Euro 2016: The qualifying groups and my predictions

The qualifying groups for European Championships in 2016 in France have taken place and, with the number of teams being raised to 24, all Home Nations could have a chance of qualifying.

It is a first-ever international tournament for British territory of Gibraltar, who were recognised as a footballing nation by UEFA last year.

Here are the groups, and my predictions of the final rankings coming 2016:

Group A: Netherlands, Czech Republic, Turkey, Latvia, Iceland, Kazakhstan.

My Group A verdict: Netherlands should definitely win this group, and win it with ease. In World Cup qualifying minnows Iceland were very good, narrowly missing out on a place at the tournament. They could do well, but I think it will be more of a battle between Czech Republic and Turkey. 1. Netherlands, 2. Czech Republic, 3. Turkey, 4. Iceland, 5. Kazakhstan, 6. Latvia.

Group B: Bosnia-Hercegovina, Belgium, Israel, Wales, Cyprus, Andorra.

My Group B verdict: For once at qualifying for a major tournament, Wales may have a chance! If there was to be a group Wales could qualify from, this could be it. Wales have very good players such as Ashley Williams, Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen and they have one of the very best players in the world in Gareth Bale. Belgium, however, are a strong side and Bosnia also have a very good team. However, if injuries are kind to Wales and they perform to the ability some of these players are at club level, they could certainly be heading into a major tournament. 1. Belgium, 2. Wales, 3. Bosnia-Hercegovina (highest points loser – qualifies), 4. Israel, 5. Cyprus, 6. Andorra.

Group C: Spain, Ukraine, Slovakia, Belarus, Macedonia, Luxembourg.

My Group C verdict: Although I am still expecting Spain to go through, I think that 2016 or 2018 could be the tournament where, if they fail to find great young players, Spain could have a shock and go out very early. Players such as Andres Iniesta, Fernando Torres and David Silva amongst quite a few others will be in their thirties come 2016, and it would not be surprising if key players such as Xavi, David Villa, Xabi Alonso and Iker Casillas have retired from international duty by then. They need new, younger players. 1. Spain, 2. Ukraine, 3. Slovakia, 4. Belarus, 5. Macedonia, 6. Luxembourg. 

Group D: Germany, Republic of Ireland, Poland, Scotland, Georgia, Gibraltar.

My Group D verdict: Although only one home nation is actually in this group, British people may feel affiliated to three nations – Scotland, Republic of Ireland and newsboys Gibraltar. Many will be watching Gibraltar in qualifying for a first international tournament. Although I think that qualifying for 2016 may be elusive for the small territory, more and more footballers, mostly British and Spanish, will pop up eligible to play for Gibraltar. This means the future could be bright for them.

Germany should win this group quite easily. Even though Scotland were branded as having tough group, I think that qualification could be a chance. That said, Poland are a good side… 1. Germany, 2. Poland, 3.Republic of Ireland, 4. Scotland, 5. Gibraltar, 6. Georgia. 

Group E: England, Switzerland, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania, San Marino.

My Group E verdict: England have been given a relatively easy group. Because of this, I think this is the qualifying campaign that Roy Hodgson should bring in new blood, and experiment with new players.  There are, contrary to popular belief, some good young players, especially in the midfield section of the game. I really hope Hodgson plays a young developing side in at least a couple of these games. 1. England, 2. Switzerland, 3. Slovenia, 4. Estonia, 5. Lithuania, 6. San Marino.

Group F: Greece, Hungary, Romania, Finland, Northern Ireland, Faroe Islands.

My Group F verdict: I have to be honest here – nobody exactly is screaming out that they are a team with a chance of doing well in the Euros. Greece are probably the best team here. Northern Ireland need to improve before they have a chance. 1. Greece, 2. Romania, 3. Hungary, 4. Finland, 5. Northern Ireland, 6. Faroe Islands.

Group G: Russia, Sweden, Austria, Montenegro, Moldova, Liechtenstein.

My Group G verdict: Sweden are a good side anyway, but I think that if they really do well it rests on whether Zlatan Imbrahimovic will still be playing. I think that for Imbrahivomic, being 33 years old won’t affect him. Russia are also a good team, and they might win the group. England fans will remember Montenegro as a good side, and they could have a chance. 1. Russia, 2. Sweden, 3. Montenegro, 4. Austria, 5. Moldova, 6. Liechtenstein. 

Group H: Italy, Croatia, Norway, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Malta.

My Group H verdict: Italy should cruise this group. Croatia, Norway and Bulgaria are all good sides, and it could be a close battle for second place. I think Croatia will get second. 1. Italy, 2. Croatia, 3. Norway, 4. Bulgaria, 5. Malta, 6. Azerbaijan.

Group I: Portugal, Denmark, Serbia, Armenia, Albania.

My Group I verdict: This is a group of five teams, so it will be closer. Denmark played well in a recent friendly against England, and Portugal will probably win the group with stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo. 1. Portugal, 2. Denmark, 3. Serbia, 4. Armenia, 5. Albania.

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