The luck of the draw is the most important thing; sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Portugal lost, as the qualifying groups for the 2016 European Championships were determined on Sunday morning.
It looked as though Portugal may have caught a break when they were drawn into Group I, the only five-team group in this qualification round, but the toughness factor increased tenfold as the other nations were unveiled. The five nations competing in Group I are all ranked in the top 55 of the FIFA World Rankings – Portugal (No. 4), Denmark (No. 20), Serbia (No. 29), Armenia (No. 30) and Albania (N0. 55).
Even though France has already qualified for the final competition as hosts, they will be a “ghost team” in Group I playing home-and-home friendlies with each nation when they would normally have a bye in competition. Results against France will not count in the group standings thankfully for the other nations in this group.
Portugal has a great history when they qualify for the European Championships, as they have always advanced past the group stage. The biggest problem for Portugal is qualifying smoothly; they always seem to have one puzzling result during the qualifying round that forces them to have to go through the playoff round.
In the Euro 2012 qualification round, that puzzling result was a shock 1-0 loss away to Norway early in the competition. Those vital three points lost during that match would be the difference, as Denmark won the group with 19 points while Portugal was forced into the playoffs with 16 points. During the most recent World Cup qualifying campaign, Israel scored a late goal to steal a draw 1-1 in a match played in Portugal. Russia would go on to win the group with 22 points, while Portugal was once again forced into the playoffs with 21 points.
Portugal will need to be on during all of their matches, especially those tricky road games away to Serbia and Armenia. Serbia will be looking for their first appearance in the European Championships since the 2000 edition while Armenia is looking to build on a very successful World Cup qualifying campaign by their standards.
Armenia may be the team that surprises in this group; they have a very talented young squad who nearly defeated Italy on Italian soil during the last match of World Cup qualifying. The outfield players on that squad had an average age of 25, led by Borussia Dortmund midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan, the country’s 25-year-old all-time leading goalscorer.
Portugal will advance to the final tournament if they get the results that they are expected to get, but the race for second and third will be very interesting. The safe bet will be Denmark taking the other automatic qualifying spot, but do not be surprised if Armenia pushes Denmark to the very last minute.