It’s crunch time in the qualification rounds of the 2020 European Championships.
While Scotland’s hope of booking their place in the tournament rest on the playoffs in March, there are huge matches up ahead this week for the Republic of Ireland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Where do all the home nations stand as the qualifiers draw to a close?
Northern Ireland’s dreams of qualifying for a second successive European Championships hang in the balance going into their two remaining fixtures – against the Netherlands and Germany.
Micheal O’Neill’s side couldn’t have got off to a better start, winning their first four games to sit top of the group on 12 points. However, successive defeats to the two giants of the group since then now leave them down in third looking up with work to do.
It has set up a tasty clash on Saturday night in Belfast with Ronald Koeman’s team, which could well be make or break for the Green and White army.
Their last fixture sees them travel to Frankfurt to take on the Germans on Tuesday night.
Northern Ireland go into these huge games three points behind Germany and the Netherlands meaning progress to this summer’s finals is very much out of their hands, but a stunning win at Windsor Park would put the cat firmly amongst the pigeons.
There is still a slight chance O’Neil’s boys may have the opportunity to fight for a place in the tournament through the playoffs by finishing third but that would depend on the turnout of the rest of the groups. Northern Ireland’s best chance lies in turning over the Dutch on Saturday, and you can get on them doing just that at 6.80*.
They’ve produced some memorable nights in Belfast before so don’t bet against them doing it again, and this one might just top the lot.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND
It all comes down to Monday night for Mick McCarthy and the Republic of Ireland.
A huge night at the Aviva Stadium beckons for The Green Army as its boom-or-bust in Dublin as Ireland welcome Denmark.
Ireland currently top their group with 12 points from their seven fixtures, although their opponents on Monday are second with the same amount of points and have played a game less.
McCarthy’s team are ahead on the head to head rule having grabbed a 1-1 draw when the two sides met in Copenhagen back in June.
Denmark and third-placed Switzerland both play their extra remaining game on Friday at home to Gibraltar and Georgia respectively, and barring any ground-breaking shocks should be both overtake Ireland with wins.
Meaning its all-or-nothing in Dublin on Monday. Ireland will need a win over Age Hareide’s side to book their place in next summer’s finals.
Leaving their hopes on another draw may prove to be deadly with Denmark holding a massive gap over Ireland in terms of goal difference, not surprising considering the Irish have only scored six goals in their seven games.
The last three meetings between these two sides have been draws, its 3.30* for that to happen again but surely has got to give.
It’s going to take an almighty turn of events, but there is still a chance that Wales qualify for next summer’s finals.
Somehow, despite being sat in 4th position in the table with two games remaining the Welsh find themselves quite possibly within two wins of a second consecutive appearance in a European Championship finals.
They are currently four points behind the team occupying the second qualification spot, Hungary, who they meet in what promises to be a hotbed of an atmosphere in Cardiff on Tuesday night.
The most important thing for Ryan Giggs and his side to achieve is ensuring that they go into that game giving themselves a chance to qualify, meaning they will have to win in Azerbaijan in their first fixture on Saturday evening.
They would still rely on World Cup finalists Croatia doing them a favour in Zagreb later on that evening by beating third placed Slovakia and ending the Slovak’s dreams of qualification.
Giggs will be concerned that his side have only won two games in the whole qualification process, scoring just six goals which makes this outcome a mammoth task.
But dreams of Wales appearing at a tournament where they got the semi-finals last time round are still on, for now.
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