Euro 2020 Qualifiers Kind to England, But Not Northern Ireland

A picture shows the completed groups displayed on a screen during the UEFA Euro 2020 football competition qualifying draw in Dublin on December 2, 2018. (Photo by Paul FAITH / AFP) (Photo credit should read PAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty Images)

The qualifying groups for Euro 2020 have been drawn as 12 cities across Europe get ready to host the 16th edition of the tournament. England face a straightforward group while Northern Ireland have been handed the most difficult task of the Home Nations.

Euro 2020 Qualifiers Kind to England, But Not Northern Ireland

Good Chance For Most of the Home Nations

England, whose most significant confirmed fixture of 2019 is their UEFA Nations League semi-final against the Netherlands, have a kind route to Euro 2020. The Czech Republic, ranked 37th in the world, are not the European stalwart they have been in the past. They finished second in their UEFA Nations League group, behind Ukraine. Roma’s Patrik Schick and Burnley’s Matěj Vydra are a promising strike pair but the Czechs shouldn’t prove too difficult for England.

Kosovo and Bulgaria enjoyed fairly successful Nations League campaigns, finishing first and second in their respective groups. But, realistically, England will view anything other than first place in Group A as a failure.

Southgate acknowledged: “We’ve got another semi-final to look forward to this summer. There are boys who have won at youth level on the world stage and are pushing this group from underneath. We’ve had a really exciting calendar year, and there is potential for the next 18 months to be even more exciting.”

Mick McCarthy, the new man at the helm of the Republic of Ireland, also has a good opportunity to qualify. Switzerland are a tough team to beat but, given the quality of some of the other top seeds, are a favourable draw. Denmark, after their unbeaten group stage, were then knocked out by Croatia on penalties at the World Cup. An experienced side, certainly, but not an impossible task for the Republic.

Wales also have a good chance of progression to the finals. Croatia are the clear favourites in Group E and should accept nothing below top spot. But Wales have realistic ambitions of qualification below them. They beat Slovakia 2-1 at Euro 2016 thanks to a late Hal Robson-Kanu winner and, considering Pot Three contained Serbia and Turkey, will be fairly content with their draw.

Tougher For Scotland, Brutal for Northern Ireland

Scotland secured promotion to League B of the UEFA Nations League and Alex McLeish thinks they “have a good fighting chance” of qualifying. They will need to perform better than in their 4-0 loss to group favourites Belgium in September, however.

They will likely be fighting for second spot with Russia, one of the revelations of this summer’s World Cup. But if Scotland can garner some early momentum from three comparatively straightforward opening fixtures, Russia will be in for a tough game. Scotland will play at home in the first meeting between them. This will certainly help McLeish’s side.

Northern Ireland have been handed a brutal draw. They face almost the toughest teams possible above them. A resurgent Netherlands side were drawn into their group from Pot One and, as they showed in an impressive Nations League campaign, will be a monumental challenge.

And, to rub salt in a preemptive wound, Northern Ireland have also been drawn with Germany. Joachim Löw’s side have had a hugely disappointing year, but they are still the favourites to get out of this group in second place. Even more frustratingly for Michael O’Neill, his last four group fixtures are against these two sides.

Any Potential Surprises?

In terms of teams finishing above their seeding, few stand out. Serbia in Group B may be a dark horse, as finishing above Ukraine may not be too difficult an ask. With genuine quality spread through a side that underperformed at the World Cup, they could get out of their group.

Norway are another side who could be a surprise. In Group F they will hope to finish second behind Spain and would need to finish above Sweden. They missed out on World Cup qualification in a tough group, but have been impressive since. They have won eight of their last 10 games and they won their Nations League group.

Matches will be played in twelve cities throughout Euro 2020, with the semi-finals and final also being played at Wembley. Nothing like a bit of home field advantage, Gareth.

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