Five things we learned from September’s Euro 2016 qualifiers
After September’s thrilling set of Euro 2016 qualifying encounters, which saw the likes of England, Czech Republic and, more shockingly, Iceland already secure their places at the France finals next summer, Coral football experts look at five things we learned from this round of fixtures.
Spain still dangerous
Vicente del Bosque saw his previously dominant Spanish side completely torn apart at last summer’s World Cup finals in Brazil by the Netherlands, but since then has redeveloped the defending double European champions into a winning beast once again.
Spain are 6/1 with Coral to triumph in France, having majestically rallied to top of Group C with only a single defeat taking the gloss off their other seven victories and 18 goals scored.
With midfield ranks capable of composing two competitive starting line-ups, including the likes of Juan Mata, Andres Iniesta, Santi Cazorla and the sensational David Silva, Spain will once again be a true threat next summer.
Iceland mean business
The biggest surprise package of qualifying so far has undoubtedly been Iceland, with the tiny Nordic nation incredibly securing their position at next summer’s tournament for what will be their maiden appearance the Euro finals.
After being drawn against the apparent might of the Dutch and Turkey, prospects originally looked bleak, but coaching duo Lars Lagerback and Heimir Hellgrimsson have sensationally guided the island nation on Europe’s periphery to a historic place in France.
Iceland are the dominant odds-on 1/4 favourites to maintain their status as top dogs in Group A right through to the end of their qualifying campaign. If the top teams think they have an easy draw in the form of this nifty Nordic nation next summer, they might need to rethink their outlook.
British Isles nations can compete
Wales have proved more than anyone that anything is possible in these international events, as they sit on the cusp of their first major tournament since 1958, thanks to Gareth Bale’s heroics against Cyprus.
A goalless draw with Israel saw the Welsh’s qualification put on ice for now, but the Republic of Ireland’s defiant efforts to fight back from a seemingly down and out position has revived their Euro beliefs.
Martin O’Neill’s Boys in Green are close to a play-off or potentially an automatic qualifying spot, having overcome Gibraltar and Georgia in September, keeping them in a hopeful position for next month’s final fixtures against Germany and Poland.
Youth injection needed
Despite clinching back-to-back victories this month in their latest qualifiers, 2006 World Cup winners Italy are relying heavily on their ageing stars, having only narrowly defeated both Bulgaria and minnows Malta 1-0 on home soil.
The same can be said for Portugal, who saw their Under-21 side rally to their version of the European Championships this summer, but Fernando Santos is truly reluctant to delve into his younger crop of starlets for help towards his senior set-up.
Portugal are overdependent on Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, as usual, for the majority of their goals and inspiration, but he would benefit massively from younger, more energetic legs around him, especially at the tournament itself.
Antonio Conte’s Azzurri are similar in terms of midfield prowess, still seeking creative inspiration from veteran Andrea Pirlo. Both nations have managed to climb to the summit of their groups, but a switch to younger personnel is needed in order to make a genuine impact next summer.
Belgium can challenge
Belgium’s resurgence as a footballing force has continued, despite previous setbacks, after dispatching Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Cyprus this month to go a close second behind Wales in Group B.
Nicknamed the Red Devils and under the watchful eye of Marc Wilmots, Belgium are 10/1 to go all the way next year, having tested themselves by reaching the World Cup quarter-finals last summer. Only a fool would write them off at this stage.