portugal will be too much for the Golden Lillies here. Portugal were very strong at home during Euro qualification, winning all but one match.
Cristiano Ronaldo will finally put together a strong performance for Portugal when they need him most, and Portugal will prevail 2-1 to reach Euro 2012.
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