This summer will mark the first time in history that three of the four Home Nations will participate at a European Championship, with England, Wales and Northern Ireland set to fly the flag for the United Kingdom in France. All three were able to navigate their way through their respective qualifying groups, and while England were able to coast through with a 100% record, the other two have done themselves proud in making it to their first ever European Championship.
Scotland came agonisingly close to making it a full house, but were edged out in a tough group which contained Germany, Poland and Ireland who all made it through to Euro 2016. The latter prevailed in a play-off against Bosnia and Herzegovina, winning 3-1 on aggregate to send Martin O’Neill’s side through to their fourth European Championship. Coral will provide coverage for all four teams through latest news updates, scorelines and in-play betting throughout Euro 2016, and with the United Kingdom set to be gripped by tournament fever, it could be interesting to see how they fare.
The Three Lions are likely to enter Euro 2016 with lowered expectations, with this year marking half a century since England famously lifted the Jules Rimet trophy at Wembley. Subsequent disappointment and under-performances at major tournaments, along with fears that England have been overtaken by a number of nations who have more quality amongst their ranks, has led fans and pundits alike to believe that Roy Hodgson’s side are unlikely to triumph in France. However, it may prove to be a blessing in disguise for England; they can play with freedom and approach the tournament with no pressure on their shoulders to succeed, and if recent performances against France and Germany are anything to go by, then England could fly under the radar. Being drawn in a group alongside Russia, Slovakia and Wales should provide Hodgson with enough confidence that his team can reach the latter stages, and if the likes of Dele Alli, Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy take their domestic form onto the international stage, then England could emerge as serious Euro 2016 darkhorses.
Coming through the play-off tie against Bosnia and Herzegovina may have finally put the injustice of France in 2009 behind them once and for all, but participating at back-to-back European Championships for the first time in their history illustrates the progress that has been made by Ireland under O’Neill. They stood up to the task in one of the toughest qualifying groups, and while they were unable to pip Poland to runners-up spot behind Germany, Ireland will hope to do themselves proud once again at Euro 2016.
Ireland’s fans will unquestionably revel in the major tournament atmosphere and paint the towns green, but O’Neill and his team may need more than Irish spirit to progress further than the group stage. Ireland’s odds on qualifying from Group C reflect the slim chance they have against much stronger opposition, with Coral carrying the belief that facing Belgium, Italy and Sweden may be a step too far for an Ireland side packed with experienced and endeavour, but no real notable quality. Shane Long is likely to be O’Neill’s greatest hope of scoring the goals that will take Ireland further than the bookmakers predict, but it will also take strong performances from Darren Randolph in goal, along with the likes of Seamus Coleman and Richard Keogh in front of him, in order to keep three strong attacking teams at bay.
Qualifying for their first ever European Championship is a fantastic achievement for Wales, with Chris Coleman building on the foundations left by the late Gary Speed. A strong qualifying campaign saw them finish runners-up behind Belgium in Group B, with just one defeat and four goals conceded being proof, if needed, that Wales deserve their place at Euro 2016. Wales will hope to immerse themselves in the experience of being at their first major international tournament since 1958, but although there is no real expectation on their shoulders, Coleman and his players will hope to make a nation proud.
Being drawn in the same group as England should provide an intriguing clash which is likely to be dubbed the Battle of Britain, while they may also fancy their chances against Russia and Slovakia. Taking a no fear approach may be Wales’ best chances of performing well at Euro 2016, with the hopes of an entire nation resting on one man’s shoulders – Gareth Bale. The world’s most expensive player will be expected to be on top of his game to be the one true threat to opposing teams, and with the Real Madrid star hitting form at just the right time, he could be amongst the standout players of Euro 2016. Coleman will also require a big contribution from Ashley Williams and Aaron Ramsey, with both players integral to Wales remaining solid in defence and midfield which could provide the foundations for Bale to shine in attack. They could prove to be a dangerous side for anyone to face at Euro 2016, especially if their best players step up to the plate and have a real go; picking up four points against Belgium during qualification illustrates that Wales should not be under-estimated.
Qualifying for Euro 2016 as Group F winners is a prime example of the wonderful job that Michael O’Neill has done in charge of Northern Ireland. The former Shamrock Rovers manager may not be blessed with superstar players, but there is no question that they will one of the most committed and hard-working of all the teams in France this summer.
Participating at Euro 2016 (first ever European Championship, and first major international tournament since 1986) will undoubtedly be a proud moment for Northern Ireland and their players who have worked so hard to earn the fruits of their labour, but being drawn in Group C alongside Germany, Poland and Ukraine may prove to be a bridge too far. O’Neill will need Jonny Evans and Craig Cathcart to put in strong defensive performances to keep their group opponents at bay, while it remains to be seen if Kyle Lafferty can transfer his excellent knack of scoring goals during qualification campaigns onto the big stage. Very few will give Northern Ireland a chance of progressing from an extremely tough group, but if they remain true to themselves and play with the sort of character and heart that was prominent through their qualification campaign, then O’Neill’s team will do themselves proud regardless of if they face an early exit from Euro 2016.