The qualification groups for the European Championships in 2016 were drawn yesterday in Nice, France. The tournament will be slightly different to previous tournaments due to the fact that 24 teams will now progress to the Euros instead of 16 beforehand. The draw has brought up some fixtures which will generate a lot of interest, compared to the usual games which features a heavyweight battering a minnow into submission. But who will qualify to play in Euro 2016?
Teams: Netherlands, Czech Republic, Turkey, Latvia, Iceland, Kazakhstan.
Favourite: Netherlands. It has to be admitted that from previous history in qualification groups, along with the usually strong squad, the Dutch will be hot favourites to get through this group with ease.
To finish 2nd and 3rd: This will likely be between Turkey and Czech Republic. Of course, Iceland did extremely well to get to the playoffs in the World Cup 2014 qualification but were comfortably defeated by Croatia, but I can’t see them pulling it off again. The Turkish are always strong opposition, especially at home, while the Czech Republic will be trying to reach another European Championship despite seemingly being on a decline of late.
Wooden spoon: Kazakhstan. I do not see the point in teams such as these to play in these qualifiers, it can’t help them to be outclassed every time they play a team. This goes along with the team they are playing, it can’t benefit them greatly either!
Teams: Bosnia-Hercegovina, Belgium, Israel, Wales, Cyprus, Andorra.
Favourites: Belgium. After seeing many Belgian players strut their stuff in the Premier League this season, I fully expect Belgium to do well in the World Cup this year. Therefore, I anticipate them to win this group with relative ease, their meetings with their toughest challenge, Bosnia-Hercegovina will be key.
To finish 2nd and 3rd: This group will be interesting in terms of 3rd place, I already think that the Bosnians will take 2nd place in the group. With players like Gareth Bale, Wales will have a glimmer of hope that because of the new structure of qualifying, they will be toughing it out with Israel to get into the playoffs. Despite this, Israel have pulled off some impressive results before and I just think that they will nick into 3rd place.
Wooden spoon: Andorra.
Teams: Spain, Ukraine, Slovakia, Belarus, FYR Macedonia, Luxembourg.
Favourite: Spain. Do I really need to go into detail as to why they are favourites?
To finish 2nd and 3rd: Ukraine and Slovakia are likely to be in these spots, maybe Belarus have the potential to pull a few results out the bag but I can’t see them getting enough points to get into the playoff spots.
Wooden spoon: Luxembourg
Teams: Germany, Republic of Ireland, Poland, Scotland, Georgia, Gibraltar.
Favourite: Germany. This is another group in which a team will dominate, away games in Poland and Ireland will of course be tricky. But I just can’t see anything else but Germany winning every game.
To finish 2nd and 3rd: Despite Germany being certain to win the group. 2nd and 3rd is wide open, having already mentioned Poland and Ireland, Scotland will fancy themselves to maybe nick into a playoff spot. Gordon Strachan can really motivate his teams and this will be pivotal for their meetings with the Republic of Ireland and Scotland
Wooden spoon: Gibraltar manager Allen Bula has given his team the aim to reach the playoffs. Sadly for Bula, I just don’t think they will have sufficient resources to put up a serious challenge for 3rd place. Good luck to them, however.
Teams: England, Switzerland, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania, San Marino.
Favourite: England. Well, lets hope England do not mess up their Euro 2016 qualification as much as they did under Steve McClaren for Euro 2008. Fortunately, the only real challengers that England have is Switzerland and possibly Slovenia.
To finish 2nd and 3rd: Switzerland got through quite a straight forward group to get to Brazil this summer, because of this I can’t see them slipping up. They will at least get into 3rd place. If Switzerland do not get 2nd place, then Slovenia will be next up.
Wooden spoon: San Marino..
Teams: Greece, Hungary, Romania, Finland, Northern Ireland, Faroe Islands.
Favourite: This is actually the toughest group to call. I’d have to say Greece to win the group, purely because of their most recent success when they won the whole competition in 2004. Their squad is also just a little stronger than the others.
To finish 2nd and 3rd: Again, another tough one to predict. Hungary and Romania are huge rivals which will serve up two magnificent games for watching audiences. I’m going to stick my neck out and say Romania will go through automatically, I’m saying this because of the fact that they finished above Hungary in World Cup qualification. Sorry Hungary fans!
Wooden spoon: Faroe Islands.
Teams: Russia, Sweden, Austria, Montenegro, Moldova, Liechtenstein.
Favourite: Russia. This will not be a straight forward group for the Russians, Sweden were unlucky not to qualify for this year’s World Cup, their famous comeback from 4-0 down against Germany will make Russia be sure not to estimate them. This challenge for Russia is also added to two tricky games against Montenegro, a team that England always found hard to beat in previous qualification campaigns while Austria will put up a good challenge.
To finish 2nd and 3rd: Sweden to finish 2nd, they pose one of the biggest threats in the world with the man that is Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Onto the harder prediction for 3rd, Montenegro have impressed me recently with their performances against England and they can only get better. Austria have a few world class players such as Bayern Munich defender David Alaba, I just think that Montenegro are extremely strong at home and that may lead them into 3rd place…
Wooden spoon: Liechtenstein.
Teams: Italy, Croatia, Norway, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Malta.
Favourite: Italy. Croatia may come close but Italy will ultimately have too much for them in their home fixture.
To finish 2nd and 3rd: Croatia will finish 2nd, they always have had a strong side and they will be too much for Bulgaria and Norway. For 3rd, Bulgaria have always come close to qualification and this campaign presents a huge chance for them to get into a playoff spot.
Wooden spoon: Malta…just.
Teams: Portugal, Denmark, Serbia, Armenia, Albania.
Favourite: Portugal. The likes of Cristiano Ronaldo will surely win this group for Portugal. Again, Denmark and Serbia may be tricky games but I can’t see them not finishing top.
To finish 2nd and 3rd: With Christian Eriksen in their ranks, Denmark are a decent outfit and they will do enough for 2nd place. While Serbia will finish 3rd because Armenia and Albania are not good enough to pick up consistent victories.
Wooden spoon: Armenia. Probably the strongest wooden spoon in this article!