The European Championships next summer in France will be a truly special occasion. With England, Northern Ireland and Wales already qualified, and the Republic of Ireland still a possibility via the playoffs, there will be plenty of home nation fans invading France for a few weeks at least.
But how will the home nation’s sides fair across the Channel? What can we realistically expect? And who are the key players to look out for?
England’s Euro qualifying campaign couldn’t have gone any better with a 100% record of ten wins from their ten group games. This will be their ninth involvement at the European Championships, their best ever finish was in 1996 where they were beaten by arch rivals Germany on penalties.
England appear to be improving under manager Roy Hodgson but were relatively untested during qualifying and it is yet to be seen whether they can really match the likes of Belgium, Germany and Spain. Wayne Rooney, England’s captain, top scorer in qualifying and all-time record goalscorer will remain their key man, but watch out for Ross Barkley, who could definitely be one to test opposition defences.
Prediction – A quarter-final place will be the minimum expected and if England can continue their current form and get a favourable draw, I can see them making it to the semi-ginal’s where they will then head home.
What a story it is for Michael O’Neill and his Northern Ireland squad. It will be their first time at a European Championships and they qualified by topping their group ahead of Romania and Hungary with only one defeat in ten games.
Kyle Lafferty was the Green and White army’s top scorer in qualifying with seven goals and he will again be a crucial player in France alongside captain Steven Davis, who has lead by example with a number of instrumental performances.
Prediction – Northern Ireland will be celebrating their first European qualification place in France. However, their international coefficient is so low that they’ll likely get a horror group which could make a dream a nightmare.
Another home nation side taking their place among Europe’s elite for the first time, Wales qualified by finishing second in Group B behind current world number three ranked Nation Belgium with six wins and only one defeat from their ten group games.
Gareth Bale will be their major attacking threat and he led the way for Wales in qualifying with seven goals. Alongside Bale is Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey, who is not only the Welsh captain but is also their creative hub in the midfield engine room.
Prediction – Wales will look to gain their first ever Euro victory and with a favourable group draw and Bale firing they could well spring a surprise and make it to the knockout phase. But unfortunately it will be no further than the round of 16 for the dragons.
Republic of Ireland
If the Republic make it through the play-off stages of the Euro 2016 qualifying they will have earned a place at their third European Championships- they have previously been no further than the group stages in 1998 and 2012. The boys in Green, under Martin O’Neill’s guidance, finished third in their qualifying group behind Germany and Poland, winning five of their ten qualifying games.
Robbie Keane, the Republic’s captain and record goalscorer, was again influential scoring five qualifying goals. Keane and Jonathan Walters will be the key attacking players once again for O’Neill’s men with James McCarthy an instrumental player from midfield.
Prediction – If the Republic of Ireland manage to qualify they will be looking to finally get past the group stages. Unfortunately Martin O’Neill’s men will suffer the same fate as their previous two European Championships.