Conor Heffernan assesses the race against the Euro 2016 Wooden Spoon, following comprehensive defeats for some of the qualification phase’s minnows.
Qualification for the European Championships can be cruel and unusual punishment for some of the smaller footballing nations. Forced to face off against much stronger teams with better resources, it’s little wonder we see high scoring matches. Ireland’s 7-0 victory over Gibraltar was just one recent and painful example. Every year smaller teams best hope for success is to avoid the dreaded Wooden Spoon.
The Wooden Spoon is a time-honoured unofficial trophy given to those teams who go throughout an entire campaign without securing a single point. San Marino and Andorra have done it in the last four qualifying campaigns. The Faroe Islands fared no better in 2008 and Luxembourg did it in 2004 and 2000.
Whilst it might be too early to predict the Wooden Spoon candidates for 2016, a fair guess is that San Marino and Andorra will be up there. There is however a pretender to the crown. Following a 7-0 defeat in matches against both Poland and Ireland, European newboys Gibraltar are a strong candidate for the Wooden Spoon.
Each qualifying campaign presents these teams with at least one match to avoid the Wooden Spoon. For us, such games are oddities but for those involved it’s a matter of pride. Critics lambaste these teams for their lack of quality. The chance to gain a point in qualification means more to the likes of Andorra than we will ever perhaps realise.
There were rapturous celebrations in Malta during the 2012 Qualification campaigns when the Maltese team avoided the Spoon with a 1-1 draw at home to Georgia. Likewise Luxembourg fans felt a huge sense of relief when their team avoided the Spoon for a third campaign when they defeated the Albanians in the 2008 Qualifiers.
Whilst it may be too early to speak of a wooden spoon candidate two games into qualification, it seems apparent that all the old favourites are back once more. San Marino, Andorra, the Faroe Islands and Gibraltar are all staring the Wooden Spoon in the face. They all sit bottom of their groups with little hope of budging. Each team will desperately want to secure a point. Can they do it?
Detailed below are the must watch games in the fight against the Wooden Spoon. Of course we may have an upset in the meantime, but I won’t be putting money on Gibraltar beating the Germans any time soon.
Group B – Andorra
In a group containing Bosnia-Herzegovina, Wales, Israel and Belgium, it appears that there is little hope for Andorra to secure a point.
Andorra’s best hope will surely come against Cyprus whom the plucky Andorrans have yet to play home or away. Andorra will have to wait until June 2015 to play the Cypriots at home and by that time the writing could already be on the wall.
In 119 games, Andorra have won three, the highlight coming during the 2006 World Cup Qualifying Campaign with a victory over Macedonia. They have won the Wooden Spoon the last four qualifying campaigns and it looks likely that a fifth is on the cards.
Group D – Gibraltar
14 goals conceded and none scored after just two games makes ominous reading for fans of Gibraltan soccer. Yet to play Germany or Scotland, it appears that matters won’t be improving anytime soon. That being said, since gaining UEFA Recognition in 2013, Gibraltar have drawn with Estonia and Slovakia and even notched a victory against Malta.
Their best chance for avoiding the spoon comes against Georgia, whom the Gibraltans will play at home this week.
A début nation in the qualifying campaign, the Gibraltans are something of a rarity. Heavy defeats in her first two games don’t suggest much hope for the newboys. If the Gibraltans don’t secure a point tomorrow, it appears they may be sharing the Wooden Spoon with Andorra.
Group E – San Marino
In the last qualifying campaign San Marino were beaten 8-0 by Hungary. This year has seen her beaten 5-0 by England, so things can be said to be improving. Albeit slowly. A group containing Estonia and Lithuania does offer hope La Serenissima.
Wednesday night sees San Marino line out against Estonia at home in what represents the best chance for Marino to secure a point. Gibraltar have drawn with Estonia in the past, which will surely offer hope to the underdogs.
Like Gibraltar, this week will most likely be make or break for San Marino. Having consecutively won the wooden spoon since 2000, there is little to suggest San Marino won’t maintain this record.
Group F – Faroe Islands
A team formerly managed by Brian Kerr, the Faroes have improved immensely in recent years. Currently sitting bottom of a group containing Norn Iron, Finland and Greece, the Faroes are perhaps the favourites to avoid the Wooden Spoon.
Whilst there’s always a chance of a Northern Ireland slip up, the Faroes have the potential to nick a draw with the Greeks this week when the line out in Athens. The Greeks have been unimpressive so far in the Qualifiers and Lars Olsen’s men will be quietly confident.
Of our Wooden Spoon Candidates, the Faroes are undoubtedly the strongest. It will be an upset should the Faroes win the Spoon this time round.
Two games in and the pressure is on to avoid the Wooden Spoon. 3 points or 1 point, it doesn’t matter. These smaller teams will be fighting for pride. We may not be able to empathise with them but we will be keeping an eye out this week to see if Gibraltar and San Marino can be the first teams to rule themselves out of the running for the Spoon.
It’s make or break and we at Pundit Arena can’t wait to see what happens.
Conor Heffernan, Pundit Arena.
Featured Image By Ghazwan Mattoka (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.