This September, 53 European nations will set out on the road to Euro 2016 as the qualifying campaign commences.
After yesterday’s draw, this will be an enlarged tournament with the amount of qualifiers increasing from 16 to 24.
What will happen over the qualifying period? What surprises lay ahead of us? Here I make 10 bold predictions about the Euro 2016 qualifiers.
1. Belgium emerge as favourites
After reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup this summer, a confident Belgium will stroll through the Euro 2016 qualifiers and head to France as strong favourites.
2. Eden Hazard becomes a modern great
After also impressing in Brazil, Chelsea’s Eden Hazard will prove once again in the Euro 2016 qualifiers that he genuinely deserves to be compared to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
3. England surprisingly struggle
England’s smugness at what appeared to be a simple qualifying group will quickly evaporate in the autumn, and they will ultimately finish third behind Switzerland and Slovenia to be cast into the play-offs.
4. Daniel Sturridge becomes England's main man
Amid England’s faltering campaign, the most positive aspect will be how Daniel Sturridge begins to transfer his Premier League form into international football. The Liverpool man will surpass Wayne Rooney as England’s most reliable source of goals and important player.
5. Portugal's qualifying woes continue
Portugal very nearly made a hash of their qualifying campaign for this summer’s World Cup, and they are in danger of repeating this for Euro 2016. One injury to Cristiano Ronaldo could derail everything and have them finishing behind Denmark and Serbia and back in the play-offs once again.
6. The goals flow for Robert Lewandowski
After arriving at Bayern Munich in the summer and feeling refreshed after sitting out the World Cup this summer, a newly emboldened Robert Lewandowski will be the qualifying campaign’s leading goalscorer.
7. Scotland make it to Euro 2016
Despite being drawn in a difficult group, Scotland will qualify for their first major tournament since 1998. Now ranked at a healthy 34th in the FIFA standings, Gordon Strachan will energise his team and take them to France as group runners-up to Germany.
8. Gibraltar don't embarrass themselves
In their first qualifying campaign as a UEFA member state, Gibraltar will gain at least a point, and possibly even a win. They proved in securing a 0-0 draw with Slovakia last November they will not be another San Marino.
9. Bosnia-Herzegovina reach their first European Championships
After reaching the World Cup finals this summer, Bosnia-Herzegovina will qualify for their second ever tournament at Euro 2016. Reaching Brazil was no fluke for this emerging football nation.
10. The O'Neill and Keane marriage doesn't last
The Republic of Ireland will not gain the chance to atone for their humiliating trip to Euro 2012, and Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane’s partnership will not survive the qualifying campaign as they fall behind Germany, Poland and, most crucially of all, Scotland in their group.
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