There weren’t quite tears of joy, but Roy Hodgson must surely know that his England side have to do something very wrong if they aren’t to qualify for the 2016 European Championships in France.
Sitting sixth in the Fifa world rankings, Switzerland pose the only real threat, while Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania and San Marino cause minimal concern. England begin with their biggest test away to the Swiss on the 8th.
Elsewhere, the Republic of Ireland and Scotland were assigned into arguably the draw’s most interesting group. The two nations face each other as well as Germany, Poland, Georgia and Gibraltar. Gibraltar enter the competition for the first time in the nation’s history and, despite a promising goalless draw against Slovakia last year, it would be surprising to see them challenge for a ticket to France.
Wales were drawn against Bosnia-Hercegovina, Belgium, Israel, Cyprus and Andorra, while Northern Ireland will play Greece, Hungary, Romania, Finland and the Faroe Islands. Both nations will feel that they can mount a real challenge in the new campaign as they aim to reach the European Championships for the first time. Their optimism is likely to have been boosted by rule changes meaning that twenty-four teams will compete at France 2016. The top two teams from each group will qualify automatically, along with the best third-placed finisher. The remaining teams who finish third will face play-offs in order to earn a place at the Euros.
Other rule changes mean that the host nation, France, will compete in qualification matches for the first time, however no points will rest on their fixtures and they will compete at the tournament finals. Matches will also be played across six days rather than just on Fridays and Tuesdays.
With zero points across the board at this stage, all teams will feel that they have a chance of qualifying for France 2016. While it is likely that there will be plenty of painful moments along the way, England should make it, and rule changes suggest that some of the other home nations have a chance of joining them too.
Euro 2016 qualifying draw in full:
Group A: Netherlands, Czech Republic, Turkey, Latvia, Iceland, Kazakhstan.
Group B: Bosnia-Hercegovina, Belgium, Israel, Wales, Cyprus, Andorra.
Group C: Spain, Ukraine, Slovakia, Belarus, FYR Macedonia, Luxembourg.
Group D: Germany, Republic of Ireland, Poland, Scotland, Georgia, Gibraltar.
Group E: England, Switzerland, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania, San Marino.
Group F: Greece, Hungary, Romania, Finland, Northern Ireland, Faroe Islands.
Group G: Russia, Sweden, Austria, Montenegro, Moldova, Liechtenstein.
Group H: Italy, Croatia, Norway, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Malta.
Group I: Portugal, Denmark, Serbia, Armenia, Albania.
Image courtesy of the Telegraph