The British Isles will be represented well at Euro 2016 starting on Friday, as England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland will all be competing. They’re only four of 24 total teams participating, and of course they’re considered to be rivals to some extent because of their close proximity to one another. But the fact that all are involved still makes for a lot of excitement for anyone from the UK or Ireland.
But what’s the actual outlook for these four teams among the always-competitive Euro field? Well, let’s go team-by-team and take a look at how they got here and what they’re expected to do starting on Friday.
In the past decade or so, England has largely gotten used to being left out of the category of elite European teams. Despite a strong football tradition and great players even in recent years, the English have underachieved quite a bit. This is probably why the Daily Mail’s Euro predictions described them as one of a handful of teams “chasing the pack” of market leaders that consists of Germany, Spain, and France.
Nevertheless, supporters of the Three Lions have to like where they stand heading into Euro 2016. The team was undoubtedly the most impressive in all of Europe through qualifying, securing 10 wins in 10 matches for a rare perfect campaign. They then drew placement atop a difficult but certainly winnable Group B, where they’ll face Russia, Slovakia and Wales. The trickiest thing for England might be the presence of the declining Wayne Rooney, who will reportedly start but who at some point needs to give way to the young talent on the roster. The good news is, there really is some young talent. In particular the likes of Daniel Sturridge, Harry Kane, and Marcus Rashford up top should provide a nice spark, and could really put England in a nice place heading toward Russia 2018.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND
A lot of attention is being paid to teams like Northern Ireland and Wales because of how infrequently they qualify for competitions like this. Indeed, there are a number of genuine dark horses in Euro 2016, which should add a new and interesting flavour to the event. But as far as the Isles go, the Republic of Ireland represents another side that, while no international juggernaut, has some experience in major events.
So what’s the outlook for the Irish? Well, they’ve landed in a tough group after scraping by in qualifying, but the oddsmakers are saying that Ireland could impress in the event given that Italy looks to be putting forth its weakest attacking side in years. Belgium will likely top the group, leaving Ireland to fend off Sweden and Italy—a tall task but not an impossible one.
Northern Ireland has become quite the story this time around, having blitzed its way through qualifying to the tune of 21 points and the top spot in Group F. It’s the first-ever berth in the European Championships for Northern Ireland, and that alone is quite an accomplishment—one that fans from the nation are sure to appreciate.
However, as any sports fan knows, once you reach new heights you only want to go higher! It would take a miracle for Northern Ireland to make a long run in the tournament, but this team should be able to compete for second place in Group C behind presumptive winner Germany. Poland and Ukraine aren’t pushovers, but with the form Northern Ireland displayed in qualifying it’s anyone’s guess who will advance from the group. Poland makes for a particularly interesting matchup, as the Polish scored a fairly incredible 33 goals in qualifying while Northern Ireland excelled on defense, allowing less than one goal per game.
It may not be the case for the English or either Irish side, but for the rest of the world it will be difficult not to root for Wales a little bit. As is noted on their team page at UEFA, it’s been more than half a century since they participated in a major international event. And they’re not just participating—they’re doing so behind a genuine Real Madrid star in Gareth Bale who’s become one of the more popular players in Europe.
Whether or not they can advance remains to be seen. Facing off against England, Slovakia, and Russia should make for a lot of high-quality football, and truth be told Group B could be one of the more entertaining ones in the tournament. Certainly the match against England will draw a lot of attention (it’s slated to take place on June 16). Whatever happens, this is a difficult team to forecast. Overall it’s not quite up to the quality of its competitors, but Bale can take over a match and his teammates may just raise their level if he comes out playing inspired football.
England may be the only team of the four with a realistic shot at contention, but this looks like a terrific tournament for anyone from the British Isles. Get ready for a wonderful month of football.