(c) Dirk Vorderstraße (dirkvorderstrasse, flickr)

Home nations heading for France 2016

As England, Northern Ireland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland look forward to an exciting summer in France, it is only right we look back at their incredible campaigns but also look at the lows for the unfortunate Scotland, who will not be attending once again.

The passionate fans of the home nations will travel in their masses to France for a summer of entertaining football, all with the aim to succeed.

Wales made history in qualifying for the competition as it was the first time they had qualified for a major tournament in 57 years, the last being the World Cup in 1958 where they reached the quarter finals.  Their fantastic achievement under manager Chris Coleman, was down to their defensive unit.  An opening round win over in Andorra, thanks to their superstar marksman Gareth Bale grabbing a late winner put them in good stead. They continued strongly after that only conceding four goals throughout the qualification campaign, a record which ultimately earned them their four points from a possible six over eventual group winners Belgium, vital results in their push for qualification.

England had a flawless campaign winning 10 games out of 10. Expected to top the group, they started off with an impressive 2-0 win in Switzerland. They looked like faltering in San Marino until Wayne Rooney scored a 74th minute winner, but got stronger as the campaign went on not conceding any goals in their last four matches. An impressive campaign which only increases the pressure on a young England team to progress far at Euro 2016.

Northern Ireland, the shock package in the qualifying campaign managed to not only qualify but top their group. This a group involving former winners of the competition Greece, along with Romania and Hungary. Michael O’Neil’s men became the first fifth seeds to top a Euro qualifying group, and qualified for their first ever European Championships. Strong away wins in Hungary, Greece and the Faroe Islands set the Green army on their way. However their home form, which has been poor over the last few years was much better this time round, losing no games at Windsor Park. Former Rangers striker Kyle Lafferty was also a focal point in the teams success scoring 7 goals in 9 appearances.

Unfortunately not all of the home nations qualified, with Scotland missing out yet again, as the Republic of Ireland claimed 3rd place play off spot. However it was an encouraging campaign with a newer, more attacking and fresh team with the likes of Anya and Ritchie. A strong start narrowly being beaten in Dortmund to Germany saw the possibility of success to come. Scotland left Dublin in June with a point and looked certain to at least get a play off spot. They nearly did, but a night in Georgia will be looked back on as the turning point, again. Defeat to Germany and a draw with Poland at Hampden all but sealed the Tartan Army’s fate. The aim now is Russia in 2018 and Gordon Strachan will be at the helm after the positive signs which were shown.

For the likes of Wales and Northern Ireland, the tournament will be all about the experience of playing against the best in Europe again. England will have higher ambitions, with a young, energetic squad looking to win the competition.

UEFA have confirmed the tournament will be perfectly safe and go ahead after doubts being casted due to the tragic Paris attacks. With the draw for the group stage looming on the 12th of December, excitement is building and we should be in for an entertaining few weeks of summer football.

Image credit: (c) Dirk Vorderstraße (dirkvorderstrasse, flickr)

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Michael Smart

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