Euro 2016 Qualifying: Teams Who Need a Strong Start in Opening Fixtures

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Euro 2016 Qualifying: Teams Who Need a Strong Start in Opening Fixtures
Alastair Grant/Associated Press

It only seems like two minutes ago that Mario Gotze's extra-time winner in the World Cup final propelled Germany to their fourth star and buried Argentinian dreams. Yet on Sunday evening, qualifying for the 2016 European Championships begins, and international football gets serious again.

There are many teams looking forward to Euro 2016, and for varying reasons. Marc Wilmots and his young, highly fancied Belgium side will be many critics' outside tip to triumph, after using the World Cup in Brazil as the first rung on the ladder to their suspected future success.

Didier Deschamps' France squad will be looking to kick forward on home turf after a very successful World Cup campaign, and Joachim Low's Germany will be be confident of continuing their dominance on the international stage, as they search for successive major trophies.

Either way, it is clear that some teams will need a more positive start than others.

England

Roy Hodgson's England side had a terrible World Cup, and ultimately had to face a backlash of abuse from critics and fans alike. With the absence of members of the "Golden Generation" such as Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard through retirement, it is time for Hodgson to look at the young "Three Lions" players coming through. It is time to rebuild.

To help young players such as Calum Chambers, John Stones, Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling—those expected to make up the nucleus of the England squad in years to come—Hodgson recently made Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney the captain on a permanent basis.

This has not been a popular decision in all quarters, with some suggesting that his inconsistency is a problem. Bleacher Report's very own Nick Miller suggests that making Rooney "an indispensable and basically undroppable player" means that if he underperforms, he'll drag the England side down with him.

It is a popular argument. Rooney himself, however, told the media that the game against Norway equates to "the start of a new chapter" (h/t The Guardian). He appears eager for the challenge, if not entirely at his best, dispatching a penalty on Wednesday night to give England a 1-0 victory.

Either way, off the back of a disappointing World Cup campaign and with the critics circling like vultures, England must improve fast. Queens Park Rangers boss Harry Redknapp gave his verdict in his Sun column, calling The Three Lions' performance against the Norwegians "yet another massive letdown" (h/t The Independent).

It is clear that everyone involved in English football is rapidly becoming disillusioned with the state of their national side's performances. With their opening qualifying game against a talented Switzerland side on Monday, nothing but three points will begin to quiet the storm.

Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

Spain

Vincente del Bosque has a lot of work to do with his Spain side—rebuilding not only the club's central structure after losing the likes of Xavi Hernandez and Xabi Alonso to international retirement, but their confidence as well.

The 2014 World Cup for the previous giants of world football was nothing short of a disaster. Granted they had a tough group, containing the Netherlands and a strong Chile side, but not many expected them to falter at the first stage.

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After being dismantled by Louis van Gaal's Netherlands side 5-1 in the opening match, they limped to a 2-0 loss against Chile, before finally picking up points with a 3-0 win over Australia in the final fixture. Very quickly the obituaries began, with Sky Sports' Ian Watson declaring: "Tiki-taka may not be dead, but the great Spain side who conquered the world with it almost certainly are."

Sadly for Spain fans, La Roja had surrendered with a whimper after winning three consecutive trophies—the World Cup in 2006, the European Championships in 2008 and the World Cup again in 2010—and being so dominant.

Now, after the dust settles on the "end of an era" stories, Spain must rebuild and show they are far from the spent force that many suggest. Their youth teams have been particularly successful, and young, talented players such as Manchester United's David de Gea, Atletico Madrid's Koke and Real Sociedad's Inigo Martinez, are making their way through the ranks.

With their opening Euro 2016 qualifier against Macedonia on Monday night, they will be looking to banish the memories of Brazil 2014 and focus on moving forward.

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