September’s international break may have come at an unwelcome time for die-hard fans of club football, but the latest batch of Euro 2020 qualifiers have offered a strong indication about whether each of the home nations will qualify for next summer’s tournament across Europe.
England took a major leap to direct qualification with thumping wins over Bulgaria and Kosovo, while Wales also managed a pair of victories against Belarus and Azerbaijan.
Ireland have held on to top spot in Group D after a 1-1 draw with Switzerland; Northern Ireland had a mixed time of things with a slim friendly win over Luxembourg followed by painful defeat at the hands of 2014 World Cup winners Germany at Windsor Park.
As for Scotland... oh, Scotland. Steve Clarke's side suffered crushing defeats at home to Russia and Belgium, denting their hopes of reaching a first major tournament in 32 years.
Note: The top two sides from each group will directly qualify for Euro 2020. Winners of last year's UEFA Nations League mini-groups have qualified for the play-offs (England! Scotland!), but should these teams finish in the top two of their groups anyway (England!), their play-off spots will be given to the third-placed sides in their respective groups.
Group position: 1st in Group A (12 points)
Remaining qualifying fixtures: Czech Republic (a) 11th October, Bulgaria (a) 14th October, Montenegro (h) 14th November, Kosovo (a) 17th November
Gareth Southgate’s side are in pole position to qualify for the Euros, and extended their 10-year unbeaten record in qualifying for major championships with high-scoring wins against Bulgaria and Kosovo. The Three Lions have a three-point lead over the Czech Republic in second place, and a four-point advantage over Kosovo, with a game in hand over their Group A rivals.
Four matches remain for Southgate’s team, and maximum points in their next two matches should be enough to secure a spot in next summer’s tournament. It doesn’t look like they’ll need their guaranteed play-off berth.
Group position: 2nd in Group C (12 points)
Remaining qualifying fixtures: Netherlands (a) 10th October, Netherlands (h) 16th November, Germany (a) 19th November
Northern Ireland’s 2-0 defeat to Germany on Monday evening has cracked Group C wide open going into the autumn’s final round of fixtures. While Michael O’Neill’s side have relinquished top spot for the first time in qualifying, their fate is still in their hands with only three games remaining.
Northern Ireland are three points clear of a third-placed Holland side who have played one game fewer than the rest of the group. However, the Green and White army face back-to-back qualifiers against Ronald Koeman’s side, before facing a daunting trip to Germany for their final qualifier.
Four points against the Dutch would secure their spot in next summer’s Euros, and only one win would mean needing to get a result in Germany to definitely secure their place. Two defeats would leave them outside the two qualification spots, and they'd need Holland to go on and win the group to gain a spot in the play-off round.
Group position: 5th in Group I (6 points)
Remaining qualifying fixtures: Russia (a) 10th October, San Marino (h) 13th October, Cyprus (a) 16th November, Kazakhstan (h) 19th November
Steve Clarke’s Scotland side would need a miracle to gain direct qualification. Successive defeats mean they sit nine points behind second-placed Russia, with only four group games remaining to play catch-up.
They have, at least, already earned a spot in the play-off round by virtue of winning their UEFA Nations League group last year. The one-legged semi-final and potential final remains Scotland’s best means of qualifying for next summer’s Euros, and Clarke himself admitted after the 4-0 Belgium defeat that he's aiming for a third-placed finish.
Group position: 5th in Group E (6 points)
Remaining qualifying fixtures: Slovakia (a) 10th October, Croatia (h) 13th October, Azerbaijan (a) 16th November, Hungary (h) 19th November
Like Scotland, Wales are outside of the qualification spots but have a significantly smaller gap to fill in their final group games with one in hand. Ryan Giggs’s side are three points behind Slovakia and Hungary, who are tied in second and third place respectively, and both boast slightly better goal differences.
Defeat Slovakia in their next group match in October and Wales will leapfrog their rivals into either second or third, while the following match at home to Croatia may be a campaign-defining match for their hopes of qualification. Should they fail to beat 2018’s World Cup finalists in Cardiff, Wales will need to beat both Azerbaijan and Hungary in their final group matches to stand any chance of qualifying for next summer’s tournament.
Republic of Ireland
Group position: 1st in Group D (11 points)
Remaining qualifying fixtures: Georgia (a) 12th October, Switzerland (a) 15th October, Denmark (h) 18th November
Despite failing to beat Switzerland in their only qualifying match this break, Mick McCarthy’s side have managed to hold on to first place for the time being.
They remain two points clear of second-placed Denmark but only three ahead of third-placed Switzerland, who have played a game fewer and have a significantly better goal difference. That means the Irish will need to beat Georgia in their next qualifier to keep top spot, and one win against either Switzerland or Denmark in their final group game should be enough to secure a place in next summer’s Euros.
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Sam Blitz is a football writer based in London. Having lived in England, Scotland and Italy throughout his life, he specialises in both British and European football. He has experience writing and producing content for Sky Sports, The Times, MailOnline along with his work for the FourFourTwo magazine and website.
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