As the qualifying for Euro 2020 wraps up and the majority of automatic qualification spots have been claimed, it’s time to focus on the Home Nations’ teams and their campaigns so far.
Whilst England and Wales have successfully qualified both Scotland and Northern Ireland still have a playoff to come, nevertheless we can still look ahead and predict how they will fare at the actual competition.
England- P8 W7 L1, First place in group
England have had a qualifying campaign that is beginning to feel normal for its fans. High scoring romps over lesser teams have seen them achieve a goal difference of +31 in just 8 games. Gareth Southgate has fielded record-breaking youthful sides in an attempt to rotate and usher in the next generation. Captain Harry Kane has been in scintillating goalscoring form and the likes of Rashford and Oxlade- Chamberlain have also impressed, while it’s also encouraging to see Raheem Sterling string together consistent performances for his national team – a part of his career that has been arguably missing so far.
In order to succeed at the Euros, England and Southgate will have to address and cope with some problem as talk of defensive woes have been constant throughout the qualifying stages. Dealing with the attacking ambitions of Trent Alexander- Arnold and Ben Chilwell will be necessary whilst the ever-improving Tyrone Mings and Declan Rice offer hope of a soon solid defensive team. Perhaps the biggest concern over the outcome of England’s tournament chances is the lack of experience. How will this incredibly young team deal with the pressure? There is a chance a sense of fearlessness that comes with youth could be a refreshing change to the England of old.
Personally, I think this tournament will largely depend on the draw that takes place on the 30th. The team was largely unchallenged in the previous World Cup, so I believe facing top opposition in the group and gaining experience is of huge value. Nevertheless, this England side should be aiming for at least a quarter final finish. This current squad is all about building for future tournaments and a promising 2022 World Cup.
Wales- P7 W3 D2 L2, Second in group
It’s been a strong campaign for Wales so far highlighted by their 1-1 draw with World Cup finalists Croatia and a 2-0 win over Hungary to secure automatic qualification. They seldom concede goals and have managed to remain competitive in all fixtures. Consistently putting away teams such as Azerbaijan and Belarus also shows an emerging sense of continuity in the side that impressed so much in the last edition of this tournament. Wales’ ability to make the semi-finals and topple footballing giants Belgium should be remembered as they enter the competition and Gareth Bale’s return to the starting line-up during the Hungary game is also a hugely encouraging sign.
This Welsh team will have to hope for a little good fortune in order to exceed expectation at the competition. They have a very thin squad in terms of quality which is most likely a product of the size of the nation itself. Ryan Giggs at the helm does offer hope after a tricky start to his life as the national team coach, yet winning over some fans is still a challenge for the ex-Manchester United man. I do think Wales’ chances are some of the most delicate out of all teams at the competition depending on the draw as there is the ever present possibility that, much like the last tournament, they build up a head of steam and do something special.
Aspirations could be rising in the Welsh camp and if you look at the starting team it is clear to see why. The likes of Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Ashley Williams are still in the best parts of their careers and contribute to the strong spine of the team. I do however think that realistically Wales will struggle in their group and dependant on the draw should be pleased with a top two finish at best.
Scotland P10 W5 L5, Third in group
Obviously with Scotland it’s about managing expectations. Whilst the team does have the world class Andy Robertson on the left side of defence with the captaincy, there is very little in the way of quality across the board. Successfully managing the playoff round of qualification should be an achievement in itself as they build for the future.
If Scotland were to make the tournament through the playoff spots, they should take pleasure with that. The potentially harsh assessment of this side would be to say that it is unprecedented for a team of this calibre, but with the purple patch of scoring from John McGinn and the leadership of Robertson, they could realistically cause an upset.
Northern Ireland P8 W4 D1 L3, Third in group
Placed in a tough group with the Netherlands and Germany, N. Ireland were always facing an uphill battle. You could, however, make the argument that they are now battle hardened if they do make the tournament. Whilst star names may not jump off the team sheet, there is a consistent group of experience and talent. Names such as Jonny Evans, Steven Davis and Paddy McNair are used to high level competitive football whilst the likes of Stuart Dallas and Will Grigg can give a strong performance on their day.
Michael O’Neil’s men have the opportunity to qualify for their second ever Euros after a 30-year drought from international tournaments. This does suggest that N. Ireland are on the rise but let’s not be too hasty. Realistically, they could be going into the tournament with one of the weaker squads and will be hoping to produce a result similar to their victory over Ukraine in the previous tournament.
By Harry Booth