The 2016 Euros are almost upon us. This year’s tournament is expected to be more exciting than other for the home nations. All but one (Scotland) have qualified for the finals in France. The talk of the early group stage round is that England and Wales have been drawn in the same group together and will play on the 16th June. Here is how the home nations are expected to do.
England has had mixed success over the last couple of decades. So full of hope under Fabio Capello but fell flat following some lacklustre performances, many felt that appointment of Roy Hodgson was uninspired and would lead to a series of average performances and results. However, England have been exciting to watch and are seeing a good crop of young talent making its way into the side. At 25, England has the lowest mean average age of any side in the tournament and their passion shows. Geoff Hurst said that ‘this is the most exciting England team since 1966’. Could this be their best finish since the 1996 Euros?
Player to watch: Dele Alli. His passion for his country shows a hunger than some more established players have lacked in recent tournaments.
Wales qualified for only their second tournament since 1958 (World Cup) and inflicted the only defeat on Belgium – the country that finished top of the group. Wales’ only defeat came at third place finisher Bosnia & Herzegovina. Their friendly run in has been poor, scoring no goals in their last seven games (competitive and friendly warm up games). They suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of Sweden on Sunday 5th June. Nevertheless, the players are upbeat and expect to improve during the last week of the run in up to Euro 2016. Chris Coleman has accused his players of complacency and said that improvements must be made. With no expectations, Wales have the chance to cause some upsets. In the group with Wales and England are Russia and Slovakia.
Player to watch: Gareth Bale. His first international tournament will put the Real Madrid winger on the world stage.
Northern Ireland make their first appearance at a European Championships having qualified for three World Cups (1958, 1982 and 1986) but never the Euros. Boss Michael O’Neill is the celebration of the country after leading them to their first tournament. Emerging talent means that this is the most exciting Northern Ireland team since the glory days of the 1970s and 1980s. This was when Norman Whiteside featured as the youngest ever player to appear at an international tournament – a record that still stands. If they are to get through to the knockout stages, they will have to get through Germany, Ukraine and Poland.
Player to watch: Kyle Lafferty. His goals have propelled them to their first Euros tournament. He plays for Norwich City in England.
Republic of Ireland is arguably in the toughest group. To get through to the knockout stages, they have to play Italy, Belgium and Sweden – all strong competition. Martin O’Neill is a seasoned manager and once courted as a potential England manager. This is their second consecutive Euros qualification, but last time they went home with no points. O’Neill’s appointed has added belief and a little steel to the side, but he is still accused of being overly cautious and lacking faith in some of his players. Nevertheless, they have qualified, and are playing better under O’Neill than they did under Giovanni Trapattoni. They face an uphill struggle against more experienced and successful teams.
Player to watch: Jeff Hendrick. His efforts on the left flank surprised many critics, especially as he has struggled at club level at times. He could be their ace in the hole.