With the next match days set for the middle of October, we’ve reached a break at roughly the halfway point of the EURO 2020 qualifying group stage. So far, much of the action has gone about as most would expect, with the traditional heavyweights and prospective 2020 contenders quickly rising to the top of the groups. However, there are also some smaller nations that have acquitted themselves quite well to this point, and now seems as good a time as any to recognize their achievements. If things continue to go well, one or two of these teams may even make it to the knock-out rounds.
No list like this, for the 2020 qualifiers, could begin with any side but Kosovo. Famously competing in the event for the first time, this team has done remarkably well through five matches. Kosovo gave England a legitimate scare in perhaps the most thrilling match of qualifying to date (the English won 5-3 in the end), and has otherwise racked up eight points through two wins and two draws. Unfortunately for the Kosovars they do still have to play England a second time. But if they can first defeat Montenegro in October and at least draw with Czech Republic in November, they’ll have a good chance to advance.
Contention by Northern Ireland is by no means as surprising as Kosovo. In fact, some might have picked Northern Ireland as a potential candidate to advance in a play-off, if not by automatically qualifying from Group C. At this stage, however, the Northern Irish team is in position to advance automatically, having lost a respectably 0-2 match to Germany but taken care of business against the group’s weaker teams. The tricky thing for this side is that both matchups with the Dutch still loom. But if just one of those matchups can go the way of Northern Ireland, it will likely be on to the knock-out rounds.
Albania may have the trickiest challenge of all the teams we’re discussing here, simply by way of being in Group H with France, which may still be the best team in Europe at full strength. The numerous Irish betting sites that keep perhaps the closest eye on European football are likely to have the defending World Cup champions favored with very nice odds once the knock-out stage begins, and the French should breeze through. Throw in a surprisingly excellent Turkish performance so far though, and Albania faces very long odds to advance. Nevertheless, the Albanians have done quite well for themselves, with a 3-0-3 record through six matches but a positive goal differential. They netted a goal in Paris and split two matches with always-tricky Iceland (winning 4-3 on aggregate). Even if Albania doesn’t advance, it should be very proud of this showing so far.
For a country that only secured its name a year ago, North Macedonia is making an impression at Euro 2020 qualifying. The newly-minted republic may not be the newcomer Kosovo is, strictly speaking, but it’s certainly among the smaller football nations involved, and given that, it’s done a fair job in a deceptively difficult Group G. There may not be a heavyweight like France or England in this group, but Poland, Slovenia, and Austria are all strong sides, and Israel and Latvia, who round out the group, are not pushovers. It wouldn’t have been unreasonable to pick North Macedonia to finish last in Group G, but through six match days the team has a 2-2-2 record for eight points. Granted, the North Macedonians have only beaten Latvia, but a draw with Slovenia showed this team’s potential, and all in all the defense has been good enough to make one wonder if this team could sneak through to the knock-outs.