It really wasn't supposed to be this way. While Germany's sheer domination of Group A of Euro 2012 Qualifying is no surprise, the distance between them and the next two teams, Austria and Belgium, is a bit stunning. Both teams have lost twice, but only once to Germany. Both teams have won less than half of their eight games, despite the fact that the group is poor behind them. Incredibly, both Belgium and Turkey have dropped points to Austria and Azerbaijan.
With two games remaining in Euro 2012 qualifying, Turkey sit on 14 points while Belgium sit on 12 points. The difference between two is their games against each other, since both have dropped points to lesser opposition. Turkey defeated Belgium at home, while the Belgians could only manage a 1-1 draw at home. Both face a game against Germany and a lesser opponent in their last two games, and in a world where everything went according to plan, both would take three points from these two games, sending Turkey to a playoff for a spot in Euro 2012.
Of course, both teams' dropped points and genuinely disappointing performances thus far suggest that it won't be that simple. Additionally, Germany have clinched a place in the tournament and are going to have the second best qualifying record at the absolute worst. Joachim Löw has selected his first team for the matches against Belgium and Turkey, but motivation is unlikely to be quite as high as it was when Germany still had a lot to play for.
Belgium start with what should be a gimme, a home game against Kazakhstan. The Kazakhs have one win and no draws in qualification and anything less than an emphatic win will be a downright disaster for Belgium. Meanwhile, Turkey take on Germany at home on Friday, and will be downright ecstatic with a draw.
Provided nothing incredible happens, Belgium will lead Turkey by one point through nine games, at which point they will face an away game against Germany. Turkey will stay at home, hosting Azerbaijan - a team that took a point off Belgium in shocking fashion. Löw will almost certainly say something in the press about respecting the competition. In theory, he probably does, but getting his team motivated to play their best in a game that doesn't matter for them at all is going to be difficult.
In the end, the status quo will probably hold. Both Belgium and Turkey will win their 'easy' match and lose to Germany, sending Turkey to the playoffs and Belgium out. For the Turkish FA, it will be seen as the minimum acceptable result. If the team doesn't qualify for the tournament, Guus Hiddink will still be seen as a disappointment as manager.
Meanwhile, the same goes for Belgium. While none of their star players are in their prime, this is quite possibly the greatest collection of young talent on any national team. Only the Germans come close, with Spain's youngsters held back by the sheer quality and volume of their senior players.
When the United States played Belgium in an international friendly last month, I wrote on the incredible youth and talent in the Belgian team as compared to the USA. This is something that needs to be repeated ahead of their Euro 2012 qualifiers. Here are the names of the players who started in the 1-1 draw against Azerbaijan.
Mignolet, Kompany, Lombaerts, Vertonghen, Alderweireld, Simons, Fellaini, Witsel, Mertens, Hazard, Lukaku
Here's that starting XI, with the players represented by their ages.
23, 25, 26, 24, 22, 34, 23, 22, 24, 20, 18
And here are those players represented by the teams that they play for.
Sunderland, Manchester City, Zenit St. Petersburg, Ajax, Ajax, Nürnburg, Everton, Benfica, PSV Eindhoven, Lille, Chelsea
These are some of the most highly touted youngsters in the world, and they all play regularly for very good teams. Among the young stars who were not in that starting XI but who have made Belgium teams are Thibaut Cortouis, Thomas Vermaelen, Jelle Vossen, Nacir Chadli and Kevin De Bruyne. Also in the team is veteran central defender Daniel Van Buyten, a regular starter for Bayern Munich. It's a serious disappointment that they have 12 points from eight games in their Euro 2012 qualifying group. There's no reason to sugar-coat this.
Meanwhile, Turkey have been crippled by their inability to find a consistent striker and the general lack of midfield creativity that has come with Nuri Sahin's injuries and Arda Turan's falling star. The former player moved to Real Madrid in the summer and the latter moved to Atletico Madrid, but neither has put together a consistent string of good performances for the national team during this cycle or the last. Sahin recently became a star after years of not quite living up to the hype, while Turan was at the top of his game at Euro 2008. Their healthy superstar periods have never overlapped. If they do, Turkey can challenge the world beaters, and it has to be frustrating for Guus Hiddink that he hasn't had this benefit.
Whatever happens over this international break, someone is going to be extremely disappointed. One country that is certainly good enough to qualify for the European Championships will be out, and that country's manager will probably follow. Somewhere, heads are about to roll.