Sixty per cent of the group games have been completed and the EURO 2016 starting line-up is slowly taking shape ahead of autumn when everything comes to the crunch. With the 2014/15 season now over, the following teams are filling the berths for the finals which will take place in France in the coming year from 10 June to 10 July: France (as hosts), Iceland, the Czech Republic, Wales, Belgium, Slovakia, Spain, Poland, Germany, England, Switzerland, Romania, Northern Ireland, Austria, Sweden, Hungary (the best third-placed team), Croatia, Italy, Portugal and Denmark. Based on the current placings before the next matches at the start of September, four of the following eight teams can then book their tickets to the championship via the play-offs: Netherlands, Israel, Ukraine, Scotland, Slovenia, Russia, Norway and Albania.
However the nations in the eight six-team groups still have four of their ten matches to play whilst the countries in the single five-team group have to absolve three of their eight matches. Nothing has therefore been decided and competition is still intense to secure one of the 24 places in the draw for the European Championship finals in Paris on 12 December. However there are some strong indications:
Group A: Iceland is honing in on its first ever participation at the finals of a major finals after the northern Europeans beat former European champions, the Czech Republic, 2-1. The Czechs are currently lying second ahead of another former European champion, the Netherlands. The third-placed team at the 2014 World Cup eased the pressure of them by beating Latvia 2-0 and can now make up more lost ground in the big match at home against Iceland on 3 September.
Group B: The constellation is extremely tense in this group. After winning 1-0 at home to Belgium, Wales’ hopes are high that they will clinch their first participation at a major championship since 1954. The table toppers are five points up on Israel and Cyprus. The Belgians, who despite the defeat in Cardiff are still seen as being one of the EURO 2016 favourites, is second three points behind the Welsh. With the old generation now departed, World Cup participant Bosnian-Herzegovina is back in fifth. It is quite possible that after all the games have been played in September, every one of the top five teams could head the group. The likely outcome however is that Wales will top the group to qualify for the EURO 2016 finals.
Group C: Out in front is Slovakia who notched up their sixth win in six games by beating Macedonia 2-0. In second is title-holder Spain who won their last match 1-0 in Belarus. However their loss in the opening encounter against Slovakia means they are still three points behind the leaders. September 5 will see the top of the table clash between the 2008 and 2012 European champion and Slovakia. Ukraine in third will keep their EURO 2016 chances alive if they beat Belarus.
Group D: Here too a top of the table clash will also take place on 4 September when leaders Poland have to travel to World Cup winners Germany. The Poles won on home soil and are currently one point ahead of their neighbours. Both sides still have to face third-placed Scotland. The German eleven also has another away game in Ireland ahead of them in October. In June, Poland won 4-0 in Georgia and the World Champions cruised to a 7-0 away win against Gibraltar.
Group E: England has a 100 per cent record. A 3-2 win in Slovenia in June handed them their sixth win in six games. Six points behind in second is Switzerland who returned from Latvia with a 2-1 victory. Their match against third-placed Slovenia, who are three points behind, on 5 September will almost certainly be decisive. England can continue their winning ways in San Marino.
Group F: That the 2004 European Champions are languishing at the bottom of the group table without a win and with only two points to their name is one of the big surprises of the season. Greece also lost its second encounter with the Faroe Islands 2-1. Romania has stayed top after a goalless draw in Northern Ireland and is one point to the good of the Britons whose 1-0 victory in Finland means they are two points ahead of the third-placed team, Hungary. Vital to the final outcome of the group will be Hungary’s games in Romania and then in Northern Ireland in September.
Group G: Austria is commanding the group and took a huge step on the road to EURO 2016 by winning 1-0 away in Russia. They have opened up a four-point gap on the second-placed team ahead of their next home game against Moldova. Sweden in second won 3-1 against Montenegro and is also four points up on Russia. The hosts of the 2018 FIFA World Cup are in danger of not qualifying for the continental championship in France should they lose their next home game to Sweden – especially as Montenegro and Liechtenstein, who meet in September, are only three points adrift.
Group H: Leaders Croatia has kept Italy two points at bay with a goalless draw against the four-time World Cup winners. Norway missed out on closing the gap on the leading duo by managing no more than a nil-nil draw against Azerbaijan. Bulgaria can overtake their opponents Norway on 3 September with a home win. Changes are also possible at the top as Italy are at home to Malta and Bulgaria in September and Croatia will be looking to add to their points tally when they travel to Azerbaijan and Norway.
Group I: In the only group with five teams, the decision will have to wait until October when leaders Portugal take on their nearest rivals Denmark who are two points behind. The two both won their last matches: Portugal 3-2 in Armenia and Denmark against Serbia. France, who have automatically qualified as hosts has been hired as a sparring partner for the friendlies against teams in the group. Third-placed Albania is confident of making up the three-point deficit on leaders Denmark. The clash between the two is scheduled for 4 September.