5 Big Nations That Will Fail to Qualify for Euro 2016
The rejigging of the Euro 2016 qualification process appears to have made it almost impossible not to qualify, although you can be sure that there will be plenty of shocks along the way.
Two automatic qualification places are available in each group, with the third-placed finishers heading into a play-off from which the winners will head to France for the finals.
Who’ll go through? And more importantly, who’ll be left at home licking their wounds?
Here are five nations that won't find qualification a breeze.
The Czechs have only beaten Canada in their last five matches, losing at home to Austria and the United States in their last two and drawing with Norway and Finland in their other games during 2014.
It’s hardly stellar form, and that loss to the U.S. in a friendly on Wednesday has ramped up the pressure on the Czech squad ahead of their first Group A qualifier at home to the Netherlands on Tuesday night.
Having missed out on the World Cup, the Czechs suddenly look a little on the mediocre side. Petr Cech has lost his place at Chelsea, Tomas Rosicky is an intermittent performer for Arsenal, and there are a clutch of players in their 20s who are either not yet good enough or not good enough full stop to move from Czech football to one of Europe’s major leagues.
The key concern for coach Pavel Vrba must be the lack of goals in his squad, with Rosicky’s 22 standing out among a group in which no one else has managed double figures.
That could prove costly in a group where Turkey and an improving Iceland will fancy their chances at taking the runners-up spot behind the Dutch.
The smaller Group I—in which the participants will be forced to play friendlies against France—would appear to offer ample chance for qualification, but one of the three favourites will have to face a play-off.
Portugal have enough quality to go through—despite their shock defeat to Albania—while Serbia are a rapidly emerging side with plenty of good young players. You can’t really say the same about Denmark, though.
With plenty of their squad either coming up to or on the wrong side of 30, the Danes must have concerns over the lack of goals in their side. The hardly reliable Nicklas Bendtner has 24, captain Daniel Agger—who has now returned to his homeland with Brondby—has 12, but no one else has double figures.
Their youthful exuberance and energy comes from Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen, but he can’t really do it all on his own, and although the Danes will likely take points off Armenia and Albania in their group, you can’t really see them taking points when they go to Portugal and Serbia, which could ultimately prove crucial.
Republic of Ireland
The Group D headlines are somewhat inevitably being made by world champions Germany and tiny Gibraltar, who are entering their first qualification campaign after receiving the go ahead from UEFA. In between those polar opposites, there are still plenty of interesting stories.
Both the second and third places look to be coming down to a battle between Scotland, Poland and the Republic of Ireland, and despite the latter reaching the last Euros in Poland and the Ukraine three years ago, they look pretty vulnerable this time around.
Captain, top goalscorer and record cap holder Robbie Keane can’t keep going forever, and although his back-ups Shane Long, Kevin Doyle and Jonathan Walters are admirable, they are hardly going to strike fear into opposition defences.
Manager Martin O’Neill takes charge of his first qualification campaign under no illusions as to just what he has to do, and in a group where the matches against Poland and Scotland are likely to determine so much, the away matches at both are where the Irish could struggle. Despite their last-gasp win in Georgia, a play-off place could still be beyond them.
One of the worst teams to watch at the World Cup, Russia were hardly offering much inspiration before this campaign even before you learned that manager Fabio Capello and his support staff haven’t been paid for three months, according to a report in the Daily Mail.
If that is the case, the atmosphere around the camp isn’t likely to be a happy one, and Capello could find it tough to lead his side to the top two of Group G against Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden and Stevan Jovetic’s Montenegro.
Exciting, dynamic forwards like those two are exactly what a Russian outfit based more on functionality than flair are without, and their sides could punish Russia if they are on their game.
Additionally, away matches in Austria and Moldova aren’t going to be easy if Capello insists on his negative tactics as the way forward, although you could easily see him walking soon if the money issue isn’t resolved.
Away from the civil unrest that has been dogging the country in recent times, the Ukrainian national football team don’t look like giving their people something to shout about any time soon.
After a heartbreaking defeat to France in their World Cup play-off last year, their last two matches have produced workmanlike one-goal wins over Niger and Moldova in friendlies, but things are about to get tougher for them in a Group C that will feature plenty of difficult trips.
Despite their World Cup problems, you’d have thought that Spain will still run away with the section, but in Belarus, Slovakia and Macedonia, the Ukrainians will be facing difficult opposition.
The current squad are drawn almost entirely from Ukrainian clubs, and the extra quality and experience from some of their other rivals could just edge the 2012 co-hosts out.